Australian Labor accuses government of failing on Solomon Islands security

163
3
Australian Labor accuses government of failing on Solomon Islands security

Federal Labor is accusing the government of the worst failure of Australian foreign policy in the Pacific in almost 80 years, after the governments of Solomon Islands and China signed a new security pact.

The controversial deal has been the subject of a lot of debate in the last few weeks, sparking fears that it could allow China to establish a military presence in the South Pacific region.

Australia, New Zealand and the United States have expressed concern about the situation that could set for other small Pacific nations.

Last week, Minister for International Development and the Pacific Zed Seselja was sent to Solomon Islands in a last-ditch effort to convince the government in Honiara to walk away from the deal, a trip now shown to have been fruitless.

Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong was scathing in her assessment of the way the Coalition had handled the matter.

We have China now with a security agreement with a nation of the Pacific, a nation that is just over 1,600 kilometres from Cairns.

Our region has become less secure under Scott Morrison's watch, as well as the risks Australia faces have become much larger, according to Scott Morrison's watch. Senator Wong said that the Prime Minister had ignored warnings about the deal last year and should have personally intervened to make sure it was never signed.

Securing our region at this time is an imperative for any government that this should have been dealt with by Mr Morrison, but he went missing, Senator Wong said.

In the interests of the nation, he sends a junior woodchuck instead of taking responsibility and dealing with this as a leader. Australia's spy chiefs were sent to Honiara to speak to Australia's concerns about the pact.

Senator Wong said that Australia is no longer the country of Solomon Islands, the nation to which they turn to meet their challenges in every instance.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne rejected Senator Wong's assessment that inaction by the Morrison government had fuelled the situation.

She said that's an unfair characterisation and I don't think it recognises the sovereign decisions that governments make for themselves.

We are looking at very serious geo-strategic challenges in our region, and they are realities. Senator Payne stated that Australia still played a significant role in the South Pacific.

She argued that the governments in Honiara and Beijing needed to provide more detail about what the security deal would allow for.

She said that there was a lack of transparency in relation to this agreement.

This has not been agreed in an open and transparent way and has not been consulted across the region, for example. Kurt Campbell, top US official, is scheduled to visit the Solomon Islands later this week, as the United States warned of the dangers that the security deal will set.

Senator Payne said she was pleased the trip was going ahead, but she didn't want to speculate about whether the deal could be undone.

She said that's a matter for the parties.