Wednesday, 7 September 2022
Questions without Notice
Solomon Islands: Election
My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Wong. When did the Albanese government first become aware of concerns within the Solomons Islands government about its financial capacity to conduct its elections on schedule in 2023?
I thank the senator for, I think, the first foreign affairs question in this parliament. I appreciate his interest in Solomon Islands. Obviously, it's a matter of record what occurred in relation to the Solomon Islands under the previous government. I'm asked about electoral assistance. I would make the point—and he may not be aware of this—that Australia has actually been providing electoral assistance to Solomon Islands for many years, on the proprieties of both governments, so obviously the question goes to: when did the Australian government become aware of capacity to engage in an election?
I would make the point that Australia has, in fact, been providing assistance for the democratic processes in Solomon Islands for years. We are already partnering with the Solomon Islands electoral office to support electoral reform and administration, through both the Australian Electoral Commission's program and the UNDP's program, aimed at strengthening the electoral cycle in Solomon Islands. Australia has always taken the view that democracy, democratic processes and democracy matter. I would reiterate the standing offer the Australian government has to support the Solomon Islands next election, whether held in 2023 or 2024. Obviously, as I've made clear publicly, the timing of the election is entirely a matter for the government and parliament of Solomon Islands. I would assume that my colleague Senator Birmingham would share the view that democracy matters, that democratic conventions are important and that Australia's support for democratic processes through the Pacific, including Solomon Islands, is a matter for bipartisan support.
Is it correct that the Australian government only made a formal offer of financial assistance to the Solomon Islands government less than a week ago, on 1 September? Why did it take so long after questions were first raised by the Solomon Islands about its financial capacity to conduct its scheduled 2023 elections for the offer of financial assistance to be made?
I don't accept some of the assertions in the question. I would again go back to my primary answer, which is that there has been a longstanding practice of governments of both political persuasions to provide support for democratic processes in Solomon Islands. As I said, we recently provided support for PNG, and I think some of those opposite may have been invited to observe the election process. We will support Solomon Islands next election, whether held in 2023 or 2024. I would indicate to the Senate that, obviously, this is an offer that has been reiterated on more than one occasion, including by Minister Conroy as well as by officials.
BIRMINGHAM (—) (): Did the minister advise the government of the Solomon Islands that she was going to publicly reveal last week's offer of financial assistance from Australia before doing so? How does the minister respond to assertions from the Solomon Islands government that the timing of her public disclosure is an assault on their democracy and a direct interference in a foreign government's domestic affairs?
I again make the point that support for an election, which is held when the Solomon Islands parliament and government determine when that election can be, is an offer respectful of the sovereignty of the Solomon Islands. That is the nature of the answer I gave and the offer that has been made by the Australian government.
I would make this point. I understand that the shadow minister has to ask these questions. Unlike those opposite, we have ensured that the Prime Minister, the foreign minister and others are engaging with Solomon Islands, rather than the ducking and weaving we saw from those opposite.
President, a point of order on direct relevance: the series of questions, and particularly the supplementary question just asked, did not query the merits of the provision of financial assistance for the conduct of elections, which the minister keeps referencing. The supplementary question was specific about the public disclosure of the latest offer of financial assistance and whether the minister had conveyed her intention to publicly disclose that to the government of the Solomon Islands prior to doing so.
As the senator knows, this government does seek to transparently answer questions which are made by journalists. We did so in relation to an offer, which is consistent with the practice of this and past governments, to support democracy. (Time expired)