Thursday, April 30, 2009

Kevin Rudd Press Conference with Sir Michael Somare

From News


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.

Reflecting on our past, it’s been our privilege just now to meet with veterans of the Second World War. Veterans who are great Diggers from Australia who fought on the Kokoda Track, veterans of the 3rd Battalion, we are honoured to have you with us today.

We are equally honoured to have with us today two representatives of the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels and all of us in Australia know full well the enormous support, practical support and friendship extended to Australian diggers during the last war by the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels. And it’s been our privilege today to confirm that we’ll be issuing medallions to be issued by the Australian Government to honour the service and the sacrifice of the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels who are so much part and parcel of our ability to prevail in the New Guinea campaign in the darkest days of World War II.

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.

Finally the Chief and I also discussed something which is near and dear to the hearts of his own people and ours, which is the great game of rugby league. And what can be done further to develop the code in Papua New Guinea and in particular how players from Papua New Guinea can have greater opportunities in Australia as well. We are working to refine a proposal between us which we hope to have concluded by the time our Ministerial Forum meets in June in Brisbane.

The broad concept is this, how do we working together, the Government of Papua New Guinea, the Government of Australia, develop a genuinely comprehensive national competition across PNG, with proper coaching, with proper support for players and teams. And secondly how do we better integrate the PNG competition long-term within the activities of the Queensland Rugby League, the Australian Rugby League and the NRL. This of course also goes to the adequacy of major facilities within Port Moresby as well.

And our idea is this, and we want to do some work on this to reach conclusion at the Ministerial Forum in June, is if we develop effectively rugby league nation-wide in Papua New Guinea and pair that with a school attendance strategy and with a public health strategy,

then we believe we can achieve great results.

For example, if participation in this new, elevated, national rugby league competition and the training programs associated for kids in their villages across Papua New Guinea can be made conditional on school attendance, primary school attendance and the rest, then we begin to make some progress. We’ve seen progress in other such programs in Australia and the Chief and I have discussed the possibility of the application of that approach within Papua New Guinea as well. Good for primary school education, good for education attendance and more broadly good for public health promotion including HIV-AIDS awareness.

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.

Also on the other aspects of (inaudible) like sports, we’re putting more emphasis now on our sports, particularly rugby. Australian Government, Australian people have been taking great interest and of course most of us in those days are going to school, a lot of them who came down to Australia were indoctrinated with rugby. Some of us play soccer of course with different friends, and Victorian Football, I don’t know if there is such thing as Victorian football -

PM RUDD: It still exists.

PM SOMARE: It still exists? Okay, right.

PM RUDD: And it’s spread.

PM SOMARE: And it’s spreading and I think with our sports in PNG, we are taking a great interest, which we, we are also preparing our people for, we will be having a South Pacific Games soon. We’ve asked for 2015 for South Pacific Games to be held in Port Moresby and we’re preparing our stadiums and so on. So I think with sports, foundation now we’ve established, we want to pay a lot of money, $20 million we hope that with the Australian assistance we will be able to expand not only rugby but all the other sporting facilities.

And I’d like it in schools, I think it’s lacking. I remember in my old days every school that we go to had sport as a very important part of the curriculum and going back to reviewing our primary education curriculum, I think athletics is very important.

Discipline is one thing in our schools. We have to make young people adhere to the rules in schools. Some of our schools are now getting a little bit out of hand. Maybe not enough discipline but I think we manage it, we’ve managed and a lot of our young people are now in schools and in university, some leaving and going to find their jobs elsewhere.

In other fronts like, I’m very proud of the fact that we could, I could be here to witness the recognition of the effort by our Fuzzy Wuzzies, and Australian Government that’s now decided and we’ll be hoping the medals sometime this week for veterans’ medal, to be worn by our people.

Our people take great pride in the support they’ve given and we are very thankful that you know, our arrangements in our cooperation, we’ve also taken into account the, particularly the Kokoda Track, and the development along the track for people who reside in the area.

I also want to express our sympathies for those who took part and I think recently, I think two weeks ago, about a week ago, we had two people (die). It’s hard exercise and I think a lot of people need exercise and when you walk our mountains, can be very steep.

