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Thursday, 14 August 2003
Page: 13665

Senator BROWN (2:43 PM) —My question without notice is to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs and is related to the Solomon Islands. In the wake of the arraignment of Harold Keke, I ask the minister two things: first, will the government be moving to protect the interests of the Solomon Islander people from the marauding—in particular, Malaysian—logging companies which have created such economic as well as environmental damage to that region and the whole of the Solomons? Second, will the government get behind the moves by a wide section of the Solomon Islands community, from the Christian churches to the chamber of commerce and the judiciary, for a truth and reconciliation commission, such as has worked in East Timor and South Africa?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —The purpose of the deployment is primarily to assist the government of the Solomon Islands in restoring law and order. Without that, the Solomon Islands will continue down the path towards being a failed state, with all the consequences that flow from that to the Solomon Islanders. The arrest of Keke so quickly and so effectively is a very significant sign that we and the other Pacific states who are involved in this mission are determined to succeed and determined to assist the Solomon Islanders to achieve that law and order outcome.

It is our view that if serious crimes have been committed then they should be prosecuted. Having said that, as Senator Brown will know, Keke has been arrested on a charge concerning robbery. Obviously, therefore, the Solomon Islands police force believe they have adequate evidence to prosecute that case. But he is also being investigated in relation to a number of alleged serious offences, and whether he gets prosecuted for those no doubt will depend on whether evidence is available that could be brought before a court. Beyond that, whether the Solomon Islanders in relation to less serious offences want some form of truth and reconciliation process I think is really a matter for the Solomon Islanders. We do not seek to dictate to them how to run their country, but we agree with them that, unless major offences are prosecuted, they will not be able to run their country. I think it is really an issue for the future to be worked through by the Solomon Islanders, and if we can constructively assist in that regard we would.

In relation to environmental damage that has been done to the Solomon Islands, that is an unrelated issue except that in some circumstances it has been part of systemic corruption. One of the outcomes we want from this Solomon Islands intervention is to defeat corruption and allow government processes of proper assessment and approval, which would include environmental standards, to take place according to objective standards. So there may well be some incidental benefit in terms of environmental outcomes for the Solomon Islanders that could also flow from the intervention of which we are a part.

Senator BROWN —Mr President, I have a supplementary question. On that latter matter, my understanding is that part of the economic collapse in the Solomons has been the logging industry diverting the economic wellbeing away from the people to the external companies. I ask the minister what is the government's understanding of the corrupting of the economic outcomes for the Solomon Islanders by the Malaysian companies operating. Secondly, will the minister draw to the Attorney-General's attention the proposal by the Solomon Islands Christian Association, chaired by the Reverend Archbishop Sir Ellison Pogo, for a truth and reconciliation commission? It is a very well worked document which is the Solomon Islanders' prescription for a way forward but which the Australian government apparently is not at this stage either understanding or supporting.

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —In relation to the second part of the supplementary question, that may well be a view that is being put forward by respected Solomon Islanders and it will therefore become part of a process that will obviously be debated within circles of government within the Solomon Islands and decisions will ultimately be made on it. I think it would be presumptuous of us to tell them whether or not they should have a truth and reconciliation process. In relation to the economic misdirection, what I have said is that clearly part of this corruption has been contracts where an unfair benefit of the contract has flowed offshore. It is part of the corrupted process that has taken place now for some considerable time. As I said, I hope that out of this rebuilding of institutions in the Solomon Islands that will not occur in the future. (Time expired)