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The New Zealand Labour Party says the Government is looking at a Treasury proposal to axe Radio New Zealand International, which gathers news from and broadcasts to the South Pacific.

Taito Phillip Field, Labour's Pacific Islands affairs spokesperson, says Treasury, with input from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is currently reviewing the $NZ1.2 million funding for Radio New Zealand International. A paper is expected to go to Cabinet later this month.

"The proposed funding cut of $1.2 million would be a betrayal of an earlier commitment to provide a Pacific Island news service for New Zealand and the Pacific region," Mr. Field said.

"The Pacific Islands communities in New Zealand would feel deceived. In 1994, when RNZ's news and current affairs Pacific Island vernacular language programmes were canned, we were promised that the International service would not only be maintained but would be boosted and delivered in English so that all New Zealanders were more aware of news and current affairs from the Pacific region. This proposal flatly breaches that pledge.

"RNZ International plays a crucial role in maintaining New Zealand's close links with the South Pacific. It also serves as an important provider of news to the significant Pacific Island communities living in New Zealand.

"To axe the service would leave the Australians as the only radio voice being heard across the South Pacific and would be a foreign policy disaster in terms of New Zealand's influence in the region. For example, without RNZ International, awareness of issues - such as our current role in Bougainville - would be, at best, minimal.

"Lives could be put at risk. RNZ International provides a crucial cyclone warning service. Often a South Pacific country's own radio will be knocked out in a major cyclone and RNZ International is the only weather warning link for many. This was precisely the case in a recent cyclone that hit the Cook Islands.

"Don McKinnon, as Pacific Islands affairs minister, must oppose this ill-conceived Treasury hatchet job. He, as much as anyone, would be aware of the enormous importance of RNZ International in terms of maintaining close links with and influence in the region.

"I will be seeking a meeting with Mr. McKinnon and Tony Ryall, the new minister responsible for Radio New Zealand, to convey the sense of outrage that would be felt by the Pacific Island community to any such proposal."

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