You feel the experience of how veterans like this, two gentlemen sitting in front of us here, have walked the hills of Papua New Guinea. It’s not that easy. I think you can survive in deserts of Australia, but you can’t survive on the hills and mountains and rivers of Papua New Guinea.

And I think this great effort by these men, supported by our people, I’m very thankful that Australia’s now recognising those efforts.

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: Colin Barnett, the only Liberal leader in power, has made the bold promise to never preside over a Budget deficit. As the Labor Prime Minister, can you tell Australians today when you plan to bring the Federal Budget back into surplus, and how you plan to do it?

And secondly, can I ask what was the intention of sending Mike Pezzullo to Beijing ahead of the White Paper delivery sometime later this week, or next week. What were you trying to reassure China about?

PM RUDD: On the first question concerning public finance, all governments around Australia, and all governments around the world are wrestling with one core challenge which is the collapse of taxation revenues, coming off the back of the global economic recession.

You’ve already seen the write-down in Australian Government revenues which came off the back of the impact of the recession so far. You’ve seen what Access has had to say further about that today.

And therefore, given the collapse in government revenues, it follows as a matter of course that to offset the collapse in government tax revenues that you, as a responsible government, have to engage in temporary deficit and temporary borrowings.

On the question of Liberal governments and the Liberal Party more broadly, could I say this. It’s time for Malcolm Turnbull to get fair dinkum about his own $177 billion deficit and debt strategy, which when he is pressed he admits to, and then in the next moment, seeks to attack temporary deficit and temporary borrowing on the part of the Government.

Will the real Malcolm Turnbull stand up on deficit and debt.

On the second question that you raised which concerns the Government White Paper, I can only assume that government officials are visiting a range of capitals to discuss elements of our thinking and I presume elements of our wider foreign policy context.

On the detailed travel arrangements of the gentleman you refer to, I would need to take further advice as to where he’s travelling and for what particular purpose in particular. But can I just say it is probably normal to speak to a range of countries within the region and our allies about any thinking that we have in relation to the long term trajectory of our defence planning.

Now next question.

JOURNALIST: On the flu epidemic, airports throughout the region are equipped with these thermal scanners. Why don’t we have them and do we have any plans to introduce them, and also on that, will there be a national distribution of face masks? What’s our approach to dealing with the crisis and do you think we can avoid it?

PM RUDD: This is a serious international concern for public health and therefore we share that concern with other Governments around the world, which is why the Australian Health Protection Committee has been actively monitoring developments around the world and providing the Australian Government with advice as to the necessary sequence of actions to take here.

First of all, in terms of public awareness, you would be familiar with the establishment of the relevant swine influenza hotline, and the associated Health Department website. That is an important piece of public information about the nature of swine influenza.

Secondly, as of midnight last night, all planes landing from the Americas will be required to report on the health status of passengers. And from 5am today, airports will also have a clinical presence with nurses available as well.

On top of that, as you may be aware, the Australian Government for some time has been stockpiling anti viral drugs. We have one of the largest per capita stockpiles of these drugs in the world and that has been put in place against any such contingencies for the future and of course that will be drawn upon, based on the advice of the relevant Australian Health Protection Committee.

Furthermore, the Chief Medical Officer with whom I have been speaking over the course of the weekend and the Health Minister will be briefing cabinet today on the current status of the swine influenza crisis around the world.

I notice also, I would note also that the World Health Organisation overnight raised its influenza pandemic alert from Level Three to Level Four.

So this is an evolving threat. We base our actions on the expert advice of the Australian Health Protection Committee. The Commonwealth Medical Officer, the Chief Commonwealth Medical Officer will be briefing the Cabinet today on actions taken to date and whatever further actions will be necessary.

This is a serious matter. The Government takes it seriously. All necessary resources will be deployed to meet the threat, calibrated to how it unfolds.

Next question – do we have questions from the Papua New Guinea side?

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 communiqué 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.

Is there a further question from the Papua New Guinea side? We were supposed to do two a side. If not, I’ll go to you Daniel.

