Tuesday, 25 March 2008 3:53 AM

Australia's Approach to the Region

Australia's new parliamentary secretary for Pacific Islands Affairs, Duncan Kerr, outlines his country's approach to maintaining its relationships within the region.

In a report published by the Fiji Times Online, Mr. Kerr spoke to Pacnews about 'the way he will engage with independent islands under his responsibility' beginning by saying that, "Australia can't impose itself on the domestic politics of individual Pacific Islands countries."

"We're not always going to agree on everything but we hope that where we do find differences, we either minimise those differences or speak respectfully about those differences and we concentrate on the 95 per cent of areas where we will be able to find common grounds and make sure those things proceed effectively," he said.

According to the report, Australia's new leader, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, had articulated a 'clear and unambiguous roadmap on how to engage with the islands' and this has made Mr. Kerr's job easier. Prime Minister Rudd had said prior to his election that when labor is in power, partnership would be the 'guiding word' and this is exactly the path Mr. Kerr is taking saying, "The idea of partnership agreement that we wish to reach is to ask the Pacific Islands countries with which we in the main have good basic relationships to identify their priorities and then work with them to shape a framework into which Australian development assistance can be included."

The report goes on to say that 'such a relationship seems to be guiding the new Labor Government's engagement with the government of coup of Solomon Islands under the regional RAMSI initiative'.
Mr. Kerr says that Australia is committed to the initiative for the long-term and that they were looking at an agreed framework for the evolution of RAMSI and working with the Solomon Islands government to 'enable it to pick up its capacity to deal with a wide range of issues'.

"The next stage of RAMSI where of course we will have to stay the course because the whole idea is not simply to go in and provide a quick solution to communal violence, but we will also need to strengthen the capacity of the Solomon Islands government to provide effective governance and to compliment the work of RAMSI with a bilateral programme through AusAID."

On Fiji, Mr. Kerr says that it is a "difficult situation" for the Rudd government with the island nation going through its fourth coup and still under military rule. However, Australia is ready to assist the country's move towards democracy should it ask for it.

"But if there's space for constructive ideas that can bring parties together, in ways that will enable the evolution of governance in Fiji to a return to democracy without violence and disruptions, then we would of course be interested in those ideas."