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Howard’s Pacific challenges.

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Bob Sercombe MP Federal Labor Shadow Minister for Pacific Islands

25 October 2005

Howard’s Pacific challenges

Prime Minister Howard arrives in Port Moresby today for the Pacific Island Forum Leaders meeting. If the Prime Minister is to make a worthwhile contribution, Labor believes he must act now on three key issues:

• John Howard must set out a comprehensive plan for economic integration in the region, to create a Pacific common market. This must include a temporary labour mobility scheme for unskilled workers from Pacific island countries to Australia.

• John Howard must set out a comprehensive plan for preventing future security crises in the region. Labor believes a Pacific Peace and Security Centre must be established, with staff drawn from across the Pacific, to prevent and limit conflict. Such a Centre could have helped to avoid or limit the tragedies that occurred in Bougainville and the Solomon Islands.

• John Howard must commit to a genuine partnership with our Pacific neighbours. He must commit to establishing greater people-to-people links between sports people, doctors and nurses, teachers, students and government officials.

“Labor has put forward a comprehensive vision for the Pacific in Towards a Pacific Community, which has been publicly endorsed by a number of Pacific leaders. The Howard Government, with all the resources of DFAT and AusAID, has so far failed to provide any long-term thinking about the Pacific,” said Bob Sercombe, Shadow Minister for Overseas Aid and Pacific Island Affairs.

On the issue of temporary labour mobility, government ministers have flip-flopped all over the place, indicating support, then withdrawing it. In 2003, Alexander Downer said “It is a very important source of income. We need to keep an open mind on these issues and look at what’s possible” (SMH, 15/10/03). Amanda Vanstone has said “I’m very, very interested in this. One of the Parliamentary Committees has recommended this as a combined assistance to rural communities and a foreign aid sort of issue so I’m looking at the degree to which we can do that” (Dateline, 15/6/05). Bruce Billson has said “we’re having a look at a range of considerations around labour mobility” (Pacific Beat, 12/8/05).

There are now reports that Mr Howard is not prepared to budge, feeding suspicions both here and in the Pacific that he has no strategic vision for Australia’s Pacific policy.

“The Howard Government knows what it must do if it wants to truly help our Pacific neighbours. It must commit to the comprehensive framework for regional cooperation that Labor has advanced in Towards a Pacific Community. The question is whether the

Government has the vision and courage to do it,” said Mr Sercombe.

Contact: Dave Peebles 6277 4742, 0432 449 071