TRANSCRIPT: DOORSTOP INTERVIEW –SOLOMON ISLANDS
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 13 JULY 2011
TOPICS: Solomon Islands.
JOURNALIST: The Foreign Fisheries Agency surveillance stuff is pretty impressive isn't it?
STEPHEN SMITH: It's very impressive and we know that for very many Pacific Island countries one of their very few sources of revenue and sustainment is their fishery stocks. So it's very important that we're making a contribution to the long-term sustainment of that. The technology is very good and it's a very helpful contribution.
JOURNALIST: Talking to the Prime Minister, he's told us that he did raise Stirling Island with you - the processing centre. What was the response?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well it was mentioned in passing. I wouldn't put it any higher than that. It's not something that I or the government is proposing to pursue. It was mentioned in passing. It's previously been on the public record. I don't think any higher than that. It was a very small part of a lengthy conversation about transitional relationships betweenAustraliaand the Solomon’s.
JOURNALIST: He spoke to us about concerns about security on the border and that that might have had something to do with it. Is there a question from them about the possibility of helping with surveillance on the border?
STEPHEN SMITH: No, he raised, as a number of his Ministers did they regarded as potential issues of concern on the border with Bougainville and PNG. My response was, essentially, that is a matter that the Solomon Islands need to resolve directly with Bougainville and Papua New Guinea. The contribution that Australia makes to border protection issues with maritime security is, of course, through our patrol boat program and I inspected the patrol boats earlier today. That makes a substantial contribution to maritime security and border protection. But issues relating to the border between the Solomon Islands, Bougainville and Papua New Guinea are really matters that need to be resolved between those parties.
JOURNALIST: So Minister, we're ruling out, absolutely, any suggestion of Australia looking at a camp at [indistinct]?
STEPHEN SMITH: Yes-
JOURNALIST: -Stirling Island.
STEPHEN SMITH: -it's as I say, it was mentioned in passing. The Prime Minister's previously been on the public record. The Solomon Islands understands and accepts that Australia's focus is elsewhere.
JOURNALIST: The other issue that the Prime Minister raised was Chinese aid and money. He said while that's not a concern, it's something to keep an eye on. Is that your understanding of - and is that something that you're concerned about in this part of the world?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I don't put it along the lines of concern. China, like any country, is entitled to pursue bilateral relationships with other countries, whether it's in the Pacific or elsewhere.
They're also entitled to pursue development assistance relationships with countries of the Pacific. Whilst these matters are, of course, matters for the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Australia has said in the past that all we ask of countries who are embarking upon development assistance programs or who are engaging Pacific Island countries on development assistance programs, do that consistent with the Cairns Declaration that the Pacific Island Forum adopted a couple of years ago  in Cairns. But also deal with an eye to long-term sustainable development assistance, not one-off projects.
JOURNALIST: After the day you've had here, what are your feelings now?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I must say it's been a couple of years since I've been here; certainly, anecdotally and just the feel of the place the situation is much improved. Economically, things feel better. There's more activity on the streets, there's more productive activity. Everyone tells me that security arrangements and stabilisation is much better and that's certainly the feel [indistinct]. The purpose of this, trip is to visit one of our Australian Defence Force overseas operations. I wanted to visit it early in my time as Defence Minister.
But, also to start making judgements about the transition. My impression is that there will be a role here for police training and police mentoring and a police presence for some time. I'm less certain as to how long there need to be a military or Defence component of RAMSI. But what we want to do is to make those judgements in close consultation, not just with our departments, but also with the Solomon Islands Government.
So it's been a very good day from that respect - a good feel on the ground. And now we just have to, in a methodical way, just work our way through the transition process. But we don't want to do that in any way that jeopardises the stability and the security gains [indistinct]. This is a classic illustration that you can't make progress on the economic front; you can't make progress on health and education, if you don't want to stay here on a security basis and the Solomon’s was that in the early 2000s. It's now regained that. We want to make sure that we preserve it.
JOURNALIST: And it's now a matter of helping the Solomon Islanders get their confidence back, of their own people.
STEPHEN SMITH: That's right. There's a big job to be done continuing the police training. The Prime Minister and his Ministers told me that the ongoing presence of Australian Defence Force personnel and New Zealand and Papua New Guinea and Tongan Defence Force personnel adds to confidence and gives people confidence in the security situation and stability, whilst the capacity and the expertise of the Solomon Islands' police force is on the increase. So it will be a judgement call about when the time is right for that complement of Defence Force personnel to be withdrawn.
But we can't be here forever. We don't want that. The Pacific Island countries don't want that and nor does the Solomon Islands want that. But we don't want to leave in a way which prejudices the gains that the Solomon Islands have made up after some very terrible years.
JOURNALIST: Thanks. Thanks very much.
STEPHEN SMITH: Okay, thanks.