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News Stories - 24 April 2009

Pakistan: Friends of Democratic Pakistan Meeting and Donors’ Conference

Australia, along with the international community, will assist the democratically-elected Government of Pakistan tackle its acute security, economic and development challenges.

Pakistan is one of the world’s most strategically important countries and is vital to a range of Australia interests. Pakistan faces complex and urgent challenges. This is because terrorism and extremism in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area have major regional and international security implications.

Australia welcomed the broad range of international partners who participated in the Friends of Democratic Pakistan Meeting and the Pakistan Donors’ Conference. This symbolised widespread international support for Pakistan and our collective resolve and determination to help Pakistan address the challenges it faces.

Australia is an inaugural member of the Friends of Democratic Pakistan, we will work closely with the international community and Pakistan to advance our common interest in a stable, prosperous and democratic Pakistan.

It is important that the Government of Pakistan take sustained action to:

- combat militancy and extremism, including in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border regions
- encourage poverty alleviation, broad-based economic growth and the provision of basic services such as health and education
- improve standards of governance, accountability and transparency
- protect internationally recognised human rights standards
Australia urges Pakistan to deal with theses challenges in an integrated and comprehensive manner. At the meetings, Mr Smith announced assistance to Pakistan of $A120 million over the next two years to assist efforts to create a stable and secure Pakistan.

This represents a doubling of Australia’s development assistance to Pakistan
Australia’s support includes humanitarian and development assistance to the border regions with Afghanistan. It will also focus on improving rural livelihoods, strengthening standards of democratic governance and protecting internationally recognised human rights standards.

Australia will continue to build on its bilateral cooperation with Pakistan

- including our support for counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency and police training
- and by working together to deepen our trade and investment relationship and to increase our defence cooperation.

News Stories – 20 April 2009

2009 Durban Conference Against Racism

Australia has decided not to participate in the Durban Review Conference, to be held in Geneva on 20 to 24 April.

Australia has taken the decision not to participate in the Durban Review Conference with regret, as Australians are a people committed to eliminating racism and racial discrimination, as our nation thrives on and draws strength from its rich diversity.

The Australian Government has worked actively to advance the human rights of all Australians, especially those who have suffered most from disadvantage, notably indigenous Australians.

Since taking office, the Government has put in place significant policies and programs to close the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.
We have also increased our overseas development assistance in the field of human rights and engaged strongly in multilateral human rights mechanisms.
The Durban Review Conference should be an occasion for the world to unite against racism in all its forms.

Australia has worked with a range of countries in Geneva these past weeks to promote an acceptable outcome document from the Review Conference and to ensure that the Conference does not see a repeat of the problems that marred the Durban World Conference against Racism in 2001.

These efforts, the hard work of the Russian Chair, and the flexibility shown by many countries, have led to significant improvements in the document.

Australia, however, cannot support a document which reaffirms the 2001 Durban Declaration and Program of Action in its entirety - as is currently the case, the 2001 Declaration singled out Israel and the Middle East.

Australia expressed strong concerns about this at the time and the Government continues to have these concerns. Regrettably, we cannot be confident that the Review Conference will not again be used as a platform to air offensive views, including anti-Semitic views.

Of additional concern are the suggestions by some delegations in the Durban process to limit the universal right to free speech.

Canada, Israel, Italy, the United States, the Netherlands, Germany and New Zealand have now indicated that they will not participate in the Review Conference.

The Australian Government remains determined to combat racism and racial discrimination wherever it exists.

See also Mr Smith’s media release dated 19 April 2009: http://www.foreignminister.gov.au/releases/2009/fa-s090419.html

News Stories – 16 April 2009

AUSMIN (Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations)

The 2009 AUSMIN, the first under the Obama Administration, confirmed the strength and contemporary relevance of the United States-Australia alliance in strategic, security, military and foreign policy fields.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith and Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon held AUSMIN talks with their US counterparts, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defence Dr Robert Gates, in Washington on 9 April.

AUSMIN is the premier forum for the discussion at Ministerial level of defence, strategic and foreign policy matters. The discussions reaffirmed the commitment of both countries to work together closely to support their common interests and to achieve their shared objectives.

Discussions centred on Australia and the United States’ close partnership in advancing key shared security interests in the region and globally, as reflected in the 2009 Joint Communiqué.

The areas of agreement included:

- a reaffirmation of our commitment to stabilisation and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan
- a commitment to working with the democratic government of Pakistan to support security and stability
- strong support for the United States’ willingness to engage in direct diplomacy with Iran and encouragement of Iran’s leaders to respond positively
- the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons, and pledge to cooperate closely in the run-up to the 2010 NPT Review Conference
- confirmation of support for the Pacific Island Forum’s call for a speedy return to democracy in Fiji
- a reaffirmation of our commitment to strengthening trans-Pacific regional cooperation and institutions.

