YESTERDAY I met with Papua New Guinea’s prime minister Peter O’Neill ahead of the Pacific Islands Forum.
This is my third visit to PNG as Australian prime minister.
Australians value the bond we share with PNG, forged through history, geography and our enduring links.
We have shared many significant moments, including 16 September 1975 – the day PNG became independent.
To mark this milestone, I am pleased to announce that Australia will provide $25 million over four years to support the upgrade of PNG’s foremost national cultural institution, the PNG National Museum and Art Gallery.
This will ensure that the remarkable building continues to showcase and preserve PNG’s rich cultural heritage.
The Kokoda track is a powerful part of PNG's history. Since 2008, Australia has provided $40 million to maintain and improve the Kokoda track. Today I announce a further $5 million per year over five years to continue this initiative.
This will support the maintenance of the track, improve the quality of life for communities living and working along it, and help protect its natural and cultural resources.
Prime minister O’Neill and I discussed progress on processing and settlement under the regional resettlement arrangements. I thank PNG for its continued cooperation in this regional solution. Progress has been made and we discussed the importance of moving ahead to settle those found to be refugees.
I congratulate prime minister O’Neill for hosting the Forum, which is focused on real reforms that can improve the lives of all people in the Pacific region.
TRANSCRIPT OF TONY ABBOTT MEDIA CONFERENCE
PORT MORESBY, THURSDAY 10 SEPTEMBER
Provided by Australian High Commission
Thanks so much for being here.
Obviously, I'm here in Port Moresby today for the Pacific Islands Forum. This is the premier forum of the Pacific region. It's been hosted by PNG this year. It's an important forum. It brings together all of the various countries of the Pacific itself to work on matters of common interest and, in particular, to try to ensure that we are developing economically.
I'm really pleased to be at my first Pacific Islands Forum. Unfortunately, for a whole host of reasons, I was unable to be at this forum last year. It's also my third visit to PNG in just two years and that, again, is a sign of the importance that we place on the relationship. Obviously, I will have more to say about the forum this afternoon after I've been involved in the leaders' retreat over the course of the next few hours.
Can I say that I was very encouraged by the response overnight to the Government's announcement yesterday that we will take 12,000 people from those displaced by the conflict in Syria. It was a big-hearted, generous response by the Australian people to the Government's announcement.
Early next week, Commonwealth and state officials will be talking to each other about the mechanics of resettlement.
Tomorrow in Canberra, I will be talking with resettlement services and with community representatives about exactly what we need to do to ensure that people coming to Australia from the conflict zone can swiftly and effectively integrate into our country.
But, again, I just want to stress that we are a country with a good heart, with a big heart, as well as a strong arm, and we will always do what we need to do to be the best possible international citizen and I think what we've seen over the last few days is Australia at its best: a generous, open-hearted reaction to a dreadful crisis and now a sensible, considered and effective response by the Australian Government.
What's your message to asylum seekers who have been in detention here for two years, particularly the Syrians and Iraqis?
It is good you ask that question, Michael, because what we are doing is sending our immigration teams to the region to ensure that people who have been displaced are given the opportunity of permanent resettlement in Australia – people from persecuted minorities who will never have any realistic chance of going back.
There is a world of difference between people in that situation and people who have done a deal with people smugglers to go way beyond the country of first asylum. There is just a world of difference and we will never ever do anything that encourages the evil trade of people smuggling and all of those who have come to Australia by boat are here as a result of people smuggling and this is the self-same trade which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,000 people at sea in the waters to our north and has currently resulted in the deaths of perhaps many, many more thousands in the Mediterranean.
Kevin Andrews, your Defence Minister, says you could be in the Middle East for two to three years. Do you agree with that time assessment? Can you commit to it being no longer than three years?
Well, we don't want to put a particular timeline on this other than to say that they'll be there as long as needed but no longer than necessary. With all of our military commitments, we make them because there is a job to be done. They do the job – our military personnel, our armed forces personnel – they do the job effectively and professionally and when the job is done, they come home.
Prime Minister, do you want the Australian Federal Police to be operational here in PNG and what are the hurdles preventing that?
