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

PM's Pacific tour: $1m tourism package for Samoa

John Key and Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi catch up in Apia.
John Key and Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi catch up in Apia.

Prime Minister John Key has announced a $1 million package for tourism in Samoa on his Pacific Mission.

Mr Key said it would help upgrade a number of visitor attractions in the country, which gets almost a quarter of its GDP from tourism.

New Zealand's aid would also help Samoa's recovery from Cyclone Evan in 2012.

Mr Key met this morning with Sheree Stehlin, a Samoan business woman who was the PM's Fellow in 2013.

They had breakfast at one of her businesses, Jalah's cafe in Apia.

Politics of rugby loom large in Samoa

John Key's experience of Independence Day in Samoa yesterday was dominated by rugby, religion and politics.

The Prime Minister's day began at dawn, down at Parliament Buildings for Independence Day celebrations.

He sat beside his Samoan counterpart, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, who was clearly in a good mood. The two sat joking and laughing as the proceedings began, the flag was raised and the head of state gave an address focusing on New Zealand's long relationship with Samoa, ending with a warning about progress and development happening too quickly.

For two hours, thousands of Samoans marched past in school, community and church groups.

Then it was time for politics - and rugby. A few days earlier the Samoan Observer ran the headline "The Mighty All Blacks are coming".

Mr Malielegaoi, also head of the Samoa Rugby Football Union, had clearly liked the headline, but not the fine print stating such a visit might be years away. After meeting Mr Key, he announced the All Blacks were coming and he hoped it would be in the lead-up to the Rugby World Cup next year.

A naughty glint appeared in his eye - it was time to see if the All Blacks were as strong as reputation had it, or if Samoa's heat would see them wilt like week-old lettuce.

"We come often to your very cold climate and shiver while we play. We would like the All Blacks to come here and enjoy the sun and play," he said. As the laughter started, he added "at 12 o'clock, midday".

Mr Key was left to hose down the expectation, again stating that while the will was there the way was yet to be found. He later revealed he had also made a quick call to rugby union chief Steve Tew to check if things had moved on more than he had known. Alas for Samoa, they had not.

Mr Tew reiterated to the Herald no plans were yet under way for a visit.

"We acknowledge that the lack of an All Blacks test underlines a gap in our relationship. However, we have been sending national teams to the Islands, including the Maori All Blacks and the Junior All Blacks, 31 times since the 1930s.

"We have never dismissed the prospect of the All Blacks playing in Apia. While scheduling a match that suits both us and Samoa is challenging, we will continue to explore opportunities."

A rugby union spokesman said climate was not an issue.

Mr Malielegaoi was not quite done with his mischief-making. Asked about Labour's claims it would tinker with immigration settings to try to control net migration, he was quick to answer that he did not approve.

The usual protocol is that leaders do not wade into each other's domestic politics - especially in an election year. Perhaps Samoa's history and links with New Zealand give its Prime Minister greater licence, or perhaps Mr Malielegaoi was wary.

Whatever the reason, Mr Key clearly couldn't believe his luck and drove home his intent to keep immigration policies the same, paying particular attention to Samoa's quota and the family reunification policies.

Nonetheless, it was little wonder that soon after that Mr Key was found enjoying the peace in the impressive new Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception - a $30 million church that had opened only the day before and was paid for completely by the deeply religious Samoan community.

Mr Key and the delegation also visited the sports stadium where the Small Island Developing States Conference will be held this year, and was briefed on plans to rejuvenate Apia's waterfront with New Zealand help.

Key's day in village begins with kava ceremony

Prime Minister John Key will today return to the village where he is known as To'osavali Sione Key for the first time since the immediate aftermath of the 2009 tsunami.

Mr Key said he was looking forward to the return visit to Poutasi to see what progress had been made in the village. He first visited in mid- 2009 - months before the tsunami - because many of the villagers had taken part in New Zealand's seasonal labour scheme. He returned after the tsunami and was made a chief with the title To'osavali - which means "protector from winds".

"So there is a very personal connection there. I'm very proud of Poutasi. It's a fantastic village, a beautiful part of the world and they are great people."

The 'ava ceremony (kava sharing) will begin proceedings before Mr Key is taken to inspect the police station and a market garden growing produce for the local restaurants. But he will also spend time looking back - a ceremony will be held at the Poutasi Peace Park and Mr Key will lay flowers on the grave of Tui Annandale who died in the tsunami.

He will also be given a briefing on the Poutasi Development Trust - the trust behind developments such as the gardens and sponsored by the Tindall Foundation.

Mr Key will then visit fales further along the coast which have been rebuilt since the tsunami with help from New Zealand's contributions, as well as the Sua Trench.

He and the 40-strong delegation will fly to the next stop in Tonga tonight on the Air Force Boeing.

The delegation includes Pacific Islands Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga, Labour MPs David Shearer and Su'a William Sio, Greens co-leader Metiria Turei and United Future leader Peter Dunne.

- NZ Herald

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