Thursday, 8 September 2022
Questions without Notice
Solomon Islands: Election
My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Wong. I refer the minister to her failure yesterday to address the specific question of whether the government of the Solomon Islands was given the courtesy of advanced knowledge of her intention to publicise the Australian government offer of financial assistance for the conduct of the Solomons Islands elections on schedule in 2023? I again specifically ask the minister: Was the government of the Solomon Islands given the courtesy of advanced knowledge of the minister's intention on Monday of this week to publicise the Australian offer of financial assistance for the conduct of the Solomon Islands elections on schedule in 2023?
Thank you, Senator Birmingham, for another question about Solomon Islands. I again refer to my previous answer and make the point that no announcement was made. As I said to him yesterday, I answered a question about Australian electoral assistance in the Solomons, which has been ongoing for 20 years. I am surprised that the opposition continues, knowing as they do, having been so recently in government—and Senator Payne, I'm sure, can advise Senator Birmingham about the challenge of a greater contest in our region—to want to press this. I was very clear—
Opposition senators interjecting—
I will take the interjection about we were so reserved through the campaign. We remember the campaign. We remember the attempts from the other side to call people who are on our side of politics a 'Manchurian' candidate. It was an absolute disgrace.
I would hope that there would be bipartisanship around what is occurring in our region. The government has been very clear about the importance of both the Pacific and South-East Asia. The Prime Minister, myself, Minister Conroy and others have been in the region. We have increased the assistance through the development assistance program. We have shifted on climate, which is the first national security priority of Pacific Island nations. And what I would say to the shadow minister for foreign affairs is that it might be best to leave behind some of the mistakes that were undertaken in government and perhaps work in a bipartisan way to strengthen Australia's security position in the Pacific.
Has the minister or Prime Minister Albanese spoken with Solomon Islands Prime Minister Sogavare since the Solomon Islands released the extraordinary statement on Tuesday accusing the minister and the Albanese government of interference in their domestic affairs? And if not, why not
We will engage in the way that we, as the government of Australia, consider to be most appropriate for Australia's national interests with the government of the Solomon Islands. If the shadow foreign minister had been looking at some social media, he would have seen that foreign minister Marsudi is visiting. Obviously we will continue to engage with them, as we do. And I have to say, I find it passing strange that I'd get a question about engagement from a government that had so little engagement, both before and after a security agreement with China was entered into, and whose best response was to send Minister Seselja.
I refer the minister to her statement in relation to Timor-Leste's use of media to pressure the Australian government when, whilst in Timor-Leste, she told a media conference on 1 September that discussions between countries 'are best done respectfully and directly and not through the media'. Does the minister concede that she failed to live up to her own standard by publicly revealing details of the offer to the Solomon Islands government? And I again invite the minister to be clear as to whether she or Prime Minister Albanese have spoken with Prime Minister Sogavare since Tuesday.
or WONG (—) (): In response to the first part of the question, which deals with Timor-Leste, the shadow minister might know, if he actually—and I hope he does—takes the time to familiarise himself, the context of my responses to the media in Timor-Leste. Unlike for many years, we actually have visited. I think the last Australian foreign minister to visit was Ms Bishop, and I had very good private discussions as well as public engagement with the President and with my counterpart, the Minister for Finance. The issue that concerns Timor-Leste, correctly, is the economic and fiscal difficulties they see into the future as the Bayu-Undan field and the Petroleum Fund diminish and the fact that the Greater Sunrise project has been stalled for years. Unlike your government, we will work with them to try to resolve that issue.