Press conference - Honiara

  • Transcript E&OE
Subjects: Visit to Solomon Islands; Pacific labour mobility; regional security; Solomon Islands election; climate change.

Penny Wong, Minister for Foreign Affairs: Thank you for being here. But thank you also for many of you accompanying me on the various events we had today. It's been a pretty jam-packed day and I want to say I've really enjoyed my first visit here as Foreign Minister - my first visit to Solomon Islands as Foreign Minister.

Look, we said when we were elected we would bring more energy and more resources to the Pacific and we have tried to do that - you've seen that here today. First, with the vaccines announcement at the school, I was really pleased to go to King George VI School, where we announced an additional 200,000 vaccines - this time paediatric vaccines for kids five to eleven.

This is on top of the in excess of half a million vaccines that Australia has been really pleased to provide to Solomon Islands as we work together to come through the pandemic. And speaking to many of the staff at the school, the Department of Health and other staff, obviously, one of the major challenges here in Solomon Islands is logistics. And I really want to thank the Australian personnel who've not only helped deliver the vaccines into Honiara, but to distribute them, because that logistic support has been really well received.

We've talked a lot about being part of the Pacific family and we mean it. And can I say to you, I really felt that today when we went to Burns Creek with the Health Minister Togamana, with Premier Sade, a Malaitan community, where you saw the Pacific family on display.

So Australians, New Zealanders, Fijians and young people from the community - did you know that? - young people from the community helped work together to build that clinic. What a wonderful example of what we can do when we work together. And it was a great privilege to be welcomed in the way I was.

Of course, this meeting - I did have a constructive meeting with Prime Minister Sogavare. It was a wide-ranging meeting, a meeting that canvassed the breadth of our relationship. Obviously, we did talk about regional security. Australia's view does remain that the Pacific family should be responsible for our security. And the Pacific family is more than capable of providing that security.

I welcomed Prime Minister Sogavare's reassurances that there will not be a military base, nor a persistent foreign military presence here in Solomon Islands.

And I welcome his assurance that Australia remains Solomon Islands’ first security partner of choice and first development partner of choice.

We discussed a number of other areas as I said, across the breadth of the relationship; infrastructure, health, education, labour mobility, and of course also climate change. And one of the important things that has changed in Australia is that the Australian people voted for a Parliament and a government that will bring much more ambition to the issue of climate change. And I know from discussions I've had today, but also from my previous experience as Climate Minister many years ago, that for Pacific Island nations such as Solomon Islands, climate change is real, it is a lived reality and we want to work with you to ensure greater resilience to that reality, as well as Australia doing the right thing in its own economy.

I'm happy to take questions.

Journalist: I’m wondering if in your discussions there was any issues raised about how Australia can help our youth?

Minister for Foreign Affairs: Well, actually, the young man who spoke to me at the clinic, who was the youth representative from the community, he spoke to me about labour mobility and obviously we are working with local community and with the government on development more broadly. But what has been raised with me is labour mobility. We come to government with a commitment to strengthen labour mobility between our nation and Pacific Island nations. I understand that's an area where we certainly can assist with opportunities as well as economic benefits to families and to individuals.

Journalist: Just a question, I would like to say, as you said, you had a good discussion with Manassah Sogavare, our Prime Minister, did you discuss with him regarding the security agreement with China? And are you suggesting anything that they need to reconsider? Anything new that you have not said?

Minister for Foreign Affairs: As I said in my opening, we did discuss regional security and obviously that is one of the issues that the region has been discussing. And I think the Prime Minister is aware of Australia's concerns and views, but most importantly, he is aware that Australia, like many other members of the Pacific family, is of the view that our regional security is a joint responsibility and it is a responsibility of the Pacific family. And as I said at the outset, I welcome the Prime Minister's assurances, which are the same assurances he's given publicly, that the government does not intend for there to be a persistent military presence or foreign military base here in Solomon Islands.

Journalist: Does Australia have a view on the Solomon Islands Government [indistinct]. The Opposition has suggested it is undemocratic. Does Australia share these concerns?

Minister for Foreign Affairs: Well, look that hasn't been raised with me formally. Obviously, Australia has always taken the view that democracy matters and democratic conventions are important and that would remain our view.

Journalist: When will Australia start implementing the Pacific Engagement Visa? And what is the total for Solomon Islands?

Minister for Foreign Affairs: Those issues were raised in the meetings today and have been raised in my meetings in Fiji and Samoa and Tonga as well. And I'm pleased that there's been a positive response. Obviously, there are issues we want to work through, including the one you referenced, which is how would we allocate as between different Pacific Islands nations. It's a visa, as you know, it’s modelled on the New Zealand visa arrangement that particularly, obviously Polynesian Islands have engaged with New Zealand in that way. So we'll work through the details, including what is the allocation for each Pacific Island nation with your government and with others. Anyone more?

Journalist: With regards to climate change, what would the current Australian Government do that would be different from what previous governments have been doing in addressing climate change?

Minister for Foreign Affairs: Well, just so you - can I bore you with a little bit of history? I was the Climate Minister in 2007 to 2010. We were elected as a Labor government with a very strong position on climate change. Prime Minister Albanese was the person, when we were in Opposition, who drafted our policy for government. So you have the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Australia, both who have a very personal commitment to action on climate. But more importantly, you've seen in the election, the election of a government and a Parliament where Australians do want stronger action on climate.

We've actually lodged our NDC at the United Nations, under the UN convention, outlining a much more ambitious plan. Not only have we committed to net-zero by 2050, we have a commitment for 2030 of a 43 per cent reduction. That would lead to, in terms of renewable energy, I think it's 82 per cent of our energy being provided from renewable energy sources. So, we are serious about this.

The other thing we want to do is to talk with Pacific Island nations about engagement, stronger engagement, including potentially holding a Conference of the Parties to try and press the issue.

When I was Climate Minister, and still today, I think that the voices of smaller island nations have been powerful and authentic in the UN negotiations.

Journalist: What can you say with regards to criticism raised around Australia taking a more active stance in the Pacific region, given with the Chinese influence coming up or in the Solomon Islands case, having a diplomatic relationship with China?

Minister for Foreign Affairs: Well look, Australia will do what Australia thinks is the right thing to do. We will work with you on your development, on your health priorities, on your education priorities, on your climate priorities, and on your security priorities, and we have. And we have. Under successive governments, we have sought to do that. We may not have been perfect, but we are family. We live in the same region. Your security and our security are interlinked. And that's how we will approach our relationship with you.

Thank you very much, everybody. It's great to be here.

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