STEPHEN SMITH: I am very pleased to officially welcome the
This is our first formal bilateral meeting since the election of the new New Zealand Government in November last year. It's not the first occasion Murray and I have met. We met when Murray was in Opposition and since Murray became Foreign Minister we've met in the margins of APEC in Lima; and of course we're both also members of the Pacific Island Forum, Foreign Ministers Ministerial Contact Group on Fiji. But this is the first formal bilateral that we've had Foreign Minister to Foreign Minister either in
Can I say, we started the day very enjoyably by watching the Western Force train out at
We've just had a formal bilateral meeting today going through a range of issues and interests to
Can I say that the relationship between
So the relationship that we have is a first-class one, touching, people to people contact, defence, security and important economic relationships. I'll throw to
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The security relationship between our two countries is close as well. We've got people working together in places like Timor-Leste, Solomon Islands, Afghanistan, where I see that servicemen from both of our countries now have won Victoria Crosses for bravery in that theatre.
We all share a great sense of responsibility for the Pacific region, which we are a part. We have a number of issues on our plates in that respect, which are sent to test us, but we have a very close sense of cooperation in the way in which we deal with those challenges.
So, from my point of view as an incoming Minister it's been great pleasure to come to
I thought I was very clever reporting to Nathan Sharpe and his colleagues that Richie McCaw appeared at training earlier this week, and was looking in great shape, but I missed the news while I was travelling that he's not playing in the team apparently.
So I really appreciate the special effort that you've gone to, Stephen, to give me the opportunity, not just as Foreign Minister but as the Minister for Sport and the Rugby World Cup, to see those dimensions to the relationship here. So I'll leave it there and happy to deal with any questions that come up.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, thanks very much,
Murray and I are happy to take questions about the bilateral relationship and any matters of mutual interest. I am also happy at the conclusion of that to take any Australian based questions. So we're happy to respond to your questions.
QUESTION: Can I just start with a couple on
STEPHEN SMITH: Sure.
QUESTION: Commodore Frank Bainimarama has decided obviously not to go to the Special Pacific Forum Leaders meeting on
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I might go first and then invite
The Australian Government very much believes that the Special Pacific Island Forum Leaders meeting should go ahead. We understand of course the difficulties caused by the floods in
Obviously we'll be in discussion with our Pacific Island Forum partners about that issue. We think it's important, very important that Commodore Bainimarama, the interim Prime Minister attend. And our officials have made it clear to Fiji officials that if for the sake of convenience Commodore Bainimarama wants to or needs to transit through Australia for the purposes of getting to PNG in quick order, then I would respond very favourably in terms of an approval for that.
So we think it's important the Forum go ahead. We think it's important that Commodore Bainimarama attend and we will view favourably the facilitation of his attendance.
We think it's very important that Commodore Bainimarama explain to the leaders why he's not proposing to meet his faithful and unconditional undertaking to the Pacific Island Leaders Forum in
The Ministerial Contact Group - that Minister Smith and I are both members of - met in Suva, identified with the Commodore that those elections would not be held in due time, that the commitment would not be kept, and reported to forum leaders a range of decisions that it now falls to them to make.
The reality is that busy prime ministers, leaders of nations, have diaries that simply do not make it possible for meetings to be arranged at short notice. And the reality is that a deferral would very likely mean that the accounting which is due by the Commodore to the Pacific Forum Leaders will not occur in a timely fashion, if the request for a deferral is accepted.
Like the Australian Government, the New Zealand Government's been saddened to see the devastation by the flooding in
So we have every desire to see the flooding dealt with in the most effective manner possible, and we'll contribute to that process; but we do not believe that that should stand in the way of a process that is very important to the Forum and to the Forum leadership.
QUESTION: Would it be acceptable - again, this question for both countries - for him to send an envoy, I guess, considering the fact that, I mean, there's been tens of millions of dollars damage, and 11 dead? Isn't it pretty reasonable for the leader of a country to want to be at home at a time like that to help with the clean-up?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well,
The problem for Commodore Bainimarama is this: it was he who gave a faithful and unconditional commitment to his fellow leaders in
Whilst of course a representative, either his Deputy or an acting Foreign Minister would be preferable to no presence,
The commitment that was made to forum leaders was in the nature of a personal commitment that he made. In the context of the way in which Pacific people interact, I think it is very important that he should make himself available to account to the Pacific leaders as a consequence. However, we can't make him go. He's due the opportunity to provide an explanation, and if he chooses to exercise that by way of sending a representative, then I guess that's what the Forum should accept.
QUESTION: If [indistinct] returned with those [indistinct] from that meeting when would be the next opportunity you'd have to talk to him about the election?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, that'll be a matter for the leaders themselves at the Pacific Island Forum. We're dealing here with nearly a dozen and a half Pacific countries. And as you'd expect all those leaders have very busy itineraries; so one of the reasons, the very sensible, practical reasons why Australia doesn't want a postponement or a deferment is of course the difficulty in getting the leaders together again at short notice.
So we very much, strongly believe the meeting should go ahead in Commodore Bainimarama's presence. I put it, as Mr McCully has, no higher than if Commodore Bainimarama chooses not to attend, then obviously it's preferable there be some
QUESTION: Is there any inclination, sorry, amongst the Pacific nations, though? I mean Sir Michael Somare's sort of said that there needs to be understanding on both sides.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we're in consultation, as is
And the view that officials are relaying to the Secretary General of the Pacific Island Forum is as I've indicated it to you: our view is it should proceed in Commodore Bainimarama's presence. That's the view we've put forward to the Secretariat of the Pacific Island Forum; that's the view we're indicating to our partners in the Pacific.
So, there's I think a risk here of seeing
What I'd say to you is that the spirit that I saw around the table of the Ministerial Contact Group when trying to share the problem, and share the path towards a solution, is still the sort of sentiment that I hear from Pacific leaders that I'm talking to about the way in which they want to see the next step of this process played out as well.