Prime Minister John Key was dressed to impress the ladies yesterday - wearing a second island-style shirt for his day of meetings with the high-powered women at the Pacific Islands Forum.

Although Australia's Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, arrived at the Games Room of the Edgewater Resort for an early breakfast meeting with Mr Key dressed in a demure and subtle cream jacket, her Kiwi counterpart was in a hand-painted shirt that was a gift from the forum organisers.

The blue-and-white shirt followed the more subtle Tommy Bahama number he had worn the day before.

It was all a good warm-up routine for the official "silly shirt" day today - when all leaders have to wear the same shirt for their annual retreat.


Clearly taking it seriously, Mr Key's security were also decked out in island shirts.

After his meeting with Ms Gillard, Mr Key met the head of UN Women, Michelle Bachelet, on a day when women's issues took priority. Then it was down to business for Ms Gillard, who announced a A$340 million package over 10 years to provide training for women who wanted to take up leadership positions, and support to allow women to take produce to sell at markets.

Ms Gillard is the only woman leader at the forum - but she found allies in some of her male colleagues. Samoan PM Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi also spoke at the funding announcement. He said jokingly that the number of women in Samoa's Parliament had dropped from four to two, but in the past two terms half of those had been in Cabinet. "So that is 50 per cent."

More seriously, he said Samoa was amending its constitution so there was a quota of 10 per cent women MPs.

This term, 39 of New Zealand's 131 MPs are women - about one third - but that is less than the record 41 in the 2008-2011 Parliament.

Mr Key said New Zealand was pulling its weight on gender issues.

It had led by example, and had spent about $12 million in aid aimed at women over the past year, particularly on health, education and reducing domestic violence.

"So I think New Zealand walks the walk and talks the talk."

Mr Key will meet the third high-profile woman of the forum - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton - after she arrives in the Cook Islands tonight. Mrs Clinton is scheduled to have breakfast with the Pacific leaders at Trader Jacks tomorrow.

However, Ms Gillard returned to Australia last night after the deaths of five Australian soldiers in Afghanistan, and will miss the leaders' retreat and Mrs Clinton's visit.

Mr Key said he and Ms Gillard had spoken about asylum seekers and she had set out Australia's plans to reopen detention centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea, but had not sought New Zealand's support.

He said he did not believe New Zealand needed a detention centre, saying although there had been incidents in which New Zealand was targeted by boat people, a detention centre was not warranted given it was not a major problem. The Government is changing the law to allow for the mass detention of people arriving on boats.