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Transcript of joint press conference with Sir Allan Kemekeza Prime Minister's Office, Honiara, Solomon Islands: 25 August 2003: Solomon Islands economic recovery; Australian troops in Iraq; corruption in Solomons; Harold Holt's death.



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PRIME MINISTER

25 August 2003

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP JOINT PRESS CONFERENCE WITH SIR ALLAN KEMEKEZA PRIME MINISTER'S OFFICE, HONIARA, SOLOMON ISLANDS

Subjects: Solomon Islands economic recovery; Australian troops in Iraq; corruption in Solomons; Harold Holt's death;

E&OE………………………………………………………………………………

SIR ALLAN KEMEKEZA:

Thank you very much indeed. First of all I would like to thank the honourable Prime Minister of Australia John Howard, for finding time amongst his very busy schedule both at home and abroad to visit Solomon Islands for one day and the honourable Prime Minister the visit is timely especially when we have finished the first part of the program and that is the surrendering of firearms. Now we are tackling a bit harder programs which is the economic recovery and economy going the of law and order of the country. I am very pleased indeed for you to come at this stage to discuss ongoing issues. As I have said this meeting is an ongoing meeting apart from the one we had in Canberra where they have given us this hope which I have taken this to both the cabinet and parliament of Solomon Islands to approve and your mission came in. One month yesterday and you came and give us more encouragement and support of what we are doing so that we can continue work prosperous… (inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER JOHN HOWARD:

Thank you very much Sir Allan I would like to thank you very much for the very warm reception that your fellow country men and women have given me, and members of my party. I congratulate you on the strong leadership that you have displayed both in relation to the invitation to Australia and other Pacific Island countries to help. You piloted the necessary legislation through parliament. You provided us with the legal authority that we needed on which to base the intervention. So far it has gone extremely well. One of the reasons it has gone well is that the intervention force was of a sufficiently large size to communicate to the criminals that the pacific island countries meant business. The gun amnesty has worked very well and everybody feels that in past weeks an enormous amount has been achieved. I

want to personally congratulate Nick Warner, the special representative, our high commissioner, assistant commissioner Ben McDevitt and Colonel Frewen, the senior Australian Army officer. I also want to record my gratitude at the close cooperation between the Australian personnel and the personnel from other pacific countries. This has been a model pacific operation. It’s not just an Australian operation, it’s a Pacific Operation. It has the very strong support of the Australian community because the Australian people believe that this is an area where we have a special role of assistance to play. They believe that we should help, our friends, our neighbours in the pacific and that is a very encouraging thing from my point of view and something its that I’ve communicated to Sir Allan this morning. Just two other points that I would like to make. The first is that what we have achieved over the past month is only the beginning. All will be lost if the gains are not consolidated by a resolute attack on corruption and a resolute determination to lift the quality of governance. They are absolutely essential. It would be easy to slide back if those two things are not done and if there is a sliding back in the future it would be much harder to summon the support for a further assistance effort or intervention.

The second thing is I am announcing that over and above the assistance we have already given, Australia will provide a further $25 million to assist the economic rebuilding and stabilisation process that will be help the budget process in the coming

year. We have placed some public servants in certain departments and our aim is to see that the taxes that ought to be paid are paid so that the nurses and the teachers and the health workers can be paid. I told the Prime Minister that I was struck as I came in this morning at the enormous number of young children and just how young the population of this country is. And this intervention is about offering those young people hope. And if together we can offer them hope then together then we can be part of building a much brighter future not only for the Solomon Islands, but also for all of the peoples of the pacific.

Australia is a serous friend and partner in the pacific, we want to help, we want to work with you, and we’re willing to provide our assistance understandably the Australian population and the Australian government wants to see a proper and positive response to the assistance that we provide.

My last word is to record my respect and admiration for the professionalism of the Australian police and the Australian military personnel as well as the civilian people who have come here, from AusAID and the various federal government departments and also some of the NGO’s it’s been a great team Australia effort as well as a team Pacific effort and as the Australian Prime Minister I naturally wish to pay particular respect to the performance of our personnel it’s been quite magnificent. Great to be in your country Sir Allan and look forward to seeing you again soon, and good luck.

Thankyou.

QUESTION:

Mr Howard you mentioned this morning a draw down, how soon do you think you’ll be considering a draw down of the military assets here?

PRIME MINISTER JOHN HOWARD:

I’m not going to commit myself to a prediction. Obviously the police presence will be longer than the military presence. I wouldn’t however like to say when the military draw down might start.

QUESTION:

About the draw down - is that part of the reason why Australia is not being able to say yes to the US and its request for more troops in Iraq?

PRIME MINISTER JOHN HOWARD:

We haven’t been asked either formally or informally to my knowledge and I think it would have come to my attention to provide more troops in Iraq. We already have in the Iraqi theatre about 850 - 852 I think the precise figure is - of military personnel and we don’t have any plans to increase that number. I did make it very clear at the

very start of the year, indeed at the end of last year as well that if Australia were to become involved in military operations in Iraq, it would be at the combat hot end - so to speak - of the operation, but we would not be in a position to contribute a large number of peacekeepers I have always made that very clear to the Americans and the British and it remains our position. And I repeat I am not aware of any formal or informal request from the Americans.

