Speech by Forum Outgoing Chair, Premier Toke Talagi at 40th PIF
Speech by Honourable Toke Talagi, Premier of Niue and Outgoing Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum During the Opening of the Pacific Islands Forum 2009

5 August 2009

The Honourbale Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister of Australia and Incoming Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum
Honourable Leaders
Representatives of the Government of Australia
The Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum, Tuiloma Neroni Slade
The Secretary General of the Commonwealth Secretariat
The Presidents of New Caledonia and French Polynesia
The President of the Asian Development Bank
Distinguished Representatives of Forum Observers
Distinguished Representatives of Development Partners
Heads of CROP Agencies
People of Australia
Ladies and Gentlemen

Warm Pacific greetings and thank you for the opportunity to speak to you this morning during this auspicious occasion marking the opening of the Pacific Islands Forum 2009. Thank you Prime Minister Rudd for the wonderful arrangements and hospitalities afforded by your Government and people to all of us since our arrival in Australia and into Cairns. An excellent start, I must say, to a significant and very important Forum this year.

Much has happened in our region in the last year during my tenure as Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum. The onset of the global financial crisis imposed on the region a new challenge to our Governments and peoples. This is a crisis with potentially devastating implications for our national and regional prosperity. Already the fundamentals of our economies including national abilities for revenue generation have been affected. Falling remittances and weakened export demand have affected the performance of our external sectors while within local economies, low production in the real sector has forced many job loses.

It makes it worse that our small geography and economic boundaries limit fiscal policy space, denying for many of us opportunities for implementing stimulus packages. In this regard, I endorse the views that any meaningful assistance by our development partners must therefore largely constitute direct budgetary support. I’m grateful, as I’m sure all our Leaders are, that the theme for this year’s Forum focuses on the Global Economic Crisis which hopefully will pave the way for increased attention to the necessity of collective actions to effectively address this calamity.

On climate change, the Leaders commitments in the Niue Declaration express the region’s collective aspirations for effective actions to be taken at national, regional and international levels. This is a real problem and one which if not reversed threatens our livelihoods. Because we are all affected, it serves our common interest to continue to push for increased global action on climate change. I would imagine that we must hasten our preparations to ensure we can inspire a better successor to the Kyoto Protocol in Copenhagen in 2012.

For all of us climate change will remain a persistent issue. The costs, both social and economic, associated with it will also persist, if not, increase.

While all of us are affected, the situation for small island states is quite worrisome. For them, choices such as resettlement must be considered seriously and I wonder whether the Forum is ready to commence formal discussion on this matter.

At the political level, the Biketawa Declaration has changed the lives of the citizens of Solomon Islands under RAMSI and under the PRAN for citizens of Nauru. Thanks largely to the fine leadership by the Australian Government and support extended by New Zealand and all the participating countries. Both these regional cooperative interventions, in particular RAMSI, have won admiration from other international organizations including the UN.

Against this admirable success, the Fiji situation remains a concern. The regime which assumed power illegally has clearly refused to adhere to the Leaders’ requirements imposed on Fiji when Leaders met at Port Morseby in January this year. As a direct consequence of non-compliance, Fiji has been suspended from participation in any Forum meetings as of 2 May 2009. We are deeply concerned for the welfare of the citizens of Fiji and remain ready to assist Fiji return to democracy soon but will not accept a prolonged rule by the regime. Their self-imposed roadmap for elections to be held in 2014 is unacceptable and is strongly denounced. Perhaps citizens of Fiji must now rise up to challenge the undemocratic rule of the military regime and restore democracy for the sake of their children’s future. After all the people of Fiji must be responsible for constructing their own destiny.

On regional cooperation, the Pacific Plan implementation is progressing quite well. The collaborative assistance extended by CROP Agencies, national Governments and development partners to support the implementation of the Plan has allowed for this good progress. The trade initiatives are understandably stalling but we should see some progress after the Leaders’ meeting this year.

So despite a difficult period, I’m pleased that we are still making good progress with the implementation of the Pacific Plan. I acknowledge the role of the CROP Agencies, our development partners and national governments in making this success possible.

With so many challenges ahead, the leadership of the Forum Chair will be critical and we are all pleased and assured that Prime Minister Rudd is assuming that role. Under his leadership, the Forum will rise to these challenges and will be stronger to continue to service the needs of the membership.

As I pass over the Chairmanship to Prime Minister Rudd, I must extend warm gratitude to the Secretary General, Tuiloma Neroni Slade and his staff for ably supporting me during my tenure as Chair. It was a difficult time as we grappled with the Fiji issue but thankfully the guidance and efficiency of the services lend to me by the Secretary General ensured I was able to fulfill my responsibilities as Chair. I congratulate him for remarkably settling in quickly into his role as Secretary General following his appointment at Niue last year. In a short time he has achieved much and I’m proud to have benefitted from his excellent service. I do wish him and his staff very well in their service for the region.

Finally may I also take this opportunity, to thank Leaders for their support during my tenure and for the honour to be of service to the region in my capacity as Forum Chair. It was a great honour for me personally as well as for Niue.

Thank you for the attention.