Motions: Tropical Cyclone Winston—Expression of Support for Fiji and Other Pacific Countries
Mr SPEAKER: Is there any objection to that course of action being followed? There is none.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I move, That the House express its support for the people and Government of Fiji and other Pacific neighbours affected by Tropical Cyclone Winston. During the weekend of 20-21 February, Cyclone Winston cut a path of destruction through Fiji, resulting in loss of life and significant loss of property and crops. Cyclone Winston was designated a category 5 cyclone, the strongest cyclone to make landfall in Fiji, with sustained winds reaching over 300 kilometres per hour. In some villages that the eye of the storm passed directly over, the devastation is near-complete. It has been assessed that up to 40 percent of Fiji’s population has been impacted by the cyclone.
In the immediate aftermath of Cyclone Winston, New Zealand quickly understood that significant resources would be required to help Fiji. Our early offer of P3 Orion flights to undertake aerial damage assessment was accepted, and over the past 10 days the P3 Orion has undertaken four flights. The reports and imagery following were valuable in assessing where relief is needed most. A C-130 Hercules has also made a number of flights to Fiji, taking much-needed relief supplies. To date, over 160 tonnes of priority emergency goods have been provided to Fiji, including food, construction supplies, generators, tents, tarpaulins, blankets, and shelter kits, as well as water and sanitation kits. More Hercules flights are planned for this week.
Last week an Air Force 757 flew a team of army engineers and urban search and rescue personnel to Fiji, and they are now working alongside Fijian partners to bring immediate relief to communities, including repairing schools and public infrastructure and clearing debris. A New Zealand Air Force King Air has also been made available to the Government of Fiji to enable their officials and medical teams to travel to remote villages. A New Zealand medical assistance team is also in Fiji, supporting the Fijian Government in undertaking assessments and providing primary health support to those affected. On Sunday our navy’s offshore patrol vessel HMNZS Wellington arrived in Suva, and HMNZS Canterbury is also expected to dock tomorrow, carrying nearly 90 tonnes of relief and building supplies and helicopters. By the end of this week, there will be close to 400 New Zealand personnel in Fiji doing what New Zealand does best—getting out on to the ground and helping our Pacific neighbours in their time of need.
Our already established aid programme in Fiji has been bolstered in the wake of Cyclone Winston. Our total financial contribution to the cyclone response to date stands at $4.7 million. The New Zealand public has been generous, and many companies have also made offers of assistance. The Fijian community here is rallying its support for its friends and family back home. New Zealand’s response to Cyclone Winston is shaping up to be our largest humanitarian response in the Pacific. Yesterday the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Murray McCully, travelled to Fiji to see first-hand the wreckage caused by Cyclone Winston. Mr McCully flew over some of the devastated areas and has told me about the widespread damage to housing, the scarring of the landscape, and the loss of crops. During the visit Minister McCully met with the Fijian Minister for Foreign Affairs and also with the Minister of agriculture and national disaster management. Both have expressed their gratitude and appreciation for the swift and generous response from New Zealand.
A strong bond exists between the people of Fiji and the people of New Zealand. The thoughts and sympathies of all New Zealanders and of this House are with the people of Fiji during this time. The Fijian people are resilient and they will overcome this event, and in time they will recover. They can be assured that New Zealand will continue to work with them and support them through the relief, recovery, and rebuild phases.
ANDREW LITTLE (Leader of the Opposition): On behalf of the Opposition, the Labour Party, I would like to join and support the Government in its resolution before the House today in sending our thoughts and sympathies to the people of Fiji following the loss of lives and the destruction caused by Cyclone Winston, and to acknowledge the contribution that the Government has made on behalf of the people of New Zealand and, indeed, the contribution coming from the Fijian community also resident in New Zealand.
Cyclone Winston was the largest and strongest cyclone ever recorded in the southern hemisphere. Clearly, Fiji has suffered significant damage: in some areas entire villages have been flattened. The geographic distances and the remoteness of some areas involved make it had to assess the full impact of the cyclone but we know it has been catastrophic, and it is reassuring—at least from a New Zealander’s point of view—to see the role and contribution that the New Zealand personnel are making in making the assessments and assisting in the recovery. The number of people in emergency shelters doubled almost every day last week, peaking at almost one-twentieth of Fiji’s entire population. According to Unicef, 51,000 people are still in shelters. We know it could be weeks before electricity is restored to some areas.
New Zealand, as the Prime Minister has said, stands side by side with the people of Fiji, and we will do whatever is required to help them through this disaster and the years of recovery ahead.