QUESTION:

So does the draw down of the troops Prime Minister both from the Solomons provide you with an option if you wish to shift further troops to…

PRIME MINISTER JOHN HOWARD:

Our position as I have explained it Mark.

QUESTION:

You can not see any circumstances in which Australia might contribute more troops…?

PRIME MINISTER JOHN HOWARD:

I’ve said all along that our involvement was to be in the sharp end of the combat phase and we did that and our men and women did it with great distinction. That has always been understood. it is understood and it will remain understood by the Americans.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister if you could answer this and maybe if Sir Allan could also respond. Both of you together, the opposition in the Solomon Islands is calling on you to

influence Sir Allan to step aside because of these allegations that have been made against him. Did you discuss this at all with the Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER JOHN HOWARD:

The Solomon Islands is an independent sovereign country. I work with the elected Prime Minister. The elected Prime minister is Sir Allan. I have found him a straightforward good man to deal with. I mean oppositions often say things about governments. I have even had some experience of that myself. But I will certainly not get involved in the domestic politics of the Solomon Islands, I’ll stand aside.

SIR ALLAN:

Thankyou very much, it is has been from day one of my leadership so I mentioned to the journalists many times, let the law take its course. Nobody is above the law thankyou.

QUESTION:

Mr Howard will Australia be changing its travel advisory to the Solomon Islands?

PRIME MINISTER JOHN HOWARD:

Changing our travel advisory? I am not aware in the parts little while that should suggest to be changed but that is something that is kept under review by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

QUESTION:

Mr Howard Mr Rudd has said this morning that Australia should have intervened in the Solomons earlier, he said that it would have saved the taxpayers millions of dollars and done it with less personnel.

PRIME MINISTER JOHN HOWARD:

Well I mean he would say that wouldn’t he.

QUESTION:

So there’s no basis to that.

PRIME MINISTER JOHN HOWARD:

No, there isn’t any basis to that it really must be a slow Monday morning in Brisbane.

QUESTION:

Mr Howard did you meet with Keke this morning at all or did you see from a distance…

PRIME MINISTER JOHN HOWARD:

Mr Keke? No

QUESTION:

Did you meet him at all this morning?

PRIME MINISTER JOHN HOWARD:

I didn’t meet Mr Keke, I mean Mr Keke is in custody and he will be dealt with according to the law.

QUESTION:

Mr Howard in terms of stamping out corruption here as which Australia has made a priority generally across the Pacific. I mean where does that start - it must concern you though that there are allegations being made even against the highest …(inaudible).. from the land. A number of people from cabinet whom you’ve already met had been holding weapons and only just surrendered them. I mean how big a broom should the Solomon Islands be…

PRIME MINISTER JOHN HOWARD:

Well I mean the question of the mechanics of dealing with these issues is a matter for the people and the processes of the Solomon Islands, I’ve indicated what is our expectation and I’ve made that very clear and I won’t resile from that because it’s quite fundamental to the approach we have to the pacific. And I know that I speak for the taxpayers of Australia in saying that. But as to the detail of it and how it is done that is obviously something that has to be grappled with by the people of the Solomon Islands it is not for me to publicly say you should be doing this and that. We lay down the parameters of our involvement and the conditionality of our involvement and having done that we leave it to individual countries to deal with these issues.

QUESTION:

Mr Howard you mentioned $25 million, is that $25 million Australian or Solomon

PRIME MINISTER JOHN HOWARD:

$25 million Australian

QUESTION:

…and where is it going to, is it going to go to supply some medicines…

PRIME MINISTER JOHN HOWARD:

It’s going to be provided to the concerted effort with the Solomon Islands government to stabilise its budget in 2003. And to help develop a credible budget in 2004. Now

its general budget assistance which will make it possible for the country to get back on a surer economic footing.

QUESTION:

So it will be to pay things like wages..

PRIME MINISTER JOHN HOWARD:

Well it will go into the Solomon Island budget.

QUESTION:

It was reported this morning that an inquest will now finally be held into the death, the disappearance of Harold Holt one of the great mysteries and tragedies of Australian Politics. Do you have any views on what actually happened, are you pleased at the thought that this will be fired up in an inquest and are you concerned that it could implicate the Chinese.

PRIME MINISTER JOHN HOWARD:

We have excellent relations with the Peoples' Republic and I am sure those theories are precisely what they have always been, fanciful theories. I am interested, surprised, but it is a matter for the law of Victoria and I won’t be telling the Victorian coroner how he should do his business. My assumption has always been that the late Prime Minister drowned at sea and for a combination of reasons his body was never recovered.

QUESTION:

Do you have strong personal memories of the event yourself?

PRIME MINISTER JOHN HOWARD:

I do, very strong. I remember the afternoon extremely well. It was what the 16th of 17th of December 1967, about a week before Christmas. It ushered in a very interesting year in Australian politics and the struggles inside the Liberal Party that followed. It’s a long time ago now and that’s a matter for the Victorian authorities. But I don’t have any fanciful theories and my own personal view I can’t place, only to say that he disappeared in the circumstances that I’ve described.

Thank you.

[ends]