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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 20859

Doorstop Interview at the Pacific Islands Forum Sheraton Hotel - Auckland, NZ

Photo of Howard, John

Howard, John

Period of Service: 11/03/1996 to 03/12/2007

More information about Howard, John on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 14/08/2003

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 20859

PRIME MINISTER:

Well ladies and gentlemen, I've had a series of bilaterals this morning, the most recent is with Sir Alan Kemakeza, the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands. It's very pleasing indeed for both of us so much progress is being made with the intervention. The taking into custody of Harold Keke yesterday is the high point of what has been done over the past few weeks. There's no doubt that the intervention force and the police and the combined efforts of pacific countries has brought about a major change in the Solomon Islands. Conditions of calm and stability have returned but there's still a long way to go and I made the point to Sir Alan that having begun to secure the law and order position it's necessary to win the governance future because this is an exercise not only in bringing about law and order in the Solomon Islands, it's also an exercise and it's also a project to bring good quality governance reform, improvements in the standards of integrity in the police force and the public service. It's a long-term investment in root and branch reform of the structure of government and institutions in the Solomon Islands. And I congratulate Sir Alan on the courage that he's displayed and the leadership he's given. I especially thank Ian Warner and all of those responsible....I'm sorry, Nick Warner and all of those responsible for the progress of the intervention and the leadership that they have shown. Mr Warner is doing a particularly fine job and the combined weight of the police with the military back up, and very importantly it's a partnership intervention by all of the Pacific Forum countries. That is very important and that gives it a great deal of authority.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, did you give Mr Kemakeza an indication how long you envisage Australian personnel staying in the Solomons?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. All along Nigel I have said that they will stay until the job is finished. I've not tried to put any weeks or months or years on that beyond what I've generally said in the past in that I would expect a draw down of the military contribution after a relatively modest period of time but the police will stay much longer. But I'm not trying to put weeks or months on that.

JOURNALIST:

Have the events of the last couple of days though, has that changed the perceived time frame or what....?

PRIME MINISTER:

No it doesn't. It's encouraging but it doesn't.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, have you discussed with any of your fellow leaders today the suggestion from the Australian Senate that we should be perhaps looking at a European Union style arrangement, perhaps a common currency in the Pacific?

PRIME MINISTER:

We have touched on that report but I haven't come here to advocate it. There are some things in that report which are quite good. There are some things in that report which are for the sort of never never such as the common currency. I think we should crawl before we walk. We should focus on things like police training, airlines and other matters.

JOURNALIST:

Are you ruling out the common currency then?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I just think it's something that's way out into the future and I have never raised currency unions either within the Pacific or indeed between Australia and New Zealand. I just think that's something that's not on the radar screen.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible] Sir Michael Somare, the issue of linking financial aid to eradicating corruption in the region?

PRIME MINISTER:

Did...

JOURNALIST:

Did you raise it with Sir Michael Somare?

PRIME MINISTER:

I didn't raise that matter. He raised the matter generally himself and I just repeated what I told the Australian Parliament that increasingly in the future Australia will be saying as a condition of aid that corruption must be eliminated. That was a generic statement. It's not particular to any country.

JOURNALIST:

The small island states today have said that they would prefer someone from the Pacific to hold the job of Secretary General and not Australia. What do you say to them?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that issue is going to be discussed tomorrow at the retreat, but the idea that somebody is ineligible because of the country that person comes from is inconsistent with the spirit of the Pacific Islands Forum and it is not an acceptable approach so far as Australia is concerned. We think the right person should be chosen. Now the Forum will decide in its wisdom who the right person is. We think Mr Irwin has superior qualifications to any of the others. That's not to say they're not very worthy people but the decision should not be on the basis of country of origin or geography. That seems to me to be a very dated notion of dealing with things.

JOURNALIST:

Qualifications to do what Prime Minister? What needs to happen at secretariat level?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well somebody who understands the region very well, somebody who's got good diplomatic skills, somebody who has ideas to energise the secretariat, those sorts of things.

JOURNALIST:

What do you rate Mr Irwin's chances given you've had these meetings, and would it be a slap in the face for Australia if he was unsuccessful given he is Australia's candidate?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I'd be disappointed if he were unsuccessful but I wouldn't regard it as a slap in the face any more than it would be a slap in the face for Samoa or Nauru or Tonga if their candidates were not successful. You can only have one person and I'd like to see it to be Greg Irwin and I hope he's successful. And as to how well we've done well we'll wait and see but I'm only part heard.

JOURNALIST:

Does it smack of a bit of ungratefulness though when three of those countries have sort of ...have basically ruled out....

PRIME MINISTER:

We haven't made a decision and I don't deal in terms of gratitude of generosity. That's not the issue. I've put forward and argument. I come here as an equal partner with all the other prime ministers and leaders.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible] issue here at the forum, intervention in the Solomon Islands to prevent it from becoming a failed state. How weak a security link are some of these small fragile states and how can you or Australia help them improve on that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we can be a good neighbour. I haven't come here to start running the ruler over different countries. We deal with situations as they arise.

JOURNALIST:

You've said the common currency isn't a goer but I mean what elements of that report....

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm not going to give a detailed response. I'm saying there were things in it that were attractive but there were some things in it that were not so practical.

JOURNALIST:

What about a common labour market Prime Minister, do you think that's got....?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think that's way down the track Tom.

JOURNALIST:

Quarantine, that's a big issue....

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm not going to rule things in and out. I've made a general statement and I'm not going further than that.

JOURNALIST:

Can you say what things you do find attractive?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, well the things I find attractive are those that I put in the discussion paper that I've circulated to forum members.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible], what's the general principle about what you're aiming to...?

PRIME MINISTER:

The general principle is commonsense and that is that if a state is not big enough to pay for itself the services that it wants, it may be able to obtain access to some measure of service delivery in that area by pooling resources with a neighbouring state. It's as simple as that, or its as profound as that. And that's not neo-colonialism, it's just commonsense and I hope the commonsense of that approach will appeal.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, can I just drag you back home for a moment?

PRIME MINISTER:

You can drag me back home.

JOURNALIST:

What do you make of Labor's decision to hand back 50-grand they got from Manildra a couple of months ago?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I would have thought it was a little bit of political covering so to speak. If the deal Manildra is accused of making with the Government was so bad and so wrong, why did they take the money in the first place? Because the Government's decision was made in September of last year and announced, and there are no additional elements of that decision have come out, there's nothing new that's been revealed over the past couple of weeks. So if it merited a rejection of the donation now why didn't it merit the rejection in June when the money was first donated? Now that seems to me to illustrate that this whole performance by the Labor Party over the past few days has just been a political exercise. There's was nothing wrong with the Government's decision. It was the right decision. It was transparently taken, transparently announced. As I say announced in September last year, donation given June of this year. It couldn't have been such a bad decision. Thank you.

[Ends]

Transcript 20859