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Transcript of Joint Press Conference with the New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs: Wellington, New Zealand: 24 February 2006.

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DATE: 24 February 2006

TITLE: Joint press conference with the New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Rt Hon Winston Peters, Wellington, New Zealand.

MR PETERS: Ladies and gentlemen, I just want to say that it has been a pleasure to welcome Alexander Downer again to New Zealand for meetings over the last two days, beginning with the brief meeting yesterday afternoon, then dinner last night in which we had quiet substantial, though informal discussions, and a meeting on range of issues this morning. Just think, Mr Downer next month will have been the Minister for Foreign Affairs for Australia for ten years which is a pretty impressive record by anybody’s account, particularly in such a demanding and difficult portfolio. Do you agree?


MR PETERS: Australia is obviously a cornerstone in New Zealand’s foreign policy and has been in the past. The Prime Minister of Australia expressed sometime ago that it was not good enough to be close. You have got to ensure that the frequency of your engagements and similarly of your views with respect to those engagements and the encouragement of dialogue will ensure that our relationship stays the same or is improved in the future.

Just to flick over the things that we talked about. There was a whole range of things, obviously, but our Pacific engagement, issues in Fiji; Solomon Islands where we both have significant teams seeking to reconstruct the society there; the Pacific Plan which you recall began with discussions in Papua New Guinea with the Prime Ministers of both our countries some time ago. The East Asian Summit, which I do agree with respect with Mr Downer’s comments yesterday, has sadly been undervalued and underrated when in fact it is I think a dynamic new development and how we engage in constructing the machinery and the mechanisms around it to make it work for us, is going to be very important. For our part we will put the work in to make a significant contribution as New Zealand can possibly make. We talked about Afghanistan, provincial reconstruction courses there. Mr Downer gave us a briefing about events involving circumstances in Papua New Guinea and I would like him to address you now with any thoughts you might have.

MR DOWNER: Thanks Winston very much. I just want to say that it is always a great pleasure for me to come back to Wellington. I have enjoyed very much the meeting that I have had with Winston. These are, as he said, six monthly meetings and we have been having them over the years with previous foreign ministers and I have enjoyed very much the dinner last night and the

meeting this morning with Winston. We look forward to catching up again in Australia. It will probably be a bit less than six months, because this meeting has been a bit delayed as a result of the result of the New Zealand election last year, but in the middle of the year at some stage.

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Hopefully we could have the meeting in Adelaide, my home town. It’s a wonderful city and of course the current Premier of South Australia is a New Zealander. He might not be the Premier by then of course, because there’s an election on March 18th - if he is then it might be all the more appropriate.

We, as Winston has just said, discussed a quite a wide range of issues. Let me just make this point that I think that Australia and New Zealand cooperate extraordinary well in the Pacific and what we have been doing together in the Solomon Islands, what we did in the past, as I mentioned yesterday, in Bougainville, high cooperation in relation to countries like Fiji and Tonga and so on. It is very important to the region and we are committed to enhancing the economic prospects of people in the Pacific We are committed to doing what we can to contribute to stability in the region and we had a good talk about some of those issues. I think that in the main Australia and New Zealand work very, very successfully together on all of those sorts of issues. In the case of the Solomon Islands, they are having their general election in April and I thought it would be good, and Winston thought that it would be good, if the two of us together went to the Solomon Islands after the election when the new government has been sworn so that we could present our join views on the continual work of RAMSI, the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands, and encourage the new government to continue with the program that’s been underway for quite some time under the present government. It is another illustration of how well I think Australia and New Zealand can work together and we will certainly be continuing to do that in period ahead.

MR PETERS: Thank you. Are there any questions?

JOURNALIST: You talk about that extraordinary cooperation in the Pacific. The first question I guess is do you think that is appreciated by others?

MR DOWNER: We do it because it is in our interests to do it. We are not really going into this sort issue of who appreciates or who doesn’t appreciate it. I think the fact is that Australia and New Zealand work very successfully in the Pacific because we think it is important that that work is done in our interests and in the interests of the Pacific. We want to see a more prosperous and politically stable Pacific. We want the Pacific to have exciting future. What others think of it, well we will leave that to them.

JOURNALIST: This joint trip that you are planning, do you think that might symbolise or indicate perhaps an even closer level of cooperation between New Zealand and Australia?

MR DOWNER: I think so, yes. I think it just illustrates the point - just in case anybody ever missed the point - that we do work extraordinarily closely together and I am looking forward to working with Winston and it’s going to be important that the two of us make a joint presentation I think to the new Solomon Islands government.

