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Downer to Visit the Pacific

Media Release

FA173 - 14 December 2004

Downer to Visit the Pacific

I will visit Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, New Caledonia and New Zealand from 14 to 19 December. I look forward to renewing ties with our neighbours and reviewing the historic initiatives that we have been pursuing together to enhance governance, security and development in the Pacific.

In Papua New Guinea, I will lead a delegation of Australian Government Ministers attending the 16 th Australia - Papua New Guinea Ministerial Forum in Lae on 15 December. The delegation includes the Minister for Defence Senator Hill, Minister for Finance and Administration Senator Minchin, the Attorney General Philip Ruddock MP, Minister for Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs Senator Vanstone, Minister for Justice and Customs Senator Ellison, and the Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer Mal Brough MP.

Reflecting Australia's commitment to deeper engagement with the Pacific region, I will also be accompanied by a multi-party Parliamentary Delegation to be led by Bruce Billson MP, Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Twelve months ago Australia and PNG agreed on a new and historic package of assistance - the Enhanced Cooperation Program (ECP) - under which Australia will deploy 210 police and up to 64 officials to PNG to help improve law and order, economic management, border control and transport security. Sixty-four police and 32 officials have already been deployed. The Ministerial Forum is an important opportunity for Australian and PNG Ministers to agree on next steps to meet key ECP objectives. Discussion will also focus on bilateral defence cooperation; the aid program; measures to promote growth and stability; and PNG's response to the HIV/AIDS threat.

In Solomon Islands on 16 December, I will discuss with Prime Minister Kemakeza, Foreign Minister Chan and Cabinet ministers progress on the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI). RAMSI has achieved the restoration of law and order and stabilisation of government finances. It is now focused on assisting the Solomon Islands Government implement challenging but necessary reforms. Australia is committed to assisting Solomon Islands for the long-term.

In New Caledonia from 16 to 17 December, I will meet the French High Commissioner, Daniel Constantin, and the President of New Caledonia, Marie-Nöelle Thémereau, among others. I will reinforce Australia's continued support for the principles embodied in the 1998 Noumea Accord, as well as our appreciation of France's constructive role in New Caledonia and the region.

With plans for major developments in the mining and processing of New Caledonia's world-class nickel deposits, the visit will also provide an opportunity to promote greater bilateral trade and investment over the next decade. Australian exports to New Caledonia totalled $201 million last year.

I will hold biannual talks with my New Zealand counterpart Phil Goff on 18 December, our eleventh biannual meeting. New Zealand is a close friend and valued international partner. We have worked closely to pursue sustained international support for economic and governance reform in the Pacific, most recently in the Solomon Islands and Bougainville. In the Pacific Islands Forum we have worked on practical proposals for pooling regional resources and strengthening sectoral cooperation.

We will also discuss strengthening regional counter-terrorism capabilities and cooperation, and review major developments in the bilateral relationship, including the two Governments' Single Economic Market (SEM) initiative, and look forward to the second meeting of the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum in Melbourne next year.

ENDS

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