Murray McCully confirms trip to Tokelau, as Tokelau commits to air service and broadband submarine cable

21 June 2016
NZ Foreign Affairs minister, Mr Murray McCully shaking hands with Tokelau’s titular head, Te Ulu o Tokelau, Afega Gaualofa over visiting the atolls later this year.
New Zealand’s Foreign Affairs minister, Mr Murray McCully accepted a formal invitation from Tokelau’s leader, Ulu o Tokelau, Afega Gaualofa to visit the pristine atolls later this year.

At the bi-lateral talks between the two countries in Auckland earlier this month, Mr McCully did not hesitate when the offer was made – the last official matter on the agenda.

“On the last point first, I accept your invitation,” Mr McCully confirmed. “I am very keen to come to Tokelau. I’m very conscious it is one place I have not been to.”

Officials are now working to confirm a time, which will be dictated by international commitments such as New Zealand’s Security Council obligations, which means Mr McCully cannot be away too long from communications and access to transport in case of a global emergency.

And equally, by nature’s potential influence as noted by Mr McCully’s reference to the meeting taking place, “preferably outside of the cyclone season”.

Taking most factors into account, the trip will likely take place between August and September on a navy asset to avoid disruption to Tokelau’s weekly sea transport service.

It was the first time the two leaders have met since Aliki Faipule Afega Gaualofa took up the Ulu o Tokelau station earlier this year.

Three important developments were discussed in the 30-minute meeting. With the Ulu o Tokelau informing Mr McCully that while Tokelau intend to use her own resources, the hope is that “we can work together to ensure that infrastructure such as sea plane provides a safe transport mode. On the Ship to Shore project, he urged New Zealand assistance to moving it forward more quickly.

Tokelau is close to securing a deal on a telecommunications submarine cable that would connect all three atolls and provide them with broadband services including internet access. Tokelau has taken the lead and Mr McCully has offered New Zealand’s support and assistance with the negotiations and discussions especially on potential issues post cable installation.

The second topic was the air service initiative that is part of a possible boutique tourism enterprise being developed in association with Samoan businessman Lupesina Fred Grey, Director of the Grey Investment Group.

It aims to provide a 1 hour 40 minutes air service between Samoa and Tokelau and will target the visitor market so there would be minimal impact on the sea transport services provided by the Mataliki vessel.

The business case alleviated some concerns Mr McCully had, in particular that the air service does not impact Tokelau’s Mataliki business case with the Tokelau government ending up carrying the cost of a loss-making vessel.

The Ulu o Tokelau responded that apart from the high cost of the service keeping it mostly within the tourism/visitor sector, that Tokelau is exploring the potential of the MV Mataliki to provide services to Niue and the Northern Cook Islands.

The third topic was the Ship-to-Shore Project. Tokelau does not have ports in any of its three atolls, therefore, this project focuses on increasing the safety and efficiency of the transfer of passengers and cargos from the Mataliki vessel and other chartered vessels, safely ashore.

There was agreement to progress this project.

On the Telecommunications Cable and Air service initiatives, Mr McCully applauded and commended the leadership for their vision and approach to developing other partnerships and using the Trust Fund to invest in Tokelau’s future.

“On your proposed investment from the Trust Fund, we are encouraged to hear that you are looking at using the Trust Fund to invest in your own future…to the advantage of your own country.”

New Zealand officials also received a proposal for funding Tokelau’s climate change blueprint for responding to the impacts of climate change and related hazards called Living with Change: Enhancing the Resilience of Tokelau to Climate Change and Related Hazards (LivC).