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Monday, 30 October 2000
Page: 21583

Mr TIM FISCHER (2:15 PM) —I thank the Acting Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for their kind comments in relation to the Paralympics. My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and relates to the just completed Pacific Islands Forum, attended by an Australian delegation led by the Prime Minister. Would the minister inform the House about the significance of the Biketawa Declaration adopted at the forum? What are the onward ramifications of the declaration?

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the honourable member for Farrer for his question. I think the House knows the interest he has in matters pertaining to the South Pacific. Honourable members will be aware that the Prime Minister was party yesterday to the Biketawa Declaration, which was agreed to by all of the forum leaders at their retreat at an island called Biketawa, in Kiribati, yesterday and Saturday. This is a major step by the South Pacific to protect democracy and good governance. This declaration originates from the first ever meeting of forum foreign ministers, which was held in Apia between 10 and 11 August. That meeting of foreign ministers was convened to discuss the Fijian and Solomon Islands crises and to explore whether the forum should take further action, or some action, should there be crises in the future. At that meeting, it was agreed to recommend to leaders a set of principles and actions that could form a regional response to crises.

The Biketawa Declaration represents a milestone in forum relations by providing a mechanism through which it can call on members to uphold democratic principles and to take certain actions, including targeted measures, if a member state breaches those principles. Australia has taken a leading role in seeking a constructive international and regional response to recent challenges to regional stability. We worked hard through the Commonwealth, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group in particular, and bilaterally to press for an early restoration of democracy in Fiji. We have assisted the parties in the Solomon Islands to reach a cease-fire and, subsequently, the peace agreement signed in Townsville on 15 October. We are now preparing for the deployment of an international peace monitoring team to support the Townsville peace agreement.

I think the Biketawa Declaration, which Australia has worked hard with other countries to get agreed by the leaders, is a very important step forward for the Pacific nations. It is the first time they have ever agreed to cooperate in this way, and I congratulate the leaders, including of course our own Prime Minister, on the success of the forum leaders meeting.