Speech to the UNESCO General Conference
Chair of the New Zealand National Commission
Tena koutou katoa kua huihui mai nei i tenei ra.
(English translation: Greetings to all who have gathered here today).
Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen
In 1946, when UNESCO’s Constitution came into force, New Zealand was the second country to step forward to sign it. We did so, in the aftermath of a tragic conflict, so that the instinct for peace should take hold in the minds of new generations. So, with other founder members, we signed up for a future built on the life of the mind and the heart and the spirit – on education, culture, the sciences, and the free exchange of information and ideas.
Sixty three years later, New Zealand continues to support UNESCO’s goals. Both at home, in managing our own affairs, and in offering an example internationally and particularly in the Pacific sub-region, we try to demonstrate through our actions the value of UNESCO’s agenda for progress.
So, we are strong supporters of education for sustainable development and we have an active network of ASPnet schools committed to UNESCO’s values. In science, we focus on waiora, the Maori word for our sustainable fresh-water resources. The bicultural foundation of our country – Maori and pakeha – gives us a strong base to take advantage of the growing cultural diversity that enriches our society. And we continue to enjoy, and encourage others to emulate our commitment to, a free press and the free exchange of ideas.
What we seek is to lead by example, to cast new light on old problems, to think strategically, to change attitudes, to open minds, to know and understand more of ourselves and of others.
We like to think that New Zealand lives UNESCO’s ideals. We do so at what is another critical moment in the world’s affairs. The global recession may not be a disaster on quite the scale of the Second World War, but it should lead us nevertheless to re-affirm the great value and importance of what UNESCO stands for. The recession, after all, was the end result of a doctrine that said that all that really mattered was the maximisation of profits for the masters of the global economy.
We now know that we cannot entrust human progress to the tender care of the bottom line. That way lies not just economic crisis, but ecological degradation, social disintegration, and international conflict. Man is not just an economic animal. The lessons of the recession should teach us that the way forward lies – not with ever faster and less responsible consumption of material things by a small fraction of the world’s population – but with learning more about and responding better to our relationships with each other and with our planet.
A General Conference is inevitably concerned with budgets, elections, resolutions, organisational structures and processes. But we must never lose sight of UNESCO’s true purposes, and each of our individual decisions should be judged according to whether it advances or hinders the achievement of those goals. So, New Zealand, from our vantage-point in the Pacific sub-region – the sub-region most distant from Paris and covering the greatest number of countries and the largest geographical area, but a sub-region challenged not only by immediate dangers of which last week’s tsunami is a sad and destructive example, but also by longer-term threats such as climate change – has naturally been a consistent advocate for decentralisation. We welcome the report of the second task force review. But modalities are less important than people. We continue to be concerned at the damaging delays in recruiting professional staff to the UNESCO Office for the Pacific in Apia. There is no point in changing the structure if we cannot commit the resources to make it work. Similarly, we are concerned about the performance indicators proposed in the draft 35C/5. We are not convinced that these largely quantitative performance indicators will provide a meaningful assessment of the Organisation’s effectiveness. They may be easily measured but they tell us little about our real achievements; at worst, their adoption could lead to a diversionary goal displacement. We strongly encourage the Organisation to undertake further work on this issue. We continue to believe that working across sectors and themes is the way UNESCO should operate. The next Medium-Term Strategy UNESCO programme should, we believe, be organised around these intersectoral themes with a Secretariat that mirrors this structure. Two years ago, my predecessor delivered her speech to the General Conference while wearing a Maori cloak or korowai. I am similarly privileged today. The cloak that I wear has been gifted by the National Commission to UNESCO as a taonga or cultural treasure. It is a work reflecting the great skill of a traditional weaver who has brought together a range of materials to produce something of significance, value and beauty. It is, we like to think, a suitable metaphor for the role that UNESCO should and must play in tomorrow’s world.No reira, tena koutou katoa.(English translation: In conclusion, greetings to you all).