ABC Radio National, interview with Sabra Lane

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australian deployment to Solomon Islands.
26 November 2021

Sabra Lane:

The Foreign Minister is Marise Payne, and we spoke a short time ago. Marise Payne, welcome to AM. The AFP contingent arrived last night. What’s their initial report?

Marise Payne:

I think, Sabra, we’re waiting for receipt of those pieces of information this morning. But I have heard local media reports from Honiara indicating a sense of relief in the community there that the Australian officials have arrived. And our task is to contribute strongly to stability in the Solomon Islands at the moment.

Sabra Lane:

How many Australians are in the Solomons, and if they ask, will they be assisted to leave?

Marise Payne:

It is difficult to identify precise numbers because we don’t have a compulsory registration process, as you know. But we think around 200 Australians. They are able to, of course, contact the post there but must be recommended to look at our Smartraveller advice, and we will engage with them as we need to in terms of those who might wish to leave. But, importantly, the travel advice is very, very clear about avoiding demonstrations and protests, definitely monitoring the local media for issue – for issues, avoiding any areas that are affected by protests or roadblocks and absolutely following the advice of local authorities.

Of course, a curfew has been in place, and we would hope that all Australian citizens have been observing that.

Sabra Lane:

How much damage has been done in the capital? Has the High Commissioner been able to tell you that?

Marise Payne:

We understand that there are strong reports of damage particularly in the Chinatown area. We know there have been efforts to attack some facilities like police stations. So we will get an update on that again during the day today. Of course, given that the High Commission itself has been under the imposition of the curfew and it is not safe to – it has not been safe to move around parts of the city I’m not encouraging them to do that.

Sabra Lane:

Some opposition MPs in the Solomons are really worried that this intervention from Australia might prop up the Prime Minister, Prime Minister Sogavare and make it easier for him to resist calls to resign. How does Australia avoid getting drawn into a domestic political dispute here?

Marise Payne:

We’ve been very clear since the moment the Prime Minister spoke about this yesterday that it is not the Australian government’s intention in any way to intervene in the internal affairs of the Solomon Islands. These are matters for them to resolve. We would of course encourage engagement and dialogue, but it is not for us to pass any comment or to be involved. What we want to do and what we’ve been asked to do under the bilateral security treaty, which Prime Minister Sogavare has invoked in making this call to Australia, is to contribute to stability, to contribute to calming things in Honiara itself.

Sabra Lane:

Has Mr Sogavare asked for any personal protection for himself?

Marise Payne:

I’m not aware of the details of Mr Sogavare’s requests. And they are matters between the Prime Ministers and as are relevant under the bilateral security treaty. But what we need to be ensuring we are doing is broadly contributing to the stability of the situation there.

Sabra Lane:

Mr Sogavare’s blaming other countries for stirring up this trouble. Is that Australia’s view?

Marise Payne:

We have not indicated that at all. We have been very clear – our view is we don’t want to see violence. We’ve been asked to come forward under the bilateral security treaty, and we would very much hope for a return to stability.

Sabra Lane:

He also asserts that these riots are very much aimed at bringing down his government. Does Australia see it that way?

Marise Payne:

Again, Sabra, I’m not going to comment on internal Solomon Island matters or politics, and nor should I. Our support is at the request of the Prime Minister under an important bilateral security treaty, and it is about contributing to stability at a difficult time in a member of our Pacific family. I’ve been speaking to colleagues around the Pacific overnight, as has the Minister for International Development and the Pacific and the Prime Minister, and there is broad recognition that it is important to support the stability, where we are able to do so. And we have received a request from the government through the treaty process, and that’s what we’re doing.

Sabra Lane:

Mr Sogavare has blamed foreign powers for this unrest. And he won’t name names. He says people know who he’s talking about. He’s accused them of influencing the people of Malaita via the elites there to encourage them to stir up unrest with the central government. Is Australia receiving that kind of information as well?

Marise Payne:

Sabra, there have been long-term issues in the Solomon Islands. I’m not going to comment on any of those. And the point of our engagement, the point of the women and men of the Australian Federal Police and the ADF heading to the Solomon Islands at this time, is to contribute to stability in that community to ensure that we are able to make that constructive contribution.

Sabra Lane:

Given the unrest revolves partly around civil disagreement about a switch in allegiances from Taiwan to China, how do you think this will be resolved?

Marise Payne:

Well, ultimately, Sabra, that is, of course, a matter for the parties in the Solomon Islands. And when I say parties, I mean representatives on all sides of these issues. Ultimately these are matters that they must resolve themselves and domestically. And we would not make any comment or engage on those. What we will do and what we have said is the purpose of this deployment is this very important contribution to stability. We would very much seek or make, if you like, a call for calm. We would hope to see tensions resolved peacefully. But ultimately these matters will be determined in the Solomon Islands.

Sabra Lane:

Just quickly, do you think this will take weeks or months to sort?

Marise Payne:

We’ve said that this is a deployment for a matter of weeks. We’ll engage closely with the government of the Solomon Islands. I’ve also spoken and been in regular contact in the past day with the Foreign Minister, Foreign Minister Manele, and we will continue to talk with them. But I think a matter of weeks.

Sabra Lane:

Minister, thanks for talking to AM.

Marise Payne:

Thanks very much, Sabra.

Sabra Lane:

The Foreign Minister, Marise Payne.

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