The breadth and depth of the discussions at AUSMIN reflect what a strategic asset the Australia-United States alliance is for both countries. It is an asset that will continue to grow in importance as we work together to meet contemporary regional and global challenges.

As the conclusion of the AUSMIN dialogue, Australia and the United States agreed:

- to explore opportunities to strengthen bilateral civil-military cooperation, including in addressing the needs of fragile states
- and on principles that will guide greater cooperation on intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and cyber security.

Political Developments in Fiji

Australia condemns unequivocally the abrogation of Fiji’s constitution and the postponement of an election for at least five years.

Australia condemns unequivocally the decision by the President of Fiji to abrogate the 1997 Constitution, this is yet another backward step for Fiji.
Australia also condemns the reappointment of Commodore Frank Bainimarama as Interim Prime Minister.

Fiji is now virtually a military dictatorship. Australia is deeply concerned that the President has said that it will take an additional five years for electoral and other reforms to be put in place in order to hold elections.

This is a sham: there is no evidence to suggest that Fiji is on a genuine pathway to democracy. Australia is also concerned that Fiji’s economy is doing very badly – these problems pre-date the global economic crisis.

There is a clear and direct link between the 2006 coup and the downturn in the Fiji economy, the devaluation of the Fiji dollar by 20 per cent and restrictions on taking foreign reserves out of Fiji underline the challenges Fiji faces.

A restoration of democracy and the rule of law will be essential to Fiji’s economic recovery. Australia strongly condemns the clamp-down on media in Fiji. ABC journalist Sean Dorney and two New Zealand journalists have been deported, and a Fiji journalist was detained for 36 hours after reading the nightly news.
Radio Australia transmitters in Fiji have been shut down. Media outlets have been prevented from publishing stories critical of the regime. Comments by Commodore Bainimarama that freedom of speech is to blame for Fiji’s political trouble are ludicrous and show the contempt with which Bainimarama holds one essential element of any functional democratic society.

Australia strongly supports the suspension of Fiji from the Commonwealth, which will be considered by a forthcoming meeting of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, and is strongly supporting moves to suspend the Interim Government from the meetings and activities of the Pacific Islands Forum, and from Forum regional technical programs.

Third Bali Regional Ministerial Conference on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime (Bali Process)

Ministers enhanced regional engagement on people smuggling and trafficking in persons at a meeting in Bali on 14-15 April.

Mr Smith co-chaired the Bali Regional Ministerial Conference with Indonesian Foreign Minister Wirajuda, in Bali on 14 to 15 April 2009. This was involving delegates some 40 countries and seven international organisations. The conference brought together ministers from source, transit and destination countries as well as key international organisations.

This was taking place six years after the previous Ministerial Conference; this meeting was a valuable opportunity to refocus regional attention on people smuggling and trafficking in persons and represents the reinvigoration of the Bali Process.

As a destination country for people smuggling and trafficking, Australia takes these issues very seriously and plays an integral role in regional and international efforts to counter them.

The Conference charted the future direction of the Bali Process and agreed to reinvigorate its work.

The conference agreed to reactivate an Ad Hoc Group (AHG) mechanism which would allow Bali Process members to consider practical responses to specific regional challenges.

Whereas the Bali Process previously approached issues on a technical and generic basis, this decision marks a new stage of maturity where it can now look at specific regional situations.

News Stories – 9 April 2009

50th Anniversary of the Antarctic Treaty

50 years after its adoption, Australia remains firmly committed to the AntarcticTreaty as a means to reserve Antarctica as a continent for peace and science. Australia attaches high priority to Antarctic environmental protection.Australia will host the 2012 Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting.

On 6 April, Australia’s Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Peter Garrett, attended a special event hosted by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington to mark the 50th anniversary of the Antarctic Treaty.
This event also marked the opening of the 2009 Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting being held 6-17 April in Baltimore and the end of the International Polar Year.

Australia has been active in Antarctica for over 100 years and was one of the twelve original signatories to the Antarctic Treaty 50 years ago.
Australia has long been committed to the principles of this important agreement, which ensures that Antarctica’s value for peace and science take precedence over other issues.

Australia regards the Antarctic Treaty as an example of what nations can achieve through goodwill and cooperation.

Since its inception the Treaty has been bolstered by associated agreements, including the Convention for the Conservation of Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), and a Protocol which provides for the comprehensive environmental protection of Antarctica and a ban on mining. Australia was closely involved in the negotiation of these associated agreements.

Australia is proud of the leading role it has taken in ensuring that Antarctica’s environmental values are properly protected, and continues to regard Antarctic environmental protection as one of its highest priorities.

