January 23, 2009

Excerpt of Joint Media Conference with Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith and New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully

STEPHEN SMITH: I am very pleased to officially welcome the New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully to Australia and very pleased to welcome him to Perth and Western Australia.

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 Australia or New Zealand.

Can I say, we started the day very enjoyably by watching the Western Force train out at Guildford. The Western Force are playing a game against Canterbury on Friday night and of course some of the Western Force Wallabies are back; Nathan Sharpe and Matt Giteau. So Mr McCully and I watched training. For me it was enjoyable, for Murray it was work, because Mr McCully is also the Minister for Sport and Minister for the World Cup, an important event occurring in 2011.

We've just had a formal bilateral meeting today going through a range of issues and interests to Australia and New Zealand. We'll adjourn to the war memorial and lay a wreath at the war memorial in King's Park reflecting obviously the ANZAC relationship, and we'll continue our bilateral discussions over lunch.

Can I say that the relationship between Australia and New Zealand is one of the most important that Australia has. We're firm friends, we're great partners, and that relationship has been forged on the battleground and also on the sporting field. And there are very many trappings of our first-class relationship.

Of course Australia and New Zealand have the longest standing, and one of the best free trade agreements, the CER. And that's worked very well for the economies and for the people of both our nations for over 20 years. We share important defence and security and police cooperation as well, including in East Timor, in the Solomons and also whilst we are in different locations in Afghanistan.

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 Murray to enable Murray to make some...

[audio missing - break in tape]

MURRAY MCCULLY: ...values the free trade agreement that it has with Australia, it's the oldest, it's the most comprehensive as Stephen Smith has said to you. And we look forward to the opportunities as an incoming Government in New Zealand to try and do, as new Governments can, to look to enlarge that relationship.

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 Perth to have a look at the Western Force training this morning and to be able to transmit important messages back to the Crusaders prior to Friday.

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.

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 Fiji?


QUESTION: Commodore Frank Bainimarama has decided obviously not to go to the Special Pacific Forum Leaders meeting on Fiji. From both countries perspective, do you think the Forum leaders will agree to the Commodore's request to defer the special leaders meeting?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I might go first and then invite Murray to make some remarks.

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 Fiji; and our understanding of that has been reflected by an initial $3 million contribution to humanitarian systems and recovery. So we understand the importance of a response to the floods. But this Special Pacific Island Forum Leaders meeting goes to Fiji's long-term future and Fiji returning to democracy. So the Australian Government view is we believe the forum should continue.

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 Tonga in October 2007, why he's not proposing to hold an election before the end of March this year.


MURRAY MCCULLY: Well, I broadly share those views and the New Zealand's Government's position is this - pretty much identical I think here, to that which you've heard outlined on behalf of the Australian Government. We think it is important that the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders meeting does take place. And to see why I think you simply have to look at the historical context here. The Commodore gave a clear and unequivocal commitment to forum leaders that elections would be held by March 2009. That commitment will not be kept.

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 Fiji. We too have made now two contributions, and we'll obviously look at that situation as things proceed.

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, Australia's view is that we very much want Commodore Bainimarama to attend. As I say, we understand the difficulties caused by the terrible floods, and we've responded with humanitarian and other assistance.

The problem for Commodore Bainimarama is this: it was he who gave a faithful and unconditional commitment to his fellow leaders in Tonga in October 2007. And I think his fellow leaders very much want a personal explanation from him as to why he's not proposing to meet the election timetable that he outlined for them in Tonga in 2007.

Whilst of course a representative, either his Deputy or an acting Foreign Minister would be preferable to no presence, Australia's very strong view is that it is much more preferable, and desirable, for Commodore Bainimarama to attend. And as I say, Australia would facilitate any travel arrangements which made it easier for him to attend PNG by transiting through Australia, if that's required or necessary.


MURRAY MCCULLY: Well, can I just say very briefly to that, that I think it is very desirable that the Commodore should attend the meeting.

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 Fiji representation rather than none.

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 New Zealand, with the other Pacific Island Forum countries. We've all been asked by the Secretary General of the Forum, Pacific Island Forum, for our views as to postponement or otherwise.

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.

MURRAY MCCULLY: Can I just make the additional point that the Ministerial Contact Group report that is to go to the Forum leadership is not a report by the Foreign Ministers of New Zealand and Australia. It's a report from a number of foreign ministers, from a range of Pacific Nations. And it was a report that was reached by consensus.

So, there's I think a risk here of seeing New Zealand and Australia as being in a slightly different place to some of the Pacific nations. I think that's implied by your question.

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.


Malcolm said...

Very sensible. I like these 2 gentlemen - they make a lot of sense.

True diplomats and if you read between the lines , you can see that these 2 are saying Frank can't be trusted to keep any promises even if the meeting is deferred so why do it.

They are also endeavoring to make him accountable to the region and to the people.

But will the simpleton understand all this ?

Next !

Tim said...

Agree Malcolm - which is a bit of a stretch because McCully is like something out of Laural and Hardie. But even given that, his reasoning and record is far more sturdy and sound than anything that emanates from Fiji's junta!
He's right: it's not about the neo-colonial hegemony of the ANZACS that Khaiyuum and his faghag Shaista would have you believe - there is a consensus. OZ and NZ have BOTH suffered from colonialism and both are well aware of its effects.
But that's cool - all Frank is doing is proving to the rest of the Pacific (aided and abetted - indeed embouldened by Yippie) that he has a little man complex. And how appropriate is it that the random verification required to post this is "squit".