That's a very important issue and it is one that I've discussed with Peter O'Neill on every one of the occasions that we've met. There are some law and order issues in places like Port Moresby. Everyone knows that. There has been remarkable economic development here in PNG, particularly in and around Port Moresby, but there have been some law and order issues as well for many years here in this city. Peter O'Neill and the PNG Government is determined to use our assistance to make the best possible use of Australian police to help the Royal PNG Constabulary to become more operationally effective and efficient and the important thing, I think, is to embed Australian police in the PNG police. At the moment, our police are advisers rather than participants in policing here in PNG. What we need to come up with is an arrangement which makes them participants, not mere bystanders, to actual operational policing in PNG and we canvassed some possible mechanisms to make that happen and hopefully there'll be some progress in the next few weeks and months on that very important subject.
Mr Abbott, as a country with a good heart, how do you explain to Pacific Island leaders whose countries are struggling to survive climate change why Australia isn't supporting the 1.5 per cent target for the Paris climate change talks in December?
There is an internationally agreed target – the Lima target – and Australia supports that. As you know, we are making a big effort to get our emissions down. We will more than achieve a 13 per cent reduction on 2005 levels by 2020 and we have pledged a 26 to 28 per cent cut by 2030. Unlike some other countries which make these pledges and don't deliver, Australia does deliver when we make a pledge. So the 26 to 28 per cent cut is very comparable with the pledges that other countries have made and on a per capita basis, our emissions reductions 2030 will be the largest in the world, certainly the largest of any of those countries which have thus far made commitments.
So, I think I've got a very good story to tell on climate change to the Pacific Islands Forum and I think Pacific leaders should be reassured by the seriousness with which Australia is approaching this issue.
Prime Minister, as a well-known monarchist, your reaction to the Queen becoming the longest reigning monarch?
I had a few brief words to say in the Parliament yesterday about this. It's been an extraordinary life of duty and service – an absolutely remarkable life of duty and service. The Crown exemplifies those notions of duty and service which are such an important part of public life in countries such as ours. The Crown has been a part of the continuity in an era of change, which I think has been part of its lustre over time. The Crown is a fixed and stable point in a shifting and changing world and that's one of the things that makes it such a significant institution.
Prime Minister, back to Syria, you have mentioned that you won't be attacking Assad regime soldiers, but what is the plan with the regime? Should they go as well and is it any better to have them there than ISIL?
Well, I famously, or notoriously – depending upon your perspective – once described it as ‘baddies versus baddies’ in Syria, and look, the Assad regime is a dreadful regime. It’s been absolutely monstrous to its own people. On the other hand, the ISIL or Daesh death cult is just about as diabolical a group as you could imagine. So, it’s a dreadful, dreadful situation. The decision that we have made is to target air strikes against Daesh in Syria. That's the decision that we have made. We haven't made any new decision in respect of Assad but, in common with the vast majority of countries, we think that the Assad regime should go.
[inaudible] Australia is breaching Papua New Guinea's sovereignty by extracting Australians who allegedly commit crimes here before police can interview and investigate the cases, recent example, the alleged rape at Manus Island. Peter O'Neill said he wants those three men returned. He said he would raise that with you personally. Are you going to support the return of those men without an extradition treaty?
We are very happy to cooperate with PNG authorities on this. Obviously, there are due processes of law and they must always be followed, but crime is crime is crime. Where there are credible allegations, they must be investigated. Where there is strong evidence, it should be prosecuted. Where people have done the wrong thing, they should be convicted and punished and, obviously, we’re continuing to cooperate with the PNG authorities on this.
Prime Minister, Scott Morrison says Australia will resettle persecuted minorities which will mainly be Christians. Do you agree that they should mainly be Christians?
Well, we’re resettling persecuted minorities – people who cannot realistically ever hope to return. Now, there are many persecuted minorities in Syria and in Iraq, many persecuted minorities in the Middle East. There are persecuted Muslim minorities, there are persecuted non-Muslim minorities, and we are looking to resettle the members of persecuted minorities who can never realistically expect to go back to their homes. Some will be Muslim, some will be Christian, but the point is: these are people who have been displaced by war and because of the changes engulfing the Middle East, it’s unlikely that they will ever, ever be able to go back.