JOURNALIST: …I spoke to Senator Payne on the line to Honiara a little earlier about Australia’s revived interest in the region.

MINISTER PAYNE: I think it shows a great interest from Australia and engagement with the region. The Prime Minister of course describes the region as our family. I am in Honiara and I was here less than a year ago as Defence Minister and made a number of visits across the region as Defence Minister as well. So it’s a long term interest of mine, it’s a long term interest of the Prime Minister and certainly our Pacific ‘step up’ is really enabling us to articulate that engagement in a different way and I think that is a really good thing.

JOURNALIST: As you say you are in the Solomon Islands, they have an election next month. That’s the first election since the 15-year long RAMSI Mission led by Australia came to an end in June last year. Will Australia be offering any additional assistance to the Solomon Islands in the election context particularly in light of the rumbling concerns there are about outside influences, like China, for example?

MINISTER PAYNE: We’ve have had an ongoing relationship with the Solomon Islands Electoral Commission. We will certainly be assisting with that and I expect to discuss matters of logistics, for example, given the disparate nature of the electorate here – many islands and much ocean – to ensure we can assist where possible.

JOURNALIST: You’re also visiting Tuvalu on this trip. The Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga there, like so many Pacific leaders, has spoken out about what they say is too little effort by Australia to reduce carbon emissions, to phase out coal. What will you tell him in light of that concern? So many nations see it in the Pacific see it as an existential crisis for themselves.

MINISTER PAYNE: I have met on the Prime Minister on a number of occasions and we both signed on to the Boe Declaration at the Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru last year, which has as its first significant security challenge the impact of climate in this region.

JOURNALIST: But you’ll have nothing else to offer him in terms of Australia further reducing carbon emissions, something that many Pacific leaders have specifically talked about?

MINISTER PAYNE: That has certainly be raised and Australia is on track, as we know, to meet our targets. We participated strongly in the planning meetings in Katowice in Poland for the Paris Agreement to ensure that the plan for implementation was in the state that it should and also very appropriate for the Pacific. So I am sure we will be discussing those issues with Prime Minister Sopoaga and his cabinet this week.

JOURNALIST: Australia is not on target, Minister, I mean that is what the conclusion is and that is disputed by those Pacific leaders as well.

MINISTER PAYNE: Well Australia, as the Prime Minister has indicated and the Minister for the Environment has indicated, is on target to meet the commitments we have made and the focus of our work in the Pacific is on supporting neighbours, supporting these members of our Pacific family, who are dealing with significant adaptation and resilience issues to address those.

JOURNALIST: Minister, just on another matter, you’ve reiterated in a statement today Australia’s calls for the Thai government to release Hakeem Alaraibi home to Australia. He is still in jail in Thailand, in shackles in his court appearance yesterday. Do you have any developments to report and why do you think Thailand is not heeding Australia’s repeated, every high level calls?

MINISTER PAYNE: Well of course there is a legal process underway in Thailand, but we understand there have been acknowledgements by Thailand’s office of the Attorney-General which have publicly confirmed that the Thai Extradition Act does allow for executive discretion in cases such as this. So I have strongly reiterated our interest and our call for Mr Alaraibi to be released from detention and to be returned to Australia where he is able to live under a protection visa and be with his family.

[ENDS]

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