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Caramel Brownie reports for Kiwi duty at Pacific Islands Forum

Ben McKay -

New Zealand's twin representatives at the Pacific Islands Forum insist their double act won't be an awkward balancing act in the Cook Islands.

They've even come up with a name to prove it: Caramel Brownie.

Carmel Sepuloni and Gerry Brownlee are flying the flag for New Zealand at this week's Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) leaders meeting, representing the outgoing Labour government and the incoming National-led administration.

The two parties fought out a hostile election campaign just last month.

The conservative National party won the October 14 election but has yet to negotiate a government with minor parties, with incoming prime minister Chris Luxon skipping the PIF summit to focus on that task.

Mr Sepuloni and Mr Brownlee are attending in his behalf, pledging to put differences aside.

"I feel very deeply about what happens in our Pacific region but I'm mindful that I am in a caretaker role so we'll be working very closely with Gerry Brownlee on the ground," Ms Sepuloni, who has Samoan and Tongan ancestry, told AAP.

Ms Sepuloni will represent New Zealand at the all-important leaders retreat, where just one leader from each of 18 PIF members, including Australia, thrash out the most important issues to the region.

Otherwise, the pair will caucus often, sitting down with other leaders together, sharing views as they go.

"Let's see how we go," Mr Brownlee said.

"Carmel Sepuloni is still the leader of the delegation and still deputy prime minister until a new ministry is sworn in.

Flags of the Pacific Island Forum members in Rarotonga, Cook Islands

Leaders from the 18 PIF members will thrash out the most important issues to the region.

"I'll be making it very clear that we do see the Pacific as a priority for New Zealand engagement, remembering that New Zealand is the home of the largest Pacific population in the world."

Typically, there are few differences in foreign policy between National and Labour-led governments, though one has opened up on a crucial issue to PIF members: curbing climate change.

As more PIF members advocate halting any new fossil fuel production, National has pledged to overturn an offshore oil and gas exploration ban put in place by Labour.

Mr Brownlee said his government saw "gas as a transition fuel".

"The world is not giving up on fossil fuels in any short period of time. There's going to be a long transmission," he said.

"We'll still got those ambitious targets ... we see gas as a big step away from burning diesel and many of those Pacific countries rely heavily on diesel just for their electricity, etc.

"So I think there will be respectful discussion about it, making it very clear that we're not giving up on any climate goals at all."

On other thorny issues, the pair are aligned.

Both support the candidacy of controversial former Nauru prime minister Baron Waqa as the next PIF secretary general, overlooking his previous transgressions in the name of a regional unity deal.

They also agree that Japan's release of treated wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear plant is safe, something Pacific countries are nervous about.

Mr Brownlee and Ms Sepuloni have travelled to the Pacific together before, and share an an obvious chemistry, with Ms Sepuloni suggesting she might push him onto a dance floor to see his moves.

Ben McKay - AAP


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