NZ foreign ministry shifts Pacific focus to Auckland

New Zealand’s foreign ministry says it is moving more of its engagement with the Pacific to Auckland.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Wellington has faced criticism for being too removed from Pacific culture.

Last week the former High Commissioner to Samoa David Nicholson said Wellington-driven decision making negatively affected aid projects in the Pacific.

But Georgina Roberts, the new director of Pacific Connections at MFAT based in Auckland, said a stronger presence in the multicultural city was important.

“Where I come from in the Pacific Development Group, engaging with the voices that have influence, not only in the way things are done here in Auckland but also out into our region,” she said.

“You’ve got to be here doing things face to face, as you always know, to really understand the true essence of where people are coming from and what their interests are.”

Ms Roberts, New Zealand’s former High Commissioner to Vanuatu, started in the newly-created role in January.

She said MFAT was looking to engage more in Auckland because of its significant Pacific population.

Around two thirds of New Zealand’s 300,000-strong Pacific population call Auckland home.

“That’s a key grouping that MFAT needs to be able to work with and to understand better and help them understand what we do and how we can help,” Ms Roberts said.

The role is currently more of an advisory capacity, although Ms Roberts said this could develop into working on specific projects.

She said she was engaging Pacific business councils, institutions and community groups in New Zealand.

MFAT’s pivot to Auckland comes as part of the new government’s Pacific Reset policy, which has prioritised a renewed presence in the region.

“A lot of those barriers between domestic and regional, as our ministers have been saying, are starting to be a lot more porous,” said Ms Roberts.

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