5 August 2009
Doorstop Press Conference, Cairns Convention Centre
Subjects: Pacific Island Forum, al-Shabaab.
QUESTION: Minister, just in relation to al-Shabaab, what is their status with the Australian Government? Will the Government be taking action to proscribe them?
STEPHEN SMITH: They're not currently listed under Australian domestic law. It's something that consideration has been given to in the past. These things are kept under constant review but, given the events of the last couple of days, it's obviously something we're now giving very serious consideration.
QUESTION: In relation to PIF, what do you see as the major challenge for Australia in negotiation terms?
STEPHEN SMITH: Obviously we're very pleased to be hosting our first Pacific Islands Forum leaders' meeting in 15 years. It's a good thing.
Climate change, the adverse consequences of the global recession, and better coordination of development assistance - these are the things which we're expecting and hoping that over the next couple of days the Leaders will give very serious consideration to.
Obviously climate change is of keen interest to the Pacific Island leaders, and their economies have been buffeted by the global downturn. So there are two areas there that we think we can have very useful discussions about to see what assistance from Australia can be.
In terms of development assistance, the Pacific, of course, is a high priority for Australia. We contribute over $1 billion worth of development assistance. And we're hoping to have a conversation with other donor countries, like New Zealand but also the European Union, to see if we can get better coordination and better focus on what we do so far as development assistance in the region.
QUESTION: [Indistinct] ... especially given what has happened over the last 24 hours?
STEPHEN SMITH: The advice I have is that all of the required security precautions have been taken. Obviously it's not the sort of thing I'd go into detail about about but the advice I have is that all of the required security precautions have been taken by the relevant authorities.
QUESTION: [Indistinct] the arrests?
STEPHEN SMITH: We've had a terrorist level-of-threat assessment since 2001 which is "medium". Which essentially means there is a risk of terrorist activity in Australia, which is why we are ever-vigilant. And we do make the point that when it comes to terrorist activity we need to be careful for Australians - not just overseas, but also in Australia. The events of the last couple of days underline that.
QUESTION: Do you think Fiji has the support to get reinstated to the Forum?
STEPHEN SMITH: Absolutely not. As I've spoken to my counterparts both in the run-up to the Forum and last night, there's very strong support for the ongoing decision of the Leaders which is that Fiji, because it's moved away from democracy, has been suspended from the councils of the Forum and been suspended from the Forum.
One area where we are looking at whether there's something we can do consistent with that decision, consistent with the Leaders' decision in Port Moresby, is of course on the so-called PACER Plus discussions.
PACER Plus is aimed at enhancing the economy in the Pacific, at growing the economy. And we don't want to do anything which will prejudice the interests of the people of Fiji. One of the adverse consequences that we've seen since Commodore Bainimarama took power has, of course, been a deterioration, a substantial deterioration, in Fiji's economy.
So Trade Ministers and Foreign Ministers have, in the run-up to the Forum, discussed how it might be possible, consistent with Fiji's suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum, to engage or inform Fiji on those PACER Plus discussions. That'll be the subject of deliberation over the next couple of days.
QUESTION: It doesn't look like you'll get a start early with PACER Plus negotiations if the indications from yesterday are anything to go by. Are you concerned about it?
STEPHEN SMITH: What we want to see is agreement by the Leaders that we could commence a consideration of PACER Plus. It's not the end of the process, it's about 'do we start the process?' That will clearly be the subject of discussion by Leaders over the next couple of days so I think we should wait and see that discussion.
QUESTION: So just back on Fiji, do you expect that they'll still be suspended come the close of this Forum?
STEPHEN SMITH: We saw the unanimous decision of the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders' meeting in Port Moresby earlier this year to suspend Fiji from the Forum. We saw the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group meeting in London a few days ago effectively suspending Fiji, effective from 1 September. So I don't see any prospect of those issues being reopened.
On the contrary, since the suspension of Fiji by the Leaders in Port Moresby in January, we've seen Fiji not only not take steps towards democracy but to take very serious backward steps: the abrogation of the Constitution, the rounding-up of church leaders in recent times and Commodore Bainimarama saying he has no interest in holding an election in advance of 2014. So I don't see that being a focus of conversation so far as the leaders are concerned.
A very strong impression I've had as I've first spoken to my own counterparts, has been the Forum, the Forum Leaders and the Pacific Island countries wanting to have a discussion about serious matters of concern: climate change, the global economic recession and development assistance. They don't want to see another Forum dominated either by the presence or absence of Fiji.
QUESTION: Minister, do you accept that Australia will have to provide more funding to Pacific Island nations to help them meet the challenge of climate change, spend more?
STEPHEN SMITH: In our last budget we allocated $150 million as a program for assistance to the Pacific Island countries. Penny Wong and I will be making some further detailed announcements about that in the next couple of days but, yes, we stand ready, willing and able to assist Pacific Island countries as they meet the very grave challenges with climate change.
QUESTION: With more money on top of the $150 million announced in the budget?
STEPHEN SMITH: We've announced the $150 million in the budget not this year but last year. Not all of those funds have been allocated at this stage and Penny Wong and I will be making some further announcements about that.
Foreign Minister's office (02) 6277 7500