Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

Key races to put roots down before Pacific talks

John Key was the first leader to get his mahogany sapling in the ground and appeared happy with his efforts, saying he expected his tree to grow tall and strong. Photo / Claire Trevett
John Key was the first leader to get his mahogany sapling in the ground and appeared happy with his efforts, saying he expected his tree to grow tall and strong. Photo / Claire Trevett

There's nothing like a bit of competition to get the juices flowing before a day-long retreat, so when the Pacific leaders were given mahogany saplings to plant, Prime Minister John Key appeared to think it was a race similar to those on the television show Survivor.

All of the 15 leaders were lined up with their saplings, and with coconut shells to scoop the sand around their trees before watering them.

Key got his sapling planted in very quick order before declaring he had won immunity and asking who wanted to be voted off the Tribe.

He later said gardening was not his forte and he was not allowed in the garden by his wife, Bronagh.

However, he appeared happy with his efforts and expected his tree to grow tall and strong.

The leaders held their talks on a large wooden catamaran anchored on the beach of Tapuaetai, a small island near Aitutaki.

Despite some speculation the forum would reconsider Fiji's suspension after recent progress there, Mr Key said it was decided that no major change, such as lifting the temporary ban, would happen until after democratic elections were held.

One issue was the question of immunity for the military involved in the December 2006 coup.

"One of the reasons not to reinstate is because of serious questions such as what happens to the military and whether they are sent back to the barracks."

The new forum chairman, Cook Islands PM Henry Puna, said NZ and Australia's renewed engagement with Fiji was encouraging.

He would not say whether some leaders had argued against the stand on the suspension during discussions, but said it was the position all agreed on.

"The integrity of the forum must be maintained."

Mr Puna said most of the discussion by the leaders focused on fisheries - the theme of this year's forum is the ocean.

Earlier in the day, Mr Key announced New Zealand was boosting its support funding for Pacific fisheries by $10 million to $50 million over the next three years.

- NZ Herald

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