Barbara Dreaver: Pacific spying exposé fails to deliver

The fact that NZ collects information in and from the Pacific is not news.

John Key says he won't lose sleep over Nicky Hager’s promised spying revelations. Source: 1 NEWS

What is news is details of what information has been collected. Sadly that detail was absent in today's disappointing lacklustre revelations.

The build-up has been spectacular - the release today… not so much.

It is naive in the extreme to think that NZ wouldn't collect information - covertly or otherwise - from our Pacific neighbours given the destabilising regional security threats.

The coups, the riots, the arson attacks, the rising tension at a local level over China's growing influence in the region. Don't think for a minute that Fiji's military regime did not cause huge angst amongst its Pacific neighbours who depend on it for trade and transport.

They were desperate to find out what was going on there too.

New Zealand gives around $600 million in aid to the Pacific each year. There is no doubt there is some discomfort in that we fork out goodies to our friends with one hand and secretly take information with the other - and then dish the dirt to big countries.

But while many Pacific islands are economically vulnerable because of their isolation and resources, they do have teeth.

To suggest they would take this situation lying down if they were genuinely upset about it is because they are beholden to New Zealand is ridiculous. They might be reserved in what they say publicly but behind the scenes is another matter.

The Pacific nations are currently doing a review of New Zealand's aid programme of the Pacific - while New Zealand volunteered for this to happen, it's opened the books to its island neighbours who are expected to give a full and frank analysis of the successes and failures of our programme.

Samoa's Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi has never been shy about holding back when it comes to saying what he thinks.

He has in the past let rip about the International Rugby Board (IRB), members of his own Government, the media - and the New Zealand Government. Nobody has been exempt from his forceful, and at times entertaining, well aimed barbs.

The influence works both ways. New Zealand is under no illusion at how valuable an ally the Pacific is at a regional level. Take the valuable votes for the Security Council, whaling, climate change and other crucial international platforms.

What is interesting is the information that has been gathered and how that may affect international relationships, influences in the region.

Tonga's precarious economic situation is a case in point - its foreign debt has reached US$177 million around 44% of the country's GDP and US$114 million of that amount is owed to China.

China would not be thrilled to know that it's likely its highly sensitive political and commercial dealings with Tonga - taken from phone calls, emails and internet data - has found its way to the US thanks to New Zealand.

Security analyst Paul Buchanan rightly points out that the French will not be happy if New Zealand spied on French territories in the region such as New Caledonia and French Polynesia - without their permission.

The fallout may well be serious. But today at least …the revelations are a storm in a teacup.