JOURNALIST: Mr Peters, what’s your reading of the security instability situation in Papua New Guinea? Is there a role that New Zealand play?

MR PETERS: It has been a long record of disquiet in terms of certain events there. Mr Downer gave us a briefing on his read out of it. Australia’s engaged in both in personnel and financial terms, quite seriously in Papua New Guinea. He would probably be the best in this press conference to advise you. If I was by myself I would give you an answer, but I think Mr

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Downer’s knowledge of this issue is superior to mine so I think that I would prefer him to answer.

MR DOWNER: We are rolling out what we call the Enhanced Cooperation Program in Papua New Guinea. That is, we have Australians working in a number of different ministries there and that side of it is working very well. We hope that we will be able to assist Papua New Guinea in their work to counter corruption and we are still engaged in discussions with them over a greater Australian police presence in that kind of area. There’s a bit more work to be done there which I am not going to go into publicly. Look for us it’s our next door neighbour, Papua New Guinea. It is nearest country to Australia and we spend about $250 million a year in aid to Papua New Guinea and we have some concerns about the law and order situation in the cities. We have enormous concerns about the spread of HIV/Aids. There are an estimated 60,000 people in Papua New Guinea now who are HIV-positive. There are estimates that about by 2020 2025 half a million Papua New Guineans could be HIV-positive. At the moment 60-percent of all the people in the Port Moresby Hospital are HIV/Aids patients. So it is a really significant problem and we need to do more to counter Aids in Papua New Guinea. There are law and order issues; there have obviously been problems with corruption, though in terms of economic management it is going much better than it has been. The government has done a pretty good job and I am glad our officials have been able to help them in achieving better economic outcomes. But I am really worried about the HIV/Aids situation and a lot more has to be done. I have signed an agreement a couple of days ago with Bill Clinton between Ausaid and the Clinton Foundation. We are going to run some programs together to counter HIV Aids in Papua New Guinea.

JOURNALIST: Was there much discussion about Fiji and New Zealand’s Foreign Minister meeting with (inaudible)?

MR PETERS: Yes we had discussion about Fiji. I brought Mr Downer up-to-date with my most recent visit there with respect to the government. The fact is that we are both engaged, having made significant investment in getting the electoral system to a level of integrity which most western nations would be proud of; the fact that they would be at about 92 per cent from writ day when the elections are called, whether they are in May or April or in August; my discussions with the military commander. We shared our views and our optimism that there would be an election which will happen with electoral integrity, as to the logistics of it and as to the acceptance of the outcome.

JOURNALIST: And what assessment did you give about Bainimarama? Did you regard him as a stabilising force or a destructive force (inaudible)?

MR PETERS: I gave my personal views that the seriousness of the events in Fiji requires there to be a democratic outcome. That is what I shared with the Commander when I was there. I pointed out at that time that more than just the economy and society of Fiji was at stake. There are some larger issues such as what the roll over effect would be in the Pacific, even to the extent of the reputation of Pacific peoples. That was about as far as I could go and that’s what I shared with Foreign Minister Downer.

JOURNALIST: Did Bainimarama accept that?

MR PETERS: You will have to ask him.

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JOURNALIST: Was it your view that he accepted that?

MR PETERS: I would like to think that I am a persuasive person yes. (laughter)

JOURNALIST: Could you can throw any light on the visit to Fiji by the Chinese Premier and the meeting he is hosting. Well is he hosting it or will the Forum be hosting it (inaudible) will New Zealand and Australia attend?

MR DOWNER: The details of the meeting are still a bit unclear except that the Chinese do appear to want to proceed with the meeting and who we will send to the meeting we haven’t finally decided. We did have a bit of a discussion about it. Of course China is a country which, in the first place from Australia’s perspective, we have a very solid and constructive relationship and secondly China provides a lot of aid to Pacific Island countries, which is much appreciated. I mean China puts about, somebody correct me here, $300 million a year of aid into the Pacific, which is a lot of money. China has interests in the Pacific and is working to build up its relations in the region, so we have no objection to that, no objection at all. We are happy to see countries in the region have constructive relations with China, just as we do. So it is not surprising that that they want to develop their engagement with the region and if this meeting goes ahead and we are invited to it, which appears to be the case, we will have some sort of representation there. Who we will send, we haven’t worked that out yet.

JOURNALIST: New Zealand and Australia will have similar representation?

MR DOWNER: Probably, yes. We just haven’t worked it out though in detail whom we will send, we probably will.

JOURNALIST: Do you, Mr Downer have a general view on the stability of Fiji given (inaudible).


