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Downer Concludes Pacific Visit

Media Release
FA183 - 19 December 2004

Downer Concludes Pacific Visit

I have just concluded a very successful visit to the Pacific region, encompassing Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and New Zealand. The visit highlighted the enormous progress of our initiatives to help improve governance, security and living standards in the Pacific.

The Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) and the Enhanced Cooperation Program (ECP) with Papua New Guinea in particular demonstrate the strength of Australia's commitment to our Pacific neighbours.

RAMSI has turned around the fortunes of the Solomon Islands over the past 18 months. I congratulate Prime Minister Kemakeza, all Solomon Islanders and the men and women of RAMSI on their achievements. My attendance at a school opening on the Weathercoast, funded by Australia's aid program but largely built by local villagers, demonstrated the level of commitment of Solomon Islanders to their children and the future of their country.

Much remains to be done and I encouraged the Solomon Island's Government to redouble their efforts to progress much-needed economic and governance reforms. Australia remains committed to Solomon Islands for the long-term and is proud to be part of this successful regional initiative.

In Vanuatu I congratulated the new Government and signed an agreement which reaffirms the commitment of both countries to support good governance and economic reform. I assured new Prime Minister Ham Lini that Australia stands ready to use our bilateral aid program of $31 million a year to help lay the foundations for a prosperous and stable Vanuatu.

In Papua New Guinea, the ECP is already achieving good outcomes with Australian officials helping to strengthen financial controls and Australian police helping their PNG counterparts to work more effectively. At the 16th Australia-Papua New Guinea Ministerial Forum, Australian and PNG Ministers committed to use the ECP to improve governance, especially fiscal management and resource allocation, and to reform the PNG police force and public sector more generally.

In New Caledonia I held valuable bilateral meetings with the French High Commissioner, Daniel Constantin, and the President of New Caledonia Marie-NÃelle Thémereau. I reinforced Australia's support for the 1998 Noumea Accord and our appreciation of France's constructive role in New Caledonia and the region. I highlighted the advantages of Australian companies participating in the mining and processing of New Caledonia's world-class nickel deposits.

In New Zealand, I discussed a wide-range of regional and international issues important to both countries. To strengthen bilateral cooperation on border security, New Zealand's Foreign Minister, Phil Goff, and I signed an agreement on the exchange of passport and visa information. This agreement is designed to combat terrorism and other transnational crimes by assisting in the detection and prevention of lost, stolen, cancelled or otherwise invalid passports; and to facilitate Advance Passenger Processing for Australians and New Zealanders.

I was accompanied on the visit by a Parliamentary Delegation led by the Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Trade Bruce Billson MP, and including Steven Ciobo MP (Liberal Party), Kay Hull MP (The Nationals), Bob Sercombe MP (Australian Labor Party), Senator Gavin Marshall (Australian Labor Party) and Senator Brian Greig (Australian Democrats).

ENDS


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