Australia looks forward to future cooperation with the Parties to the Treaty and to hosting the 2012 Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting. Australia was in the fortunate position of hosting the first Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in Canberra in 1961 and had the pleasure of hosting the meeting again in 1983.
Leaders of the G20 met in London on 2 April to deliver a global plan of action to bring the world out of recession and create jobs worldwide.

Australia welcomes the historic outcome of the G20 Leaders Summit in London on 2 April.

Global financial crisis: G20 Leaders Summit, London

The G20 has delivered a global plan for recovery on an unprecedented scale

- to bring the world out of recession

- save and create jobs around the world and in Australia.

Leaders made substantive commitments in six key areas:

-to taking whatever action is necessary to restore growth and jobs
-concerted fiscal expansion by G20 members will amount to US$5 trillion by the end of next year, raising output by 4 per cent
-the IMF will advise regularly on the need for further actions
-to take all necessary actions to address toxic assets and restore the normal flow of credit through the financial system
-in line with the agreed G20 framework
-a US$1.1 trillion program of support to restore credit, growth and jobs in the world economy and support emerging and developing countries
-including, trebling resources available to the IMF to $750 billion, at least $100 billion of additional lending by the MDBs, and an additional $250 billion in trade finance support.

They also agreed on actions to modernise international financial institutions and to reflect changes in the world economy and strengthen their longer-term relevance, effectiveness and legitimacy. There was reaffirmation to build a stronger, more globally consistent, supervisory and regulatory global framework

Goals included:
- to restore trust in the global financial system and ensure it works for all our businesses and citizens
- to establish a new Financial Stability Board (FSB) with a strengthened mandate, as a successor to the Financial Stability Forum (FSF) - its membership will comprise all G20 members
Importantly, they also committed to concluding the Doha Round, building on the progress already made including with regard to modalities. They reaffirmed their commitment to combat protectionism and endorsed the WTO’s monitoring of trade measures.
Also, they pledged to lay the foundation for a resilient, fair and sustainable world economy.

We are pleased that Leaders have agreed to meet again before the end of the year to review progress on our commitments and continue to oversight the response to the crisis.

The G20 continues to demonstrate its leadership for one of the greatest challenges of our times.

Trade news reinforces Australia’s economic resilience

Australia recorded its second highest trade surplus on record in February continuing a run of seven consecutive monthly trade surpluses.

The positive trade figures, along with better than expected consumer confidence and housing finance figures, show that the Australian economy is better positioned than most other economies to weather the global economic crisis.

On 2 April, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released official trade statistics for February showing that Australia recorded a trade surplus of $A2.1 billion:

-This was the second highest surplus on record.
It was also the seventh consecutive monthly trade surplus (since August 2008).The key factors behind the positive data were a 4 per cent rise in exports, driven largely by a 55 per cent (A$784 million) increase in gold exports:
-exports of rural products (cereals, meat) and machinery also contributed strongly to the rise in exports
-exports of metal ores and minerals (including iron ore) rose 3 per cent and coal exports were stable.
A strong result given the continuing deterioration in export markets
Metal ores and minerals are now down 18 per cent from their peak in September 2008 and coal exports are down 30 per cent (from their October peak).

The value of imports fell 1 per cent, driven by a 13 per cent fall in imports of consumer goods. The acting Minister for Trade, Mr Burke, said that trade was an integral part of the solution to the global economic crisis. The trade figures have been followed by further data showing that the Australian economy is better positioned than most to cope with the global economic crisis.

The Westpac-Melbourne Institute Index of Consumer Sentiment rose by 8.3 per cent in April. The value of housing finance commitments rose 2.7 per cent in January and is now up 21 per cent since its low in September.

News Stories – 3 April 2009

International Conference on Afghanistan in The Hague

The international community has re-affirmed its common purpose and resolve on Afghanistan at the International Conference in The Hague.

The Conference, hosted by the Netherlands and chaired by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, brought together key regional countries, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) countries and international organisations.

The conference focused on three key elements which Australia considers critical to success in Afghanistan
- the participation of central and south Asian nations – including Pakistan and Iran
– at the Conference reflected the need for Afghanistan’s regional neighbours to work with the United Nations and ISAF to achieve progress
- there was agreement at the Conference on the need for a comprehensive approach to Afghanistan, better integrating international military and civilian efforts across the country and, at some stage, a political dialogue and reconciliation amongst the Afghan political leadership.

There is now a very clear appreciation that Pakistan is critical to a long-term solution in Afghanistan, and that the problem of terrorism and extremism in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area has major regional and international security implications.

In addition to our involvement in army and police training, Australia is committed to building the capacity of the Afghan Government to manage its own affairs through our international development assistance program.

Australia will contribute $21 million to the World Bank’s Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund to support the Afghan Government to deliver national programs in health, education, rural development and microfinance.

We will also provide $3 million to international agencies in Pakistan to help meet the urgent humanitarian needs of people displaced by rising conflict.