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Shane Jones confident about Pacific role

Wednesday 4 Jun 2014 5:44 p.m.

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New Zealand's new ambassador to the Pacific Islands is on his first week in the job.

Former Labour MP Shane Jones is part of John Key's current diplomatic mission and he came with a gift.

Part of the Prime Minister's mission during his trip to the Pacific is to introduce his former political foe, Mr Jones, to island leaders.

Mr Jones is fresh in his new National Government-appointed role, and he has got his work cut out for him, but he is confident.

He visited Samoa yesterday, Tonga today and Niue tomorrow and he is talking himself up.

Mr Jones has a new job, with new colleagues, and something better than a corner office. His message to people in the Pacific is "you're going to love me".

"They'll find me a very friendly force," says Mr Jones.

It doesn't end there; Mr Jones plans to put his all into the brand new role as Ambassador for Pacific Economic Development, and apparently his all is a lot.

"You'll see that I'll be a very robust and powerful figure in this role," says Mr Jones. "I'm a professional. I'm mentally agile. I'm a pretty easy character."

Mr Jones will be in charge of keeping track of where New Zealand aid money is going.

Today there was announced another $7 million for Tonga - $5 million for schools and $2 million to fix up Tonga's national stadium, potentially to international standards.

So an obvious question from the Tongan Prime Minister was: what is the incentive?

"Maybe they can invite the All Blacks to play," says Sialeʻataongo Tuʻivakanō. "Maybe they will provide some more Tongans for the All Blacks."

Mr Key also commented on a possible All Blacks tour of Tonga.

"They're probably under more pressure to play Samoa first," says Mr Key.

The Chinese government is also a big donor in the Pacific - in strategic competition with the United States.

But keeping an eye on China is not strictly in Mr Jones' job description and Mr Key insists he is not a Chinese spy in the Pacific.

Mr Jones' position is a three-year post. As for what's next, replacing New Zealand First leader Winston Peters is out.

"Absolutely no interest whatsoever, other than eating crayfish with my relation Winston from time to time," says Mr Jones.

Though with politics in general he's not so emphatic.

"Now, let me compare the value I can enjoy and create in the Pacific and three hours on a select committee. No, it's highly unlikely."

But it is not out of the question.

So Mr Jones is not ruling out a return to politics. He is a performer who backs himself and loves the bright lights of Parliament.

But the reality is he now has a massive job ahead, and the expectations are high. In theory Mr Jones should not have time to muse about a political comeback.

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