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Solomon Islands Ministerial Dtatement & Response

Before Question time today the Minister of Foreign Affairs Phil Goff sought leave to make a Ministerial statement on recent events in the Solomon Islands. The following is a paraphrased record of the discussion. This is NOT A TRANSCRIPT.

Phil Goff: Ministerial Statement on Solomon Islands Coup.

On Saturday I joined a CMAG delegation at meetings in the Solomon Islands. We met with many groups on the islands. We had several messages – that violence was unacceptable – we pressed warring parties to return to negotiating table – we pointed out that if the path of violence was failed they would lose. History would record that they had led their people to disaster. If however they pursued peace and reconciliation then it would be possible for the Commonwealth to address the legitimate concerns of the Malaitan Eagle Force, including issues relating to compensation for the 20,000 refugees from Guadacanal. The rational decision is to follow the path of negotiation not violence. We also succeeded in negotiating the opening of an air-bridge to Honiara. While we are at the 11th hour, our officials are working to bring a resolution to this crisis.

Simon Upton (National): The opposition commends the Minister’s actions over recent days. The Minister has taken a calculated gamble in offering ODA funds for compensation. This underpins the thinness of the options available. In recent times what we have seen has been that there has been a lot going on in this region that none of us would particularly like to become involved in – but may do so anyway. The stand-off of the cold-war may have in the past prevented these events – post colonial tensions – from emerging.

Ken Shirley (ACT): Also commends the Minister. Concerning the Air Bridge we note also that the Frigate Te Mana is located in the area at this time. This highlights the need for resources to be available to the NZ Defence Force to deal with crises such as this. I commend the Minister for the prompt actions he has taken over the evacuation of NZ citizens. Where people are trapped in a situation such as this we are happy to pay for their exiting. However where people deliberately place themselves in such a situation it is another matter. As for the compensation I warn that this is where the Cargo Cult culture grew up and we wouldn’t like to see the compensation turned into an extension of this.

Keith Locke (Green): It is important what Phil Goff has said concerning upholding the constitutional processes. Often in situations like this conflict can quickly spark out of control. Either through ignorance or due to the political motives of the few. It is very good what has been done so far, and we would be happy to assist in providing people to assist – unarmed – to calm things down. As was done in East Timor during the election – and in Bougainville - the presence of unarmed peace-keepers can assist. What we have learned from this for Defence is that we need capacity to provide people on the ground. Peace-keepers and peace-helpers – not combat capabilities. This also focuses on a need for us to concern ourselves with the economic development in our neighbouring countries. In the Solomon Islands there has been a problem with Malaysian entrepreneurs ripping off forests. In the latest Guardian Weekly large scale corruption is described in the logging industry there. These issues need to be addressed. We also need to assist with basic education, in particular in the Solomons, where only 14% of the population is in secondary education.

Peter Dunne (United NZ): I would like to pick up a comment from Mr Upton. While there is an increasing tension in this region, I do not think any particular cause should be attributed to this. We need to consider our response extremely carefully. I think the long term lesson for future NZ government’s of these rising tensions will be that we need to investigate what is a reasonable response for the NZ Government. We should not be waving big sticks that we cannot wield latter, or we will lose credibility. We should also endeavor to be constructive, and not to appear as if we are one of the former neo-colonialist powers.

Phil Goff: In response – tribute paid to NZDF and Foreign Affairs personnel. In relation to comments on the compensation package. If nothing is done to enable compensation to be paid the chances of a resolution will be far less. That said we certainly do not want to encourage a cargo cult. Compensation from us alone will not solve this. Some compensation is also needed from the people who caused this, and a genuine act of contrition for these acts is also needed.

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