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Solomon Islands: Howard's missed opportunity.

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Solomon Islands: Howard's Missed Opportunity Laurie Brereton - Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs

Media Statement - 6 June 2000

Prime Minister Howard's disclosure in Question Time today that his Government received and rejected a specific request from the Solomon Islands Government for Australian police to reinforce the Commonwealth Multinational Police Assistance Group confirms an opportunity tragically missed", the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Laurie Brereton, said today.

"Mr Howard's assertion that Australia rejected the Solomon Islands Government's request on safety grounds does not stand scrutiny. The safety of Australian personnel deployed overseas is always a serious matter. But if it was judged a month ago to be too dangerous for Australian police to help reinforce the Commonwealth Multinational Police Assistance Group, why did the Howard Government undertake to fund contributions from other countries? Were Fijian or Vanuatu police personnel considered expendable?"

"And if the situation in the Solomon Islands was judged to be too dangerous a month ago, why did the Government not take more energetic steps to support efforts to promote dialogue and broker a peace between the rival factions?"

"A timely commitment by Australia to help strengthen policing and the maintenance of law and order would have had a positive effect on the peace process. It would have signalled Australia's determination to do all we could to forestall further deterioration in the security situation. It would have done much to help build confidence between the rival groups."

"Had Australia been positively and wholeheartedly engaged, the present slide into violence might have been averted. At the very least the peace process might have been better placed to withstand the fall-out from events in Fiji."

"Thanks to John Howard and Alexander Downer, Australia's opportunity slipped past and the Solomon Islands now faces disaster.

Authorised by Geoff Walsh, 19 National Circuit, Barton ACT 2600.