Topics: Australian assistance to Solomon Islands; confirmation of vessel off Australia’s coast.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Joining us live is the Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews. Minister, thanks for your time, as always. Deployment numbers seem light though, more were sent to Tonga in 2006. Will that number be increased?
KAREN ANDREWS: Well, good morning. Twenty‑three Australian Federal Police were deployed immediately yesterday. They are already on the ground in Honiara in the Solomon Islands. More Australian Federal Police officers will be deployed today, about another 50 will be deployed to the Solomon Islands. I should say that of the 23 that have already arrived on the Solomon Islands, which includes people from our Tactical Response Team, so they are very well‑trained, very well‑equipped. There’s also an additional forty ADF personnel that will be arriving, so it is a very significant contingent. Our primary goal is to work with the Solomon Islands Police Force to restore law and public order. That’s what our focus is. It is certainly not to intervene in any political matters that are happening on that island at the moment.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Sure. Will you increase numbers though if needed?
KAREN ANDREWS: We will certainly be monitoring the situation. We believe at this point in time – and that’s following discussions with the Solomon Islands Police Force Commissioner – that the numbers that we are sending are appropriate and they will be able to provide the necessary support to the Police Force in the Solomon Islands.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Okay. What reports are you getting so far from the ground?
KAREN ANDREWS: The situation is very volatile. At the moment we know that certainly the rioting has escalated over the last couple of days so we’re very aware that there’s potentially risks to critical infrastructure in Solomon Islands. That is one of the main roles that our Australian Federal Police will be undertaking when they’re there – to protect critical infrastructure. We know that there have been buildings that have been burnt; we know that the situation continues to be volatile; so it is to be prepared and do all that we can to restore law and public order.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Right. Given that smaller dispatch can you guarantee that all of our personnel will be safe?
KAREN ANDREWS: We have actually deployed very highly skilled personnel from the Australian Federal Police. It does include members of the Tactical Response Team. They are extraordinarily well‑trained so I’m confident of the resources that have been deployed that we will deploy additionally today. So yes, I am confident, but we should all be aware that the situation is volatile.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Australia had a presence in the Solomons for over a decade last time. Is a few on this occasion undercooked?
KAREN ANDREWS: We will be looking to make sure that we are maintaining the appropriate effort. Now we believe in the first instance – given that our role is to support the Solomon Islands Police Force to restore law and public order there – we believe that a couple of weeks, a few weeks, will be where our resources are best able to assist, but obviously we will be monitoring this situation and we will take appropriate action.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Okay. Will the AFP be providing any specialist diplomatic security to foreign embassies, including China’s?
KAREN ANDREWS: Our role is to support the Police Force in the Solomon Islands. This is a policing response. We have indicated that we will be there to support security of critical infrastructure. So in terms of support to individuals on Solomon Islands, that will be a matter for the Solomon Islands Police Force to manage.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Okay, and critical infrastructure? Just elaborate on that if you wouldn’t mind.
KAREN ANDREWS: Ports; airports; making sure the necessary infrastructure that’s needed on the Island is well‑protected. We need to provide the assistance so that people can get to where they need to be.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Sure. If Australia didn’t send any personnel, do you think that China would have?
KAREN ANDREWS: Look, I’m not sure. I don’t think anyone’s sure what the response may well be from other nations at this point in time. But we responded to a very direct request from the Solomon Islands under the terms of our treaty. That has been what our focus has been and what it will continue to be.
PETER STEFANOVIC: But would you have any concerns? I mean Solomon Islands is obviously of interest to China. Does that weigh on your mind at all?
KAREN ANDREWS: In the first instance our response was because of the treaty that we have in place with the Solomon Islands. In relation to China, we’re obviously aware of their interest in Pacific Island nations but in this instance we are focused on supporting the Solomon Islands with whom we’ve had a strong relationship for many years.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Okay. Karen Andrews, the Home Affairs Minister. Thanks for the update, appreciate your time this morning.
KAREN ANDREWS: Pleasure, thank you.