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Thursday, 6 September 1984
Page: 620

Senator SIBRAA(9.53) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

Last week the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) attended the fifteenth South Pacific Forum Meeting in Tuvalu. Next month in New Caledonia the South Pacific Conference will be held. In 1983 I had the privilege of leading the Australian delegation to the South Pacific Conference held in Saipan, Northern Mariana. As the issues discussed at both the Forum and the South Pacific Conference tend to be similar, I was extremely interested in the decisions reached at the Forum on Tuvalu. The annual South Pacific meeting of heads of government provides a unique opportunity for the 13 leaders to discuss informally their mutual concerns, to seek solutions to regional problems and to enhance regional co- operation. I think it is fair to say that Australia's standing in the South Pacific has improved greatly in recent years. No longer is Australia looked upon as a big brother or as acting in the interests of the metropolitan powers as opposed to the small island states.

Undoubtedly the two most important issues discussed at the Forum were nuclear matters and the decolonisation of New Caledonia. The establishment of a South Pacific nuclear free zone has been a prime objective of this Government since coming to office and was initially raised by Australia at last year's Forum meeting which was held in Canberra. The recent Forum accepted principles which embodied the opposition of Forum member countries individually and collectively to the manufacture, storage, use and testing of nuclear weapons and the storage and dumping of nuclear waste in our region. The meeting served notice on the United States, the Soviet Union, China, France and Japan that they are no longer prepared to see the South Pacific used as a testing ground for nuclear weapons and a dumping area for nuclear waste.

There is no doubt that many Australians would also like to see a South Pacific nuclear free zone which would ban nuclear-powered warships in the region, and whilst New Zealand would probably favour this course, it is not politically feasible, given the opposition of a number of states in the region. Treaties such as ANZUS are not affected by the nuclear free zone proposal accepted by the Forum. However, the nuclear free zone will strengthen and supplement the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. I was pleased to see in the Prime Minister's statement that individual states will continue to protest to France concerning its nuclear testing program and also to Japan concerning its proposal that nuclear waste be dumped in the Pacific.

The second important issue to be discussed was the subject of New Caledonia. New Caledonia represents one of the last vestiges of colonialism in the South Pacific. Australia and all Forum countries are anxious to see New Caledonia join the community of independent countries in the South Pacific as soon as possible. I hope that the transition to independence is peaceful. Local elections in the territory are to be held in the next few months and a referendum of the territory's population to decide the constitutional status of the country is to be held by 1989. I am convinced that the French socialist Government wishes to see New Caledonia obtain its independence. However, I believe that it is in all of our interests that this process be accelerated.

The Melanesian community in New Caledonia, the Kanaks, has special problems. However, I believe that those people within the independence front who at this time are advocating a boycott of the territorial elections are adopting the wrong course of action. If the French Government were to wash its hands of New Caledonia, the Melanesians unfortunately would not have the votes or the guns, and widespread violence and outside interference would result with disastrous repercussions for the Melanesians in that region. What Australia must do is to give New Caledonia as much assistance as possible while at the same time putting pressure on the French to grant independence as soon as is practicable.