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Thursday, 25 August 1983
Page: 282

Ms MAYER — My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. What is the Government hoping to achieve from the forthcoming South Pacific Forum which it will be hosting in Canberra?

Mr HAWKE —The Government- I am sure at least in this respect we have the support of the Opposition-places the greatest importance on relations with countries of the South Pacific region. I hope all honourable members appreciate that the South Pacific Forum provides a major opportunity for the Government to establish Australia as a valued and trusted neighbour with its fellow countries in this region.

The key questions to be considered at the Forum, other than regional economic matters in the shipping and communications fields, will be the question of decolonisation and nuclear issues. I believe that the honourable member will be aware that New Caledonia is the focus of the decolonisation debate. I say to all honourable members without equivocation that at the Forum Australia will be endorsing the principle of independence for this French colony. We will do that with a full awareness of the practical difficulties that this poses in the short term.

On a recent overseas visit I had the opportunity of having lengthy discussions with President Mitterrand on this issue. He conveyed to me that France has no colonial or economic imperatives to stay in New Caledonia, but that there is a very real problem with the composition of the population, and that a precipitate , immediate withdrawal by France would, in fact, pose very real problems for the Kanak population, which no one would want to see. This Government is convinced of the integrity of the intentions of the French Government in this respect. My Foreign Minister and I, in our respective opportunities, have made clear to the Government of France that we are aware of those problems and that we hope that it will be able to establish a realistic timetable which will meet the aspirations that I am sure are shared by all members of this House for the end of the colonial period in New Caledonia.

In addition to the question of New Caledonia we will be discussing nuclear issues. Of course, our approach will be in two parts. We will be pressing in the Forum our concern, which is shared by so many other countries in the region, about the testing by France of nuclear devices at Mururoa. Secondly we will, of course, take the opportunity in this Forum of pressing for the declaration of the principles of a nuclear-free zone in the region. We regard this as being of paramount importance. It is a matter which we have discussed with our friends and allies. Both the Foreign Minister and I have put quite clearly, particularly to our partners in ANZUS, including the United States, our commitment to this concept and have explained to them the consistency of that concept of a nuclear- free zone with our commitments and obligations under the ANZUS treaty.

Australia is the largest country in the Pacific region. It is, by its nature, often required to play a significant role in these issues. This Government will accept that responsibility. I am certainly looking forward to the opportunity of meeting some of the leaders of these countries whom I have not had the opportunity of meeting to this point and of renewing friendships with those whom I already know. As the meeting will be held here, I will have the privilege of chairing it. My colleague the Minister for Foreign Affairs will be leading the Australian delegation.

I conclude by saying-I am sure that I have the support of the Opposition in these observations-that we are proud to be hosting the meeting. We are particularly keen that it be as constructive and rewarding as possible. As chairman of the meeting, I will be doing everything to ensure that the smallest of the countries participating shall have at least an equal right as the largest to have their voice heard.