New Zealand PM Luxon heads to Niue and Fiji this week

Christopher Luxon

New Zealand Prime Minister Christopher Luxon will travel to Niue and Fiji this week (04-07 June) as New Zealand continues to sharpen its focus and engagement in the Pacific.

It will be Luxon’s first visit to the region as Prime Minister. 

“Niue and Fiji are two of New Zealand’s closest friends in the Pacific. The Government is committed to deeper and more comprehensive relationships in the region and this visit is an opportunity to reaffirm New Zealand’s position as a trusted partner,” PM Luxon said.

This year Niue marks 50 years of self-government in free association with New Zealand and Luxon says it’s an important milestone.

“Niue and New Zealand have a unique constitutional arrangement and we work closely together. As we celebrate this anniversary, it’s important we also look forward to the next 50 years.

“Our mutual expectations and priorities, and how we can reinforce our special relationship, is something I will be discussing with Premier Dalton Tagelagi,” Luxon said.

In Fiji, Luxon will have his first formal talks with his counterpart, Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka.

“Fiji is a critical partner for New Zealand, as we navigate the increasingly choppy geostrategic waters ahead.

“The partnership between our two countries is broader than most New Zealanders are aware of, from our close security cooperation to our business links, and – of course – our shared love of rugby.”

The Fiji leg of the trip will have a significant trade and economic focus.

“Fiji is our biggest trading partner amongst Pacific islands countries and there is plenty of scope to leverage even more economic opportunities for Kiwi and Fijian businesses,” Luxon said.

NZ Govt cuts Pacific funding

Meanwhile, total funding for Pacific Peoples has been slashed by about NZ$26 million (US$15.90 million) in this year’s New Zealand budget – but a Pacific community leader says he’s not surprised.

“In 2024/25, total baseline funding for Vote Pacific Peoples is just over $90.2 million (US$55.15 million),” a government spokesperson confirmed.

“This is a reduction from approximately $116.2 million (US$58.18 million) in 2023/24.”

Minister for Pacific Peoples Dr Shane Reti was unavailable for an interview on Budget Day, but in a statement, he said his main priorities as the minister will be housing, economic development, education, employment and health.

“I am working with the Ministry for Pacific Peoples to ensure existing funding is directed towards the most effective investments in these areas, that will make the most difference for Pacific communities,” he said.

A spokesperson for Reti’s office said investments in existing programmes that have been successful to date will continue, “with some funding realigned” to programmes in housing, economic development, health, education and employment.

Carmel Sepuloni, former deputy Prime Minister and now Labour’s Pacific spokesperson, told RNZ Pacific “there is nothing in this budget for Māori or Pacific”.

“What we need to recognise, that with the census data has just come out recently, is that Māori and Pacific have younger demographics; they will be the workforce increasingly moving forward,” she said.

“We should be investing and upskilling training opportunities, not taking away from that.”

Sepuloni said vulnerable New Zealanders have been “left out in the cold”.

Funding to help Pacific peoples in Aotearoa achieve home ownership, through the Pacific Financial Capability programme, has not been renewed by the coalition government.

Sepuloni said it’s a real blow.

“When you cut crucial programs like that, then that it actually puts those particular people and communities at risk.

“It all just flies against supporting vulnerable people to be able to get ahead.”

A 2022 Review of Retirement Income Policies | Retirement Commission Te Ara Ahunga Ora A report, commissioned by Te Ara Ahunga Ora Retirement Commission and undertaken by the Ministry of Pacific Peoples, revealed better housing solutions and financial education are key to improving the wellbeing of Pacific peoples in retirement.

The University of Auckland’s Sir Collin Tukuitonga said the budget was along the lines of what he expected.

He said he was disappointed there was nothing for Pacific providers “given Pacific providers tend to have better outcomes”.

Te Whatu Ora/Health NZ is set to receive $16.68billion (US$10.20 billion) in new funding over three budgets.

Sir Collin was pleased with the extension of mammogram breast cancer screening and said other health initiatives would benefit Pacifika also.

The government has confirmed universal free prescriptions would be stopped in July with the re-introduction of $5(US$3) co-payments for most people.

“It will be a barrier for people wanting to get access to medicines, and will delay people not picking up the scripts and potentially ending up in hospital,” Sir Collin said.

Prescriptions will stay free for people with Community Services cards, people under 14, and people aged 65 and over.

Also announced in the budget, average income households will get a tax cut of up to NZ$102 (US$62.40) per fortnight from the end of July this year.

Waitaki deputy mayor Hana Halalele, who is the general manager of Oamaru Pacific Island Community Group, said tax cuts would provide a small amount of relief but would not make up for cuts to other Government initiatives.

“Every dollar will count, I think things like the [cuts] to the school lunch’s programme, the cut with the home start grant – just those kinds of things will hurt some of our families.”

Policy academic Terence Wood, with the Development Policy Centre at the Australian National University, said when it comes to aid spending in the Budget, New Zealand is “remarkably untransparent”

“In Australia, they provide nice simple PDFs on budget night and it’s really easy to know what their aid programme is going to spend and where in coming years,” he said.

“In New Zealand it’s actually pretty hard to work out.”

Wood said the aid spending is written “almost as if they’re deliberately designed to bamboozle people”.

However, he said the triennium will see aid fall by about 5 percent.

The current triennium – or three-year period – is coming to a close this financial year.

“That fall is going to be made of specific cuts to aid outside of the Pacific.”

He also said climate aid globally is being decreased.

“And it may be that ultimately the decrease [in climate aid] will be reversed when the next COP occurs, and when one of our high-ranking politicians goes and if they want some nice, new announcable (sic) aid.”

Wood said if climate aid continues to fall it could impact the Pacific.