JOURNALIST: I have got a question for Mr Somare. As a witness to your country’s poverty, I know that there are children starving, scavenging the streets for food, living out of cardboard boxes. Can you guarantee Australians that every cent of their $300 million is going where it needs to? And Mr Rudd are you 100 per cent satisfied that $300 million is being well spent and that Papua New Guinea is fulfilling its role under the United Nations Millennium Development Goals?

PM SOMARE: We have of course people in the streets of Port Moresby, the streets of Lae who don’t have, who don’t reside in their villages, come and of course their parents may be looking for work and you find that there are (inaudible)

You find, if you compare Papua New Guinea, with starvation, I think you have got it completely wrong, because our people have plenty in their villages. We have village society, we live in our traditional villages.

When one village is poor, the other village helps. In Port Moresby it is a different situation. Now you may have just visited Port Moresby recently and witnessed what is there. There is no-one in Papua New Guinea starving in the traditional villages. You probably see one or the two in Port Moresby - kids who come to look for opportunities for education and health, when they miss out, then they of course roam the streets.

We have catered for all our provinces and our districts. We, when we allocate the budget, it’s first time in the history of Papua New Guinea since I know Papua New Guinea from the beginning, it is the first time we have allocated amount of almost 980 million kina to concentrate on the districts, improvement of village, farming, infrastructure development, education and health.

Most people, most people live in the villages. What you see in Port Moresby is similar. If you look around, you look around some of the other countries like Papua New Guinea, maybe third world countries, you look at, see what is happening, what is being televised by CNN in Ethiopia, in Africa, in these places.

We don’t have circumstances like this in Papua New Guinea, and I can assure you, what you have seen, what you probably have seen in Moresby are kids who did not have places in schools, maybe because of the expansion of the population, influx of more people coming in, looking for opportunities in Port Moresby, could not get chance for them to provide food.

But everywhere in Port Moresby alone, if you have been in Moresby, you see the hills and mountains, people have gardens, they have sweet potato gardens, they have tapioca gardens, they have bananas.

And I don’t think anyone in Papua New Guinea starves. If you are talking and you might be talking about the people who come into the city looking for job opportunities and bring their kids along with them and I think that could be the kind of people you are talking about.

But I just want to give you assurance that Papua New Guinea, no one is starving in Papua New Guinea. We always have something to eat.

PM RUDD: I think when I became Prime Minister, in relation to Governments across the South Pacific, I was not happy with the then framework of official development assistance relationships.

I believe we need to anchor our official development assistance relationships in the Millennium Development goals. And the reason for that is that they are measurable, absolutely clean cut measurable. As you know there are eight of them, and a number of them go to specific measure on health outcomes and education outcomes and maternal health outcomes for the people.

The reason for the Pacific Development Partnerships is to anchor these within the new structure of our official development assistance relationship, and for it to be subject to mutual measurement and monitoring over time.

What the Chief and I agreed to today among other things is that at the Ministerial Forum in June, five implementation schedules for the Pacific Development Partnership of Papua New Guinea will be agreed. And these go across the core components of the Millennium Development Goals.

Furthermore, what the Chief and I discussed this morning was problems in the historical aid delivery into Papua New Guinea whereby too much money has been consumed by consultants and not enough money was actually delivered to essential assistance in teaching, in infrastructure, in health services on the ground, in the villages, across Papua New Guinea.

I am in the business of making a difference on the ground. I am in the business of making a difference to the measures which are attached to the Millennium Development Goals.

I am into the business of measurement. Measurement can be a very uncomfortable thing for us all over time, but it is the best way to hold us all accountable as to whether the measures that we are embracing have effect. And it is within that framework that we are not just simply renegotiating our development cooperation relationship with PNG, but are doing so progressively across each of the Pacific Island countries.

And the reason for doing so, to return to where I began my answer to your question, is because I wasn’t happy with the way in which those relationships were structured at the beginning, particularly on measurement, particularly measurement on poverty, particularly measurement on infant mortality.

Thanks very much.

No comments:

Post a Comment