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Kiribati: transcript of doorstop interview: Pacific Island Forum.



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28 October 2000

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP DOORSTOP INTERVIEW AT KIRIBATI, 28 OCTOBER 2000

Subjects: Pacific Islands Forum

E&OE……………………………………………………………………………………

JOURNALIST:

How did the talks go today?

PRIME MINISTER:

They were very good. The President of Kiribati will be saying something about the outcome. But we’ve certainly embraced a declaration which deals with future action by the Forum in the event of Fiji, Solomon Islands type situations arising in the future and that does represent a real step forward for the Forum. I thought it was a very positive, forward looking discussion. In addition we dealt with the issue of West Papua and we’ll be asking, as the Forum, we’ll be asking the Indonesian government which was acknowledged of course as the sovereign authority, and the secessionist groups to exercise far greater restrain and try and resolve their differences without resort to violence. And we’ll be emphasising the consultative role that the Forum has with the government of Indonesia because there is a dialogue relationship between the Forum and Indonesia.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, on the first matter, will the Forum embrace the notion of sanctions against errant states?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think the view is you try everything else but if that fails and leaders thought it desirable then we would embrace the idea of “measures” was the description used.

JOURNALIST:

And countries in breach of that declaration, can they actually be expelled or…..?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look, we haven’t laid down how we would behave. The important thing is that we will try to do all sorts of things to resolve matters in a consultative peaceful fashion and I hope that works out. The Forum is a very special organisation. It has nation states of all different shapes and sizes. We hope that we don’t have another Fiji or Solomon Islands and we do welcome, I certainly welcome and I know my colleagues do, the outcome of the Townsville meeting where Australia played a major role in possibly achieving a settlement. And we are

encouraged by some of the moves afoot in Fiji. Obviously more has to be demonstrated by Fiji before it can be said that democratic government has been returned, and we remain of course concerned in a big way about what happened in Fiji.

JOURNALIST:

Did that consensus position go as far as Australia wanted?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, Mr Downer has warned of a bloodbath in West Papua. Do you believe the Indonesians would launch a bloodbath in West Papua?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the situation in West Papua is very difficult indeed. It is historically part of Indonesia. It was incorporated into Indonesia as a result of a deliberative process under the auspices of the United Nations 31 years ago. So the circumstances are different from East Timor. And naturally I’m concerned about what is happening there. I don’t want to put any particular description on it but I’m very concerned about it and so are all the other Forum leaders.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, in relation to the Solomon Islands, was there any discussion about the composition of the peace monitoring group that will be deployed?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well not yet but I think there could be some discussion about that in the margins of the Forum meeting as it proceeds.

JOURNALIST:

And you’ll be seeking support from some of the other leaders?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes. I always think it’s a good idea to have a number of groups, a number of countries involved in these things.   Australia will always shoulder a burden which is proportionate to her size in the Forum. But we would like to have others involved and it’s valuable that others are involved. These things should never be seen as entirely the responsibility of a country like Australia.

JOURNALIST:

The position on West Papua, is that going to be something reflected in the communique do you think?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, it’ll be….yes, there’s no secret about that. I mean we are concerned but I make the point that the agreed form of words acknowledges the fact that Indonesia is the sovereign authority in West Papua.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible] has allowed a limited measure of autonomy. So what is Australia’s position?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well Australia’s position is that we would like the bloodshed to end. We would like the fighting to stop, we would like the Indonesian government and the successionist groups to

resolve their differences in a peaceful way. Our position is that West Papua is under the legal authority of the Indonesian government. And obviously if the Indonesian government decides to give it a certain degree of autonomy well that’s an exercise of its sovereign authority.

JOURNALIST:

If Indonesia did give increased autonomy and self government however, as a founding member of the South Pacific Commission would you see then that the West Papuans would consider observer status in the Forum?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I think we’ll just deal one thing at a time. I don’t want to start getting into that. That’ll run like wildfire.

JOURNALIST:

Just to clarify - the declaration that you discussed today, that’s only going to refer to measures? It’s not specific in the mechanisms that might be used?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, well you don’t want to do that because that limits you. What essentially it will say is that we’ll try a whole series of eminent persons groups, meetings, consultations, discussions. And then if that doesn’t work the leaders will get together and if necessary embrace targeted measures.

JOURNALIST:

It says “targeted measures”?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes. And we haven’t sought to define what that means but it’s a very general term as you will acknowledge.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, did you have discussions with Mr Qarase, Prime Minister Qarase today?

PRIME MINISTER:

I didn’t have separate discussions with him but he was there and we conversed as part of the meeting. I mean there’s no particular sin in that, diplomatic sin in that. He’s there representing Fiji. He knows my position and I made that very clear, very clear indeed in the course of the discussion. But there’s no point in not talking to somebody who is actually there carrying the Fijian representation at the meeting. And we have no quarrel with the people of Fiji. We just have a quarrel with the removal of a democratically elected government.

JOURNALIST:

What’s your analysis of the consensus around the table about Fiji? In past coups in Fiji the rest of the Pacific appeared to look the other way. Do you think that attitude is changing now?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think people are concerned about the potential contagion effect.

JOURNALIST:

What about the issue of climate change Mr Howard? Did that come up and what was the….?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it was referred to very briefly in the official report. It was not a matter of substantive discussion.

JOURNALIST:

Did anyone discuss the free trade area?

PRIME MINISTER:

Haven’t discussed that yet. That might get discussed on Monday but it wasn’t something that was discussed today, no.

JOURNALIST:

There is a proposal dealing with arms in the Pacific, the availability of firearms…..

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes I’ll be saying something about that on Monday. I’m going to put a particular proposal, a modest but helpful proposal in that area.

JOURNALIST:

And on West Papua again, is there any risk from Australia’s point of view that in being party to a message to Indonesia no matter how mildly worded, that it might be interpreted as meddling again in something similar to East Timor?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it could not reasonably be so interpreted because the sovereignty, the sovereign authority of Indonesia is being acknowledged. So unless somebody is asserting that we can’t say anything about it which is plainly ridiculous, it could hardly regarded as provocative or offensive. It’s just a statement of the obvious that we’re concerned and we would like them to stop attacking each other and we would like the bloodshed to end. We recognise the authority of Indonesia but we would like to see an end to all the bloodshed. Now I don’t regard that as meddling in anybody’s affairs. I regard it as a commonsense statement of the obvious.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, is there any suggestion of East Timor becoming a member of the Forum?

PRIME MINISTER:

No not….no it wasn’t…. I mean I think in time all of those things will arise as East Timor’s governance matures. It’s too early to be talking about those things.

JOURNALIST:

Is the Forum offering itself as any option as a mediator between the West Papuans and the Indonesian authorities?

PRIME MINISTER:

It hasn’t yet.

JOURNALIST:

But has that been a possibility discussed today?

PRIME MINISTER:

That was not specifically discussed, no.

JOURNALIST:

Do you favour that idea at all?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think we just let the situation unfold. I think you have to be, you do have to respect Indonesia’s sensitivities on this. They’re important and they’re understandable. It is different. I

mean the history of the two, of West Papua and East Timor is quite different. There was an historical continuity from the colonial times so there is difference. Thank you.

[ends]

Interviews 2000 | Interviews 1999 | Interviews 1998 | Interviews 1997

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