Thursday, April 30, 2009

Excerpts of Joint Press Conference with the Prime Ministers of Australia and PNG discuss Fiji situation

PM RUDD: Good morning ladies and gentleman and it's a pleasure to have here in Canberra, in the nation's capital today an old, old friend of Australia, the Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare, Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea. I've known the Chief for a long, long time, he has known successive Australian Prime Ministers for an even longer time, going back to the days of independence in the mid-1970s and Chief, you are a welcome guest in Australia and we are privileged to have you with us today.

We have had a good meeting this morning about the future of the Australia-PNG relationship. This is a relationship rich in history and a relationship with a rich future because what we do together is important not just for our two peoples but also important for the wider Pacific region.


The Chief and I also discussed today our new Pacific Development Partnership. This is a new framework for development cooperation between Australia and Papua New Guinea and also an important framework for Australia's development cooperation relationship with other Pacific Island countries. What we're seeking to do is to anchor our Pacific Partnerships for Development in lifting the major development indicators across the region. Development indicators in terms of education achievement, health achievement, health outcomes, child and maternal health as well as a range of other clearly measurable indicators.

And one of the indicators that we've agreed to frame within our Pacific Partnership for Development for Papua New Guinea for the future is to raise the level of primary school participation from its current level of 53 percent to 70 percent by the year 2015. This is going to take a lot of work but until we get school education right in all the villages across Papua New Guinea and up the level of attendance in schools and then there will be big challenges for the future and I appreciate very much the Chief's support for that particular initiative.

The Chief and I also discussed today the importance of our wider region, the Pacific Island Forum and within it of course recent developments in Fiji. Papua New Guinea has taken a strong line on the question of Fiji and the actions taken by the Fijian Government. In particular the most recent decision by the Fijian Government to suspend its Constitution, to suspend press freedom and also the assault which has been delivered to the independence of the judiciary in Fiji. These decisions have received appropriate condemnation from around the world, including on behalf of our Government as well.

What is necessary is this - that the declaration that we arrived at conjointly in Port Moresby earlier this year concerning Fiji's actions and Fiji's automatic suspension from the Pacific Island Forum to take effect as of 1 May proceeds.

Fiji has not responded positively to the suggestions that were made by many of the Pacific Island leaders in the period since January for them to return to democratic rule and to announce a timetable for an election. In fact the Fijian Government have gone in precisely the reverse direction.

Therefore, two important milestones lie ahead of us. One is Fiji's suspension from the meetings of the Forum and that is a decision which was taken by leaders back in January to take effect from 1 May in the absence of Fiji taking any steps to the contrary, like announcing an election date.

The second of course lies in Fiji's future status within the Commonwealth. Australia's position is hardline and that is that you cannot sustain within a family of democracies within the Pacific Island Forum or a family of democracies within the Commonwealth a Government like that of Fiji which simply treats with contempt the most fundamental democratic institutions and press freedoms of its people.


Chief, this has been a good discussion. We appreciate very much the work which we undertake together within the South Pacific and I would acknowledge your continuing leadership across the region, particularly in dealing with difficult questions like Fiji. Over to you Chief.

PM SOMARE: Thank-you Prime Minister. I have only a few comments to make. All I want to say first is it's always, every year, we always renew our acquaintances between Australia and ourselves. Australia has been our very close partner and friend, partner since before independence and after independence and continues to give us the support, give us support to Papua New Guinea and budgetary support in support in all fields. Particularly in terms of our relationship it has been an excellent relationship that we've had. We have small ups and downs but all the governments that there have been in Australia, in my role and other Prime Ministers who have come in Papua New Guinea, our appreciation and our thanks to Australian people and Australian governments for always giving us support.

In terms of our trade relations and all, we have discussed these issues between the two of us. There is a lot of good will and good understanding between Australia and us. Australia's trade with us is always, we take it as a number one, as paramount to us because they are a very close neighbour, much closer than anyone else and we have always seen it as very important for us in Papua New Guinea.

We are now trying to divert ourselves in trying to make sure that you know, we, with our technical assistance program, we talked about education earlier on this morning and education, we just want to place more emphasis on primary and secondary education and of course up to tertiary education. I think that's an area where we have an understanding now and I'm sure that the Ministerial Forum in June when it meets will come to some of the final conclusions of our understanding and MOU to reach an agreement on.


On the other matter like Fiji, we've taken, I've been very vocal in the Pacific about Fiji's situation. And I have been trying to get the leadership of Fiji, political and military interim Prime Minister Bainimarama now has been declared. And we are not very happy with Fiji because now they've suspended the Constitution, and you have a country that has no constitution, no common law system and a legal system, that was suspended, and I think it's not very good.

All the Pacific leaders are not very happy with the outcome of what has happened in Fiji. We always, I've always said the door is open for Fiji to negotiate with them and to make sure that people of Fiji are given an opportunity to stay within the Forum.

But I think the exercise they've taken recently, particularly the suspension of the Constitution and dismissal of the judges, leaves no room for others because what's in Fiji now without a legal system. Legal system in many democratic countries are very important. People have to work within the framework of a constitution, and if you don't have a constitution, how do you administer, how do you make things work in your country.

So we are disappointed, but I'm hoping that there's still room for them to reconsider. But I think Forum has taken the stand, the Forum gave an ultimatum that if Fiji does not agree to set the date for elections, then the Forum has no option, Forum has to declare for its suspension.

I think the majority, most Forum members have taken that stand, apart from two or three leaders have some reservation about the suspension of Fiji, but I think the outcome recently would now make them also realise that how important it is to have a country with a constitution, and constitutional framework and strong legal system.