JOURNALIST: The recent rumours and speculation that there may be some form of coup there?

MR DOWNER: It is very important to Fiji, in lots of different ways, that it sticks with democracy and that decisions are made through elections by the people of Fiji and that the people, the ordinary people, of Fiji are able to determine the destiny of their country. It’s certainly not the role of the military, as I said when I was in Fiji fairly recently, well reasonably recently. I said when I was in Fiji then, it is not the role of the military to run the Government.

The civil authorities, who are accountable to the parliament and to the public, should run the government and should be responsible for running the military as well, for directing the military. The role of the military is as directed by the government. The mechanics of operating the military and the command of the military and so on, sure, that’s a military matter. I made that pretty clear to the Commander Bainimarama when I was in Fiji, in the way that Winston did as well. They have got elections coming up this year; we don’t know when the elections are going to be. The public will make a decision at those elections as to who should run the country. If Fiji decided, if there was a decision, say Fiji decided, if there was a decision to once more intervene in the democratic process militarily, if there was another coup in Fiji, it would have a devastating effect on Fiji. Obviously Australia and New Zealand would be profoundly disturbed if it happened. You know the strongest part of Fiji’s economy at the moment is tourism, it’s the strongest part. They have had problems with their sugar industry. Their garment industry has

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shrunk for one reason or another and the tourism industry has been doing truly well and there is a lot of investment and development taking place there on the back of a growing tourism industry. If there is a coup, if democratic processes are undone in Fiji, yet again as was the case in 2000 and in 1987 on two occasions, that will be an enormous set back to the tourist industry. I

can speak, not for New Zealanders of course but for Australians. Australians go to Fiji for holidays in vast numbers, but if the country becomes politically unstable then people will be discouraged from going there.

JOURNALIST: But the Commodore has obviously got his concerns about, if you like, post-coup legitimisation by laws being created, to head off people who have been perhaps guilty of triggering coups in the past.


JOURNALIST: So you can’t be critical for him taking a position on that either?

MR DOWNER: Look, whether I agree or don’t agree with his particular point of view on particular issues is one thing, but he is a human being and entitled to his own point of view on anything, but he is the military commander and his job is to command the military force not to run the politics of Fiji. They have a Parliament. They have a democratically elected Parliament. They have a government and it is not the role of the military to run the government. The simple practical reality here is, if the military decide to take over the government yet again in Fiji, it will be devastating for the Fijian economy and it will be devastating for its international relationships. It will be an enormous set back for a country which has worked its way out of the events of 2000. If there are to be laws debated, you know, introduced, debated, passed that should be done by the Parliament. People can have whatever opinions they like on those laws but in the end the Parliament should make the laws - not the military.

JOURNALIST: Just while we are solving the problems of the world what about Iraq? Do you think Iraq is slipping into a civil war and there is a loss of control there?

MR DOWNER: No I don’t, it’s obviously deeply regrettable that there was an appalling attack on the mosque. It is important that as a result of that attack there isn’t retaliation that we don’t get into a spiral of retaliatory attacks. There is some evidence that there are some retaliatory attacks taking place of course. But I don’t think it will spiral out of control at all. Look lets think this through. This attack on the mosque has almost certainly been perpetrated by Baathist, by remnants of Saddam Hussein’s regime. What these people want to do is to destroy democracy in Iraq and try to get back into power again and run the sort of brutal regime that they ran during Saddam Hussein’s time. Here is a country which is emerging from decades of tyranny into freedom and democracy and the challenge for all of us in the international community is to get behind them and to help them and make sure that the democracy works and the people can be free and build their own lives. And no matter how provocative and abhorrent the actions of some of the remnants of Saddam Hussein’s regime and Al Qaeda elements may be, we should make sure that those people are unsuccessful.

I think that the comments that Ayatollah Sistani has made have been very helpful, when he has said he doesn’t want to see retaliatory attacks for this awful attack on the mosque, provocative attack on the mosque. Ayatollah Sistani is a very key figure in the Shiite community in Iraq, and I think that shows a lot of hope. There was a very big rally in Iraq during the night, our time, of

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Iraqis who are both Sunni and Shiite saying - I don’t necessarily agree with everything they were saying - but they were united in their support for their own nation. They don’t want to see the nation split up. So I think the message that we should send is that we don’t want to see the Baathist tyrants take over again in Iraq, we don’t want to see Al Qaeda or their like take over in Iraq and these provocative acts should not be allowed to de-rail the efforts being made to make sure democracy works in Iraq.

