Bill English impressed by first Pacific Mission

  • 17/06/2017
Prime Minister Bill English.
Prime Minister Bill English. Photo credit: Getty, file

The beautiful Pacific coral atoll of Niue is a lot like the sheep farming community of Dipton, according to Bill English.

So are the Cook Islands. And Tonga.

On the surface the prime minister's comparison between New Zealand's far south and the tropical Pacific Islands might seem unusual.

But it's the sense of community that reminded Mr English of home during his first Pacific Mission to the trio of islands, his first time visiting two of them.

"For a long time I've represented communities that have at times felt a bit the same - isolated, hard to see the economic opportunities, people leaving," he told NZ Newswire.

"It's amazing how similar some of the issues are."

During three packed days a delegation of politicians, community and business leaders toured the island countries checking up on the progress of New Zealand funded projects, and finding the confidence, positive attitude and problem-solving skills of locals to be impressive.

Mr English also committed nearly $60 million in new funding across the three nations for internet connectivity, solar power and electricity upgrades and water reticulation improvement programmes.

The packed agenda included cabinet meetings and an audience with Tongan King Tupou VI, but there was still time for fun, cheering on the All Blacks in their win over Samoa and a quick kick-to-kick with Tongan Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva.

Less than a hundred days out from the general election some questioned the timing of the visit and why Mr English isn't out pounding the pavement, kissing babies and campaigning for votes at home.

He defended it as a must-do for a new prime minister.

"We have broad responsibilities and deep connections in the Pacific and whether there's an election three months away, well there's plenty of time for campaigning," he said.

Almost all parties in Parliament were represented on the trip and Mr English was proud of how they came together, representing New Zealand as a whole.

The election outcome is also relevant to those in the Cook Islands and Niue as New Zealand citizens.

Niuean Premier Toke Talagi said his islands people were proud of their citizenship, while in Rarotonga the House of Ariki president told Mr English islanders would be glued to their TVs watching the New Zealand election results, following up with a cheeky "hello Winston Peters".

The New Zealand First leader travelled with Mr English, along with Government support partners United Future leader Peter Dunne and Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox.

But Mr English has denied using the trip as a chance to discuss any future they might have working together in a coalition after the September general election.

Mr English denied talking to Mr Peters about any political future they might have together after September.

Any prospect of National and New Zealand First teaming up before the election appeared to be swatted down when he referred to the potential kingmaker as "competition".