Pacific News Minute: NZ Prime Minister Hopes to Mend Relationship with Tokelau

Mar 8, 2018

Map of Oceania. Highlighted in red are New Zealand and Tokelau.
Credit Wikimedia Commons

As we reported earlier this week, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is on a tour of the South Pacific to promote what she calls a “Pacific Reset.” The new prime minister pledged millions to help Samoa and Tonga recover from Cyclone Gita. But, as we hear from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute, New Zealand must still repair relations with one of its own territories.

Last year, New Zealand and Tokelau got involved in an angry shouting match that left both unhappy. In a way, it’s was all about geography.

Tokelau’s three tiny atolls lie about halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand. There’s no airport. And to get there, you have to take a 24-hour ferry from Samoa. 

In 2015, Tokelau decided to do something about that. Flush with cash from fishing licenses, the government bought two helicopters and proceeded with plans to develop landing strips on its three atolls. When he found out, then-New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully was furious and called the 2.5 million dollar purchase extravagant. New Zealand’s administrator then forced Tokelau to sell the helicopters and he imposed spending restrictions.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern
Credit Governor-General of New Zealand / Wikimedia Commons

In the end, Tokelau scapegoated two public servants. They supposedly bought the helicopters on their own. New Zealand replaced its administrator and agreed to help fund a new inter-island cargo ship.

Yesterday, RNZ Pacific reported that, at ceremonies to launch that new vessel, Tokelau’s Ulu (or head of government) said air services are still part of the transportation plan.

Feelings are still bruised. But the freshly elected Prime Minister Ardern starts with a clean sheet and will have help mending fences. New Zealand’s new administrator in Tokelau, will be her father, Ross Ardern, a career diplomat who’s currently High Commissioner to Niue.