JOURNALIST: Mr Peters, do you share your counterpart’s optimism for Iraq, as emerging as a free and independent democracy or do you think the state of the nation now justifies New Zealand’s position not to send combat troops to Iraq?

MR PETERS: Well, we may not have sent combat troops, but we definitely sent people, with respect to the reconstruction of Iraq. Yes I do share the Ministers comments in the sense that as difficult as things might be, I cannot see how this activity with respect to the mosque is going to advantage them in the long term. I think that Ayatollah Sistani’s comments, the fact that he made them signified just how serious some people are in trying to ensure there is an enduring peace and reconstruction in Iraq. That’s what I hope and I believe, the mass majority of countries in the world are aiming for and working for.

JOURNALIST: Any further contributions by New Zealand to Iraq in terms of reconstruction?

MR PETERS: Well if there is, it will be with respect to our engineers and our military and you would have to ask the Prime Minister if that is being contemplated at this point in time.

JOURNALIST: Would you like that Mr Downer, New Zealand to make more contribution in Iraq?

MR DOWNER: They made a contribution not long after the fall of Saddam Hussein and that was, I think, very much appreciated. The New Zealand government at the time made the point that they were making that contribution for a particular duration and not beyond that. So, I don’t have any expectation they are going to make a further contribution and I haven’t asked them to.

JOURNALIST: What about Australia is it going to (inaudible) I know it sent troops to Afghanistan in the last week but what about Iraq?

MR DOWNER: We have troops in Iraq, I think we have about 1,300 in the general area and we have about 400 down, in particular, down in the south in Al Muthanna province who are providing a secure environment for Japanese. There is a question mark about how long that specific operation is going to last. We are not sure at this stage, but there are discussions taking place with the Japanese, the British and the Americans about this. But we are inclined to keep troops in Iraq, as we often say, until the job is done, we are inclined to keep troops there. We don’t have any plans to withdraw altogether, so if the Japanese decide to change the structure of their operation there, as this year wears on, which is a possibility, then in those circumstances we may undertake different tasks with our troops in Iraq, but that is a work in progress at the moment. We are not quite sure how this is going to pan out except that we do want to send out the message that we are not going to cut and run from Iraq.

Back on the 15th of December, 70-percent of Iraqis, or at least of adult Iraqis, voted in an election. There was a massive turnout in an election to elect members of their national assembly. The country is gradually moving towards democracy. There’s no question of it, it’s a difficult

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task and I think if countries like Australia were just to abandon Iraq, obviously if the Americans were to just abandon Iraq, then not only would that be a terrible thing for the Iraqi people themselves, that would be I think, a catastrophe for the Middle East and the international community more broadly because the country would fall back into tyranny and of course it would become a haven for terrorists. So we can’t afford to let that happen and we were certainly continue, for our part, to make our contribution to make sure that doesn’t happen

MR PETERS: Can I just say that Mr Downer has got travel plans, so can we have one last question.

JOURNALIST: Mr Downer can I ask you are you relaxed about the arrangement with Winston Peters now outside of government, you expressed some concerns in Korea that …

MR DOWNER: I didn’t say anything to anyone in the media about this at all. I have known Winston Peters for a long time. I think he is a good bloke. I think he’s doing a very good job as the Foreign Minister and I think he should be allowed to get on with his job. We find him a very good man to deal with. You know one of the definitions of a good foreign minister is a foreign minister who is pro-Australian (laughter) and he is very favourably disposed - off the sporting field - very favourable disposed to Australia and I think he is doing an excellent job. The arrangements with the New Zealand Government are entirely a matter for the New Zealand Parliament, and the New Zealand Government and the New Zealand people. They are nothing to do with us. There has been a great media story made out of this Pusan incident but it is as simple as this. I asked - it is true, I had a discussion with Phil Goff - I asked him how do the arrangements work and he explained them to me how the arrangements work. That’s all: nothing more, nothing less. It’s just that my Department didn’t give me a full briefing on how the arrangements worked. They’re civil servants not politicians. I’m a politician, I’m very interested in the mechanics of politics and the dynamics of politics but it’s an arrangement, look its fine, it’s not a problem for me at all, perfectly happy with it, enjoy working with Winston Peters and he’s a good bloke, and some people in the media should get off his back

MR PETERS: Can I just say, thank you for coming and thank you Minister for your preparedness to answer questions here and above all for that last answer to the last question, (laughter) which I hope will end the matter in this country if not the rest of the world, thank you very much.

MR DOWNER: Well I don’t think it has spread to the rest of the world. (laughter)

MR PETERS: Yeah, well they would have it so, believe me.