Tuvalu News

Australia's Prime Minister Howard Raises Bar on Pacific Aid

By Mary-Louise O'Callaghan
South Pacific Correspondent

SUVA, Fiji Islands (August 16, 2002 The Australian)---John Howard yesterday signalled Australia would be pressing for a greater commitment to "good governance" from Pacific Islands Forum states meeting in Fiji this week.

Playing down renewed pressure from island states over Australia's refusal to sign the Kyoto treaty on greenhouse gas emissions, the Prime Minister said good governance and the maintenance of law and order were the fundamental challenges facing many of the island states.

"It is the key issue," he said when asked whether a greater commitment to good governance was the single most important matter before the meeting.

He also confirmed that more Australian aid was likely to become conditional upon islands' commitment to good governance.

"Increasingly donor countries are wanting recipient countries to address governance issues as a condition of receiving aid," he said.

Australia has already put conditions on some of its aid to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands in an effort to encourage economic reforms and better governance.

Mr. Howard also defended Australia's decision to field former Australian diplomat Greg Urwin for the post of forum secretary general. The post has previously been held by Pacific islanders and Australia's candidacy has created a frisson of controversy among some island personalities.

The Prime Minister said Australia would defend Mr. Urwin's bid on the basis of merit.

Mr. Howard later defended Australia's decision not to sign the Kyoto protocol, which aims to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2012.

Tuvalu Prime Minister Ma'atia Toafa had urged Australia to sign.

Mr. Toafa, as spokesman for the smallest of the forum's island states, said it was disappointing that as one of the region's largest aid donors, Australia did not "play its part" in averting "a disaster" facing the region.

"It is very sad. I would have expected Australia to play its part in ensuring industrialized countries respect and implement the Kyoto protocols," he said.

Mr. Howard said Australia would not sign the protocol so long as the U.S. and some developing states would not participate.

"But we are committed to keeping our obligations under Kyoto we're within striking distance (of that)," he said.

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