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43rd PIF Opening statement by new Forum Chair and PM of Cook Islands, Hon. Henry Puna

OPENING CEREMONY OF THE
43RD PACIFIC ISLANDS FORUM
COOK ISLANDS, 27 - 31 AUGUST 2012

OPENING SPEECH BY THE
PRIME MINISTER OF THE COOK ISLANDS
HON. HENRY PUNA

“LARGE OCEAN ISLAND STATES - the Pacific Challenge"

Kia Orana to:
Your Excellencies, the Leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum, and your spouses
Deputy Prime Ministers and Ministers of Pacific Delegations
Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and your spouse
Distinguished Heads of Delegations from our Post-Forum Dialogue Partners, and CROP Agencies
Visiting Diplomatic Corps and all our Rarotonga-based diplomatic corps

Cook Islands Deputy Prime Minister and colleagues of Cabinet, and Caucus
Leader of the Opposition and your spouse
Speaker of the House and all our members of Parliament
Ui Ariki and Aronga Mana
Religious Advisory Council
To all our school children and special guests here today

The Government and the people of the Cook Islands are both proud and honoured to host the 43rd Pacific Islands Forum.
Welcome to our beautiful Cook Islands.
Welcome to the home of the Polynesian People of Rarotonga. Welcome to this, the 43rd Pacific Islands Forum Leaders meeting.

It is my great privilege to speak to you today as the incoming chair of the 43rd Pacific Islands Forum, and we are delighted to host you in Rarotonga again since the Forum last met here fifteen years ago.

I would like to thank the outgoing Chair of the Forum, the Right Honourable John Key, Prime Minister of New Zealand for his outstanding work as Chair of the Forum over the last and challenging 11 months. Prime Minister, I offer you warm congratulations for your leadership on behalf of us all.

I would also like to acknowledge the Secretary General, Tuiloma Neroni Slade for the tremendous work he has undertaken in preparation for this Forum, and for the work of the Secretariat, which he leads.

The Cook Islands’ people have also shown tremendous dedication over recent weeks. In the preparations to allow this showcase to be the best it can be, our school children have taken a very active role alongside a very energetic team of volunteers and organizers.

Most of all, I pay tribute to your Excellencies, the Leaders of the Pacific, in advancing the work of the Forum that we have done so far, and the work which still lies ahead of us.
At our meeting in Auckland last year, we reiterated the critical importance of promoting sustainable development, including ensuring the sustainable development, management and conservation of our Pacific Ocean.

We also acknowledged the stewardship of Forum Island Countries for the Pacific Ocean’s well-being. With an area of nearly 165 million sq km, it is the largest body of water on the planet. Our Pacific Ocean has, and will, continue to provide the basis for livelihoods, food security and economic development for our Pacific peoples.

Forum Theme

I believe that the occasion of our meeting this year in the Cook Islands presents an excellent opportunity for Leaders to further develop the positions we adopted in Auckland last year, as we move forward in promoting sustainable development through both national and regional initiatives. I am therefore pleased to present, on behalf of the Cook Islands, the 43rd Pacific Islands Forum theme: "Large Ocean Island States - the Pacific Challenge".

Our theme this year captures two primary messages.
The first relates to re-thinking our sense of shared identity.

As Pacific islanders, we have tended to define ourselves as small landmasses, scattered and separated over a vast body of ocean.
From high above, we are but specks in a world of sea: firmly classified in global terms as ‘Small Island Developing States’ in the ‘Pacific Islands Region’.
But as a body of collective territories, we are more than three times the size of these countries as individuals: China, Canada, and the United States of America. And the sum of our ocean territory is nearly two times the size of Russia.

I believe it’s time to put any limiting perceptions of self into a new perspective:
One where the ‘smallness’ of ‘islands’ does not detract from the realization of our ‘greater self’;
One that does not hinder our ability to address development challenges as a family of shared cultural interests;
and a perspective that matches the potential for growth with our undeniably expansive presence on this Earth.

Our islands embody the uniqueness of a way of life, which reaches well beyond the ‘reef’ of imposed models and constructs.

I believe that our large ocean islands states should demonstrate – now more than ever – a renewed commitment to define our future, on our terms, and in our own Pacific way.

Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen from around the Pacific:
Rethinking our sense of identity as nations sustained and connected by our surrounding ocean starts here.
If we need to break the mould that defines us too narrowly and limits us in any way – then break it we must.

The second message of this year’s Forum theme relates to our shared challenge.
This speaks to the very notion of regionalism. If we are to show the world how our intimate and connected relationship is built from a deep spiritual bond and translated across an expanse of ocean in unique and traditional ways, then our shared challenge must reflect and promote this natural and abundant wealth in opportunity and potential.

We are well positioned to do so. Of that I am certain. Harnessing oceanic opportunities by capitalizing on our 'islandness' with a unity of purpose is both fundamental and paramount.

My call for a united regional identity as ‘large ocean- island states’ is not a new one. The cohesion and commitment of our Members and peoples are key to the success of our pursuit of regional accomplishments, including our collective role as protectors of our Pacific Oceans and its resources.

This is no mean feat. It is the Pacific Challenge we face – and it is our major contribution to the well-being of humanity.

Advancing our regional identity as Small Island Developing States to Large Ocean Island States will be key to realizing a change in how we and the world manage the resources of our Pacific Ocean.

In doing so, we will not lose sight of our special island uniqueness but augment it with a more balanced, and committed view of ocean and islands.

The Pacific Plan

There are many avenues available to us to pursue these objectives, and tackle this Pacific Challenge. The primary solution for our regional endeavours lies in the Pacific Plan for Strengthening Regional Cooperation and Integration.