So with Fiji, as I said you know my view has been that I've been giving, and the Australian Government, particularly the Australian Prime Minister - Kevin has been very flexible because of my demands for what I think we could reach the decision on Fiji, and so is the new Prime Minister of New Zealand and then Prime Minister Helen Clark. They have always been flexible, particularly when I made an appeal to give an opportunity to Fiji to come back.

Now Fiji has decided. You know opportunities are given, even the Australian Government went to the extent to allow Fiji to have its diplomatic mission still operating in Australia. And so is New Zealand.

They've all bent over backwards. We have bent over backwards. I have. I've tried my best, but they've decided to suspend the Constitution, which is not in the books of those who like to profess democracy in their respective countries. So with Fiji that's something that Fiji themselves will have to decide and let the Forum, but the Forum has made its mind and the Forum will now be looking at next Forum meeting what would happen to Fiji. That's on the question of Fiji.

On the media, on the media front, I think I believe that the media was, our media's always, Australian media everywhere in Papua New Guinea and Fiji and Samoa and Tonga, everywhere. Media also have a responsibility too. Free press comes with the responsibility. And sometimes when you are dealing with countries, that societies which are different, when you're dealing with those countries you find that though suddenly something has happened to the press. And it's always asked what the press do.

You have to have some responsibility when you are writing or when you are criticising certain countries. Of course on the very tense issues, you must be a little bit cautious, because sometimes people are people and they retaliate in their own way. And that's what Fiji has done with the press. Now, I think our PINA association has come out, PINA is the Pacific Island News Association, Papua New Guinea and Fiji have come out to condemn what has happened, but it's a military government and sometimes very difficult.

And I always say this, someone with a gun in his hand, a rifle in his hand, it's very difficult for him to decide that's his fighting weapon. The Fijian Prime Minister has used that and got rid of the press. We're not very happy with what has happened.

I get it all the time in Papua New Guinea. Press doesn't give me a good run at all in Port Moresby. Never give me a good run.

I sympathise with him because they don't understand a lot of these things. So I just forgive them for their wrongdoings, for what they write about me, because they don't even know me. They think they know but they don't. So with the press, that's my view on press in Fiji.

So all I want to say is thank-you very much Prime Minister Kevin Rudd for inviting me to come down and work, I mean be with you today and wonderful hospitality that you've extended to me yesterday and today.

And I'll be also travelling to Melbourne. I don't why you organised this, but I am going down to Melbourne also and then to Townsville. The Victorian Premier asked me to be included in the list of people visiting the State. So I'll be in Melbourne and of course Queensland, always up there. I'm going up to Townsville to look at the flood-affected areas and the fire in Victoria. Because we did, Papua New Guinea did give some support for the national disaster that affected Victoria and northern part of Queensland.

So I've been invited to do that so, thankful that your hospitality has been extended to me and my delegation, and Australia I think, you can rest assured that that will be extended to you when you make your next visit up to Papua New Guinea.

PM RUDD: Thanks very much Chief and before we take two questions a side, I should also acknowledge as I did at the time in the Australian Parliament, the contribution which was made by the Government of Papua New Guinea to the victims of natural disasters in Australia, for which I'd again publicly like to acknowledge my thanks.

Now, questions.
JOURNALIST: (inaudible) what are some of the likely tough measures you will take against Fiji (inaudible)

PM RUDD: Well the decisions that we took in Port Moresby in the meeting chaired by the Prime Minster of Papua New Guinea was clear cut.

The communique issued in Port Moresby at the time went to the whole question of if Fiji does not announce a timetable for elections within a reasonable period of time, then Fiji will automatically be suspended from the meetings of the Forum and Forum bodies.

That was a decision taken, taken unanimously in Port Moresby, giving Fiji a final opportunity to do the right thing.

What the Fijian Military Government decided to do was exactly the reverse. The wholesale assault on the constitutional integrity of the Fijian state by the suspension of the constitution, the wholesale assault on press freedom by the wanton acts against journalists, both print and electronic, in Fiji and furthermore, the assault on the independence of the judiciary. Fiji has therefore done this to itself, in warranting suspension from the Pacific Island Forum.

Let us be clear about this. In the history of the Pacific Island Forum - I stand to be corrected on this chief, you have been around longer than I- but this has not happened with any other state before. This would be a first. The Pacific Island Forum has been around for a long time and we pride ourselves in one thing: we are a family of democracies. We have our problems, we have our challenges but we are a family of democracies.

And an important member of our family, through its military leader, has turned his back on the way in which this community of states chooses to organise its democratic affairs.

The second thing I referred to in my remarks before is what the Commonwealth now chooses to do. There is an important meeting of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, from memory on the 15th of May.

Important decisions will need to be taken then about Fiji's future status.

Also, there is one further point, and that goes to the United Nations, over recruitment arrangements in relation to peace keeping forces which come from Fiji. The revenue remittances to Fiji from Fijian forces working with UN operations around the world are important sources of revenue back into military families in particular within Fiji.

Through our own interventions with the United Nations and supported by New Zealand and other countries, the United Nations now is not going to engage future or new Fijian troops for new operations.

There is a question which now arises, given the actions taken by Fiji on the 10th of April, as to whether there should now be a further tightening on top of that, of the approach taken by the UN.

What is the common denominator with all these things? It is to send a clear cut message to the people of Fiji, the people of Fiji with whom we have had a wonderful relationship over so many decades, that the military Government which now presides over them is unacceptable because of what it has done to traverse, what it has done to traduce I should say, basic democratic principles.

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