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Transcript of press conference: Pohnpei: 25 August 1998: Forum issues; Bougainville



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MEDIA BRIEFING BY THE MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS, MR DOWNER, AT THE SOUTH PACIFIC FORUM IN POHNPEL, 25 AUGUST 1998 ISSUES: FORUM ISSUES, BOUGAINVILLE

M r D ew ier: The outcomes from the meeting, we think, were very satisfactory. First and foremost, and I think, frankly at the top o f the list is a reaffirmation by the Forum o f the centrality o f economic reform in meeting many o f the challenges facing the region. This is a difficult time for the South Pacific, it’s affected by the Asian economic crisis. This is a time when the region could start walking away from reform but it’s n o t It’s sticking with it and so we were very pleased that that was one o f the clear outcomes. We were also pleased that this meeting condemned in no uncertain terms India and Pakistan over the nuclear testing. The South Pacific Forum is traditionally a forum which has been very opposed to

nuclear esting so perhaps that wasn’t going to be a contentious issue but different language is being used in different international meetings. This meeting used the strongest language that has been used at meetings of this kind in condemning nuclear testing so we were pleased about th at We were also pleased that this meeting supported Australia’s initiative on amending the Biological Weapons Convention, producing a protocol on verification for the Convention. One of the other issues that was discussed was this question o f a whale sanctuary. We were glad that after some to-ing and fro-ing on the issue there was a positive conclusion to that as well and the communique gave a commitment to support a whale sanctuary. So that was a good development - a lot o f Australians regard that as an important issue, which it is, and so we are happy to be able to take that forward.

Q: There was a suggestion that Palau was complaining about the wording - was that overcome eventually?

M r Dowser: Eventually it was - I’m not sure it’s protocol for me to say which country - one country had some concerns about the wording. Another country suggested that the matter be referred to the Secretariat and reconsidered at the Forum meeting next year but we wanted k> keep the momentum going. I hosted the lunch today and during lunch I took the opportunity to discuss the issue with some o f the Forum leaders - we came back to it again this afternoon and endorsed, with a minor adjustment, the wording that the officials had drafted before this meeting began. So we are very happy with the outcome.

Q: What was the nature o f those two countries’ concerns? And what was the nature o f the amendment that was agreed to in the communique? Does it allow commercial whaling for example?

M r Downer: I haven’t got the exact wording with me but the point here is that they wanted Forum partners - countries like France and Japan - to have a veto over whether this would proceed and we didn’t think it was appropriate in the 1990s that countries outside o f the Forum should have a veto on proposals from the Forum. And so the language was included that there would be consultation with the Forum dialogue partners but they certainly wouldn’t have any veto. And o f course we are very happy to have

dialogue with them - w e’ve been having dialogue with them about the whale sanctuary already. And the other country that proposed that the matter be put off wasn’t the country that was opposed to the whale sanctuary at all - it was just a country that was concerned it may prove to be a difficult issue to resolve. But there’s nothing like a good lunch to resolve an issue, especially if Australia is hosting i t So w e’re very

happy with that outcome and overall, we thought it was a very productive meeting.

Q: Was there any debate on the greenhouse motion?

M r Dowser: Yes, there was some discussion about that yesterday at the retreat There w asn’t really any fundamental disagreement - there was a view put by one country that the language on the implementation on the Annex 1 commitments made at Kyoto be strengthened, and that has happened, and also there was some discussion on whether developing countries should be fully included in the climate change negotiations at this stage. But in the end it was resolved that they should fully included. So that was all resolved very satisfactorily. There was no heat and light on climate change in 1998.

Q: Was there any attempt to develop the free trade agreement or anything like that with the economic area?

M r Downer: Well the free trade agreement wasn’t really advanced very much at this meeting. The meeting endorsed the proposals o f the Forum Economic Ministers which took place in Fiji a couple of months ago. And so the Secretariat is going to do more work on that and some of the rather difficult issues will need to be thought through. That really raises a number o f quite difficult issues over whether it should be a discriminatory or non-discriminatory arrangement, over whether Australia and New Zealand should be involved at the beginning or whether they should be phased in later on. All sorts of questions that will have to be worked through over time.

Q: There’s intense speculation in Australia that an election is about to be called any minute. Do you have any insights into this?

M r Downer: If I have any insights, much as 1 like the Australian media - Robert Garran, AAP, ABC and the foreign media, I nevertheless feel that I’ll keep my own counsel on this.

Q : You may have some insight?

M r Downer: I may, 1 may not.

Q : Bougainville. You were hoping to visit there tomorrow on the way home. What got in the way o f that?

M r Downer: Both we and the PNG Government thought that, given that they’ve had this Bougainville meeting down in Buin and that not all the people would be able to get back to Buka - which is another part o f the island - for the ceremony, and given the political environment at the moment, it might be better to postpone the opening. We thought last week it might be a nice idea if it could be arranged but it’s too close to the Buin meeting and so we think it doesn’t really matter when we do i t It’s neither here nor there really, it’s just a ceremony. I think the peace process is still working well. To say something about the Buin meeting, I think the important thing about that meeting is that there was a strong commitment to the current peace process and there is a universal commitment to the establishment o f the Bougainville Reconciliation Government by the end o f 1998. Whether they make it by the end of 1998 or not remains to be seen but they are committed to doing it pretty soon and I’ve always said this is an issue that needs to be taken a step at a time. There’ll be some arguments about this question o f independence of course, but nobody expects independence to be on the agenda in the short term and how things pan out over the years depends to be seen.

Q: There was a quite strong declaration on that yesterday though.

M r. Downer: My reading of the cable I got from our people there in the peace monitoring group was that there certainly was support for the concept o f independence but not for any timing and not for achieving independence by violent means. Now the BRA have never walked away from their commitment to independence nor have the BIG, their political wing, they remain as committed as they’ve always been but they also know that in the end there is going to have to be a long negotiation process with the PNG Government to resolve the issue o f Bougainville. But in the meantime, there should be the establishment of

the Bougainville Reconciliation Government. So I don’t see the question o f independence as one that has changed at that Buin meeting. But I do see positive signs coming out o f the strong commitment to the Reconciliation Government.