JAMES SHAW (Co-Leader—Green): Our hearts do go out to the people of Fiji. Tropical Cyclone Winston was, as has been mentioned, the strongest storm in recorded history in our hemisphere. Wind speeds topped 320 kilometres an hour; whole forests were stripped of their foliage; and schools, hospitals, and houses were flattened. More than 40 people are dead and thousands are now homeless.
Personally, I have found it impossible not to be moved by the images of children standing by their wrecked homes and the wreckage of entire communities lying scattered on those famously beautiful Fijian shores. I thank the National Government for its immediate and its substantive response in the aftermath. Our close ties to Fiji make this unlike many global catastrophes, and it is heartening to know that those ties are now moving thousands of New Zealanders to give generously to our brothers and sisters now suffering in Fiji.
There is another way that New Zealanders and the Government can respond to this cyclone and to others like it. It is no coincidence that this was the strongest cyclone recorded in our hemisphere or that this was one of many record-breaking storms that has occurred in recent times. As a nation, we need to start facing the truth that climate change is making tropical storms like Cyclone Winston more ferocious. As New Zealanders we are the fifth-highest emitter per capita of climate pollution. Since we committed to reduce our climate change emissions in 1990, and under successive Governments, New Zealand’s net emissions have risen by 42 percent, and the Ministry for the Environment projects another 50 percent increase by 2030 if we keep doing what we are doing. We as a nation are not properly reckoning with the fact that our actions are hurting those people in the Pacific who are the most vulnerable to the impacts of the pollution that we are adding to. If we really want to help the Pacific, our climate emissions should be going down, not up.
New Zealanders are getting in behind the recovery effort in Fiji. The Government has provided financial aid and deployed Defence Force resources and personnel to help. The Green Party supports these efforts, but along with that desperately needed and immediate aid, the next most compassionate thing that we can do for Fiji now is to listen to the pleas of Pacific Island leaders and commit to taking real action on climate change. While we wring our hands and we fret at how expensive it might be for New Zealand to do anything about climate change, we ought to recognise that the cost to our Pacific neighbours of our doing nothing is now being measured in human lives. Thank you.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First): At times such as this it does not matter what one’s political persuasion is or—dare one say it—what one’s name is. New Zealand First joins with our political opponents in expressing our regret for what has happened, as well as our best wishes and support for the Fijian nation and people as they begin the long road to recovery from this terrible event. This is not a time to discuss why it may have happened, but we are very mindful that there needs to be a discussion as to why it is happening. We are sure that the New Zealand public will show their characteristic generosity in giving aid and financial support to our Pacific neighbours.
MARAMA FOX (Co-Leader—Māori Party): The Māori Party would like to add its voice to the sympathies that have been offered to the people of Fiji who have lost loved ones at this time. Last week, as the cyclone looked like it was going to bypass it, and then made a U-turn to come back towards Fiji, our close family friends were on a flight to Fiji and landed the day before the cyclone arrived. They found themselves in a place of utter devastation. They were there to visit with their family members and also to witness the rededication of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints temple. They travelled for some hours through the devastation, to check that their family were OK. They report that the majority of the people in the village and the families that were there are subsistence-living. What they gather and what they grow is what they eat, and, thereby, looking at the devastation of the crops and the people and the way that they were affected, there will need to be ongoing support from our Government, and we recognise the generosity of our Government and of the New Zealand people in the Fijian community here.
But that support will need to be ongoing for some time, until crops can be replanted; until life can go back to normal. They found themselves—tourists in Fiji—being cared for by Fijian people who, while looking after them, had no home of their own to speak of. So I want to acknowledge the resilience of the Fijian people to gather together in communities, to pick up, and to start again. They are already clearing this ground for crops. They are already rebuilding shelter to live in. We offer our support and our sympathies to them, and recognise their strength and courage. I have some pretty poorly pronounced words in Fijian that I would like to offer, and this comes from the high commission.
Kei mami duavata kei kemuni, kei na nomu ni vanua ena gauna dredre ni lako curuma tiko. Mo ni tu vaka kaukauwa tiko, me rawa ni tarai cake tale o Viti lomani.
DAVID SEYMOUR (Leader—ACT): On behalf of the ACT Party I would like to join other leaders in expressing heartfelt sympathy for the people of Fiji, particularly those who lost their lives and lost loved ones. I would also like to wish safe passage to the New Zealand Defence Force personnel assisting in the recovery from this disaster, and acknowledge the very generous response by many New Zealanders who have responded by voluntarily giving aid to assist in that recovery. Thank you.
- Motion agreed to.