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Monday, 18 August 2003
Page: 18697

Ms JULIE BISHOP (2:22 PM) —My question is addressed to the Acting Prime Minister. Would the Acting Prime Minister update the House on the outcomes of the recent Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Auckland? How important are these outcomes for Australia and the broader Pacific region?

Mr ANDERSON (Acting Prime Minister) —I thank the honourable member for Curtin for her question and acknowledge her very real and ongoing interest in these matters, which she raises frequently and with a real passion. There is no doubt that the 34th Pacific Islands Forum was a notable success for the region and quite a watershed in the organisation's history. Regional countries have taken and embraced the opportunity to respond with concrete action to some very real security, economic and governance challenges. This is very welcome and is a significant achievement for the region as well as, I believe, for Australia and for the Prime Minister's leadership.

In particular I would note four things. Firstly, forum countries warmly welcome and endorse the Australian led regional intervention in the Solomons. I think that is important. Secondly, there was strong support for the $17 million joint regional policing initiative presented by Australia, Fiji and New Zealand to strengthen police training at all levels in the Pacific. Thirdly, there was an endorsement of the broader objectives of reform and good governance, including a review of the forum secretariat to make it a more effective instrument in the region's affairs. Fourthly, there was agreement to two Australian funded scoping studies into regional aviation and shipping, designed to help the development of regional services on a more economically sustainable basis—very important indeed.

There was also a willingness to address other issues such as the increasing threat of AIDS, a discussion in which we were able to announce that Australia would make a contribution of $12½ million over the next five years to the region. In addition to that, as has received quite wide coverage, Australia's candidate, Mr Greg Irwin, was elected to the position of secretary-general of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, which I think will prove in time to be a particularly valuable move indeed. That gentleman will bring real expertise, real professionalism and great drive to the position. It was decided, of course, on the basis of merit and in a democratic process.

I think the Pacific leaders' support for Mr Irwin represents recognition by forum countries of the significant security and governance challenges facing the region and for the need for the forum and its secretariat to play a stronger role in helping to address these challenges. Commonwealth Pacific leaders issued a statement condemning Zimbabwe in the strongest possible terms. I think what also ought to be acknowledged is that these outcomes are the culmination of real and concerted and long-term efforts by the Prime Minister, by the Foreign Minister, who has worked tirelessly on this, and by senior officials over the last few years to really bring to a high level our effective engagement in the region. They vindicate our strong leadership on regional policy. They provide the forum with new authority, new clout, new relevance and a sound new basis for moving forward, and they also reflect the strong support that the government has been prepared to give in assisting our neighbours to confront and overcome the undoubted challenges that are before them.