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Wednesday, 20 August 1980
Page: 486

Mr NEIL (ST GEORGE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I direct my question to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and refer to the use of Australian loan personnel attached to elements of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force currently operating in Vanuatu and the reported arrest yesterday by that force of some 50 rebel supporters on the island of Espiritu Santo. I ask the Minister: What was the basis for Australia's agreement to the use of loan personnel within the Force in Vanuatu? Is it envisaged that Australian loan personnel will be involved in any combat situations which could arise? Were any Australian citizens included amongst the 50 reported arrests made yesterday by the Force?

Mr PEACOCK (KOOYONG, VICTORIA) (Minister for Foreign Affairs) - Australia agreed to requests by the governments of both Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu to provide Australian loan personnel serving within the present Papua New Guinea Defence Force so that they could form part of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force sent to Vanuatu. Only a small number- approximately 20 - is involved in essentially support duties, including such tasks as aircraft maintenance, communications, and on occasions helping fly transport aircraft on resupply missions. They will not be involved in combat operations.

The honourable member asked about their legal status. Arrangements have been made to provide a legal status for the Australian loan personnel serving with the Papua New Guinea Defence Force in Vanuatu. These arrangements consist of two parts. The bilateral Status of Forces Agreement between Australia and Papua New Guinea has been extended to cover Australian loan personnel in Vanuatu. A separate arrangement has also been made between Australia and Vanuatu confirming that Australian loan personnel in that country form part of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force contingent and confirming Australian standing and interest in their deployment.

The Papua New Guinea Defence Force is intended primarily, of course, to provide a presence in support of the Vanuatu police in consolidating the authority of the elected Government. It is a matter of some regret that the outgoing administering authorities failed to achieve this either before independence or before their joint force was withdrawn from Santo Island on 1 8 August. It is also a matter of regret that they failed to provide the new state with an adequate and unified police force. Obviously Australia has a vital interest in the stability and unity of Vanuatu, as it does in the other neighbouring states of the South Pacific. We are optimistic that the Papua New Guinea presence will be successful in establishing conditions whereby differences that exist between the national Government and the groups on the island can be resolved through negotiation rather than confrontation.

In answer to the latter part of the honourable member's question, the Government of Vanuatu considers that it has evidence that a number of foreigners, including possibly three Australian citizens, have been active supporters of the Santo secessionist movement. It has asked those concerned to leave the country voluntarily or face deportation. I understand that a dual AustralianFrench national was amongst those arrested on Santo yesterday. My Department is seeking further details from the appropriate authorities of Vanuatu.

Whilst the Australian Government is not in a position to make judgments about the evidence against the three citizens, it wishes to remind Australians abroad of their obligation to abide by the laws of the countries in which they are temporarily or, indeed, premanently resident.

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