This Plan, agreed by Leaders in 2005, has provided a long-term vision for the Pacific, and ensured a medium-term framework for identifying priorities and tracking their progress.

The priorities, as identified by Leaders, provide a consistent set of initiatives to be implemented, acting as a type of scorecard of the region’s performance in the goals and objectives it has set. As such, the Pacific Plan continues to play a very important role in focusing the efforts of CROP agencies and development partners on the Leaders’ priorities.

We must continue to foster our Pacific Plan, ensuring that this high-level strategic framework promotes a more coordinated approach; that it stays relevant; and that it reflects dynamism in taking our issues forward. Leaders therefore envisaged that the Pacific Plan would remain a ‘living document’ and be reviewed on a regular basis.

In preparing for this important review in 2013, let us keep the notion of a shared Pacific Challenge as central to this exercise, and deliver on the needs and aspirations of all our peoples.

This Plan is our Plan – the Pacific’s Plan.

Pacific Oceanscape & Cook Islands Marine Park

A more recent key agreement at our disposal for advancing the aspirations of our region is the Pacific Oceanscape Framework that was unanimously adopted by Leaders in 2010.
The appointment last year of Secretary General Tuiloma Neroni Slade as the Pacific Ocean Commissioner – the uniting voice for the Pacific Ocean – was also a significant milestone. We, in the Cook Islands, have taken the Pacific Oceanscape to heart.

Today marks the formal launch of our Cook Islands Marine Park: the commitment of the largest area in history by a single country for integrated ocean conservation and management. The Marine Park will encompass approximately 1.1 million square kilometres of the southern Cook Islands’ Exclusive Economic Zone.

With the full support of my government, traditional leaders and local communities, as well as the past contributions by the present Opposition, the Marine Park will provide the necessary framework to promote sustainable development by balancing economic growth interests such as tourism, fishing and deep-sea mining, with conserving core biodiversity and natural assets, in the ocean, reefs and islands.

The Cook Islands is proud, and especially honoured to join Kiribati and Tokelau, in our commitment to the Pacific Oceanscape. In this regard, we also note the steps by Australia to establish a significant network of marine reserves.

I do hope that more of our Forum members, donors and partners, will soon make their own commitments to the Pacific Oceanscape and therefore urge my fellow Leaders to support similar initiatives under this framework, for current and future Pacific generations.

Climate Change

We also recognise the need to support efforts at the regional level for addressing the impacts of climate change on our Ocean and islands. This remains one of the greatest challenges of our times.

As individual countries and as a region, we have already made strong commitments to implement renewable energy programmes, institute waste management and sanitation measures, expand organic and bio-friendly agriculture, and adapt with climate-proof infrastructure.

We need to take this a step further. Our collective regional identity as large ocean-island states must help us foster the respect, investment, and partnerships needed, to be custodians of our great Moana Nui o Kiva – our ocean and the islands within.

Protection and conservation of our marine ecosystems, especially our fragile coral reefs, is paramount. Moreover, to foster opportunity for economic development, sustainable practices, which adopt a precautionary approach is essential.

The precautionary approach to sustainable development appeared 20 years ago at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, held In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

And although the return to Rio this year excluded the Cook Islands and Niue, our Forum Island Countries carried a unified voice to address many of the same challenges we faced in 1992, as well as some new ones.

RIO+20

At the Rio Plus 20 Conference, our region advocated strongly to inject a blue colour into the ‘Green Economy’ debate – synthesized as: a ‘Green Economy in a Blue World’. This was to reflect the importance of our oceanic environment. The degree to which this concept has gained widespread support at the Rio Plus 20 Conference remains to be seen.

This 43rd Forum is the first time that we gather post-Rio to consider the implications of the Conference decisions on our region. We thus have the opportunity, and the obligation, to our peoples, to take necessary action and respond on the outcomes of Rio Plus 20.

One of these outcomes is the reaffirmation of the special case for Small Island Developing States, particularly the most vulnerable of our members – and my government will continue to support concerted efforts at international fora to support this, and further welcome the convening of the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States, in the Pacific region in 2014.

Solomon Islands Government and RAMSI

Over recent years in our region, significant progress has been made by both the Solomon Islands Government and RAMSI in implementing the Partnership Framework, which includes a strong economic performance in 2011; and improved confidence and capability of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force’s ability to deliver services directly and effectively.

I should also note that ongoing and constructive discussions have, and are being held, with regards to the transition and drawdown of RAMSI.
On your behalf, allow me to express to the Solomon Islands Government and RAMSI, warm congratulations on significant progress made in the development of relations, particularly in the implementation of the SIG-RAMSI Partnership Framework.

Success in regional cooperation to establish clearly defined responsibilities to assist our members in areas and activities of particular sensitivity is an indication of how committed we are in strengthening the avenues of constructive dialogue and concerted action.

Whenever success in our region does occur, we should nurture it – in the true spirit of Pacific peoples. Let’s equip ourselves with the courage to address critical challenges whenever they confront us as a region.
Engage with sincerity and understanding, guided by patience and tolerance, and work diligently to ensure we come together and stay together – as a family.

I look forward to our discussions in the days ahead, and to spending time with you all, to explore and determine how best we can advance our large ocean island states by rising to the ‘Pacific challenge’.

Thank you for this opportunity – this honour – to showcase the Cook Islands and host the Pacific Islands Leaders’ Forum Meeting in this 43rd anniversary year. We hope that even these brief few days spent with us – your Cook Islands’ family – will be an unforgettable time.

Meitaki ma'ata


 

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