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Downer's failed diplomacy in the South Pacific costs Australians $350 million - and rising.

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Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Security


Four years ago, the Solomon Islands’ Prime Minister asked Alexander Downer for “about 50 police to assist in restoring effective policing within the Solomon Islands”.

At that time, the internal security situation in the Solomons was containable.

Foreign Minister Downer declined this request, stating that armed intervention “would not have worked”.

The result: the Solomon Islands descended into political chaos and near anarchy over the following years - with the Prime Minister kidnapped, police surrendering their arms to militias and the institutions of governance ceasing to exist.

Downer’s response to this crisis within our immediate region was the Townsville Peace Process - a $150 million enterprise which resulted in abject failure.

The Townsville Peace Process having failed, Mr Downer last year launched the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomons which these budget papers reveal are now costing the Australian taxpayer $202 million per year.

In other words, because Downer was asleep at the wheel both on the South Pacific and on the Solomons in particular, Australian taxpayers have now had to fork out $350 million to try and deal with a crisis which an earlier and more modest intervention could have prevented.

The war against terrorism

The frontline in the war against terrorism remains Afghanistan.

The rapid expansion in opium and heroin production in Afghanistan since the 2001/2002 war has resulted in an annual financial yield of US$2.3 billion - a

large slice of which funds the continued global terrorist operations of al Qaeda. In addition to that, Afghanistan accounts for 75 per cent of the worlds opium supply, constituting an increasing danger to public health itself as a result of the drugs trade.

Despite the Howard Government’s rhetoric on the war against terrorism, we can identify only one sentence in the budget papers addressing this challenge - and no identification of any explicit budget allocation.

The only previous documented Howard Government contribution to UNODC projects we have been able to identify to date has Australia listed as only one of five donor countries to a $240,000 sub-project on “capacity building”.

When it comes to real rather than rhetorical priorities in the war against terrorism, the Howard Government has failed to put its money where its mouth is.

When I visited Afghanistan in March, President Hamid Karzai said the war against drugs within Afghanistan was his number one priority; that current programs were under funded; and that al Qaeda and the Taliban continued to draw financial strength from the burgeoning drug trade.

Economic assistance to Iraq

The Howard Government’s budgetary commitment to the economic reconstruction of Iraq also fails to match the Government’s political rhetoric on Iraq.

The budget papers do not indicate any increase to the previously allocated funding to humanitarian assistance and economic reconstruction programs in Iraq.

This amount was last announced on 29 February 2004 - and followed Foreign Minister Downer’s failure to attend the Madrid International Donors’ Conference on Iraq in October 2003.

Labor believes that Australia has a moral obligation to deliver the strongest levels of economic and humanitarian aid to Iraq possible, given our involvement in the original invasion and given the most recent World Bank/UN Needs Assessment indicates a large shortfall in aid funding for the Iraqi people.

The budget contains some positive news in relation to HIV/AIDS and I welcome the $50 million increase in funding to the Government’s existing $200 million

commitment. Labor believes more can be done in partnership with the Global Fund - given its achievements to date in the worldwide fight against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

However the budget papers demonstrate deficiencies in the Government’s aid performance in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, East Timor and the continued drift the Government’s contributions to UN multilateral programs which the Government ideologically despise (reflected in the lip service to the UN Millennium Development Goals agreed to by all states in 2000).

Ends. 12 May 2004