Subjects: Solomon Islands political situation; Gladys Berejiklian.
Laura Jayes: Welcome back. A Chinese fund is reportedly being used to lock in the support of MPs’ votes for the Solomon Islands Prime Minister ahead of a looming no-confidence vote. The Australian newspaper reports that Manasseh Sogavare has been paying off MPs by transferring money into their bank accounts through a Chinese-supplied cash fund. The payments are believed to be from the country’s National Development Fund worth $44,000. There are fears rights and violence could further escalate in the looming leadership vote.
Joining me live now is the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Zed Seselja. Thanks so much for your time.
Minister Seselja: G’day, Laura.
Laura Jayes: What do you know about these claims?
Minister Seselja: Well, look, I’ve read the reports as you have, Laura. But what we’re obviously focused on at the moment is there’ll be a vote in parliament today. The democratic processes of the Solomon Islands are playing out. And our personnel, our AFP, our ADF personnel, along with other partners are there on the ground to make sure that the democratic processes in the Solomon Islands can play out peacefully. And that’s what we hope and expect will happen today. And obviously that’s a matter then for members of the Solomon Islands parliament and ultimately for the Solomon Islands people to make their democratic judgments.
Laura Jayes: But if these payments are happening, what is Australia’s role, if any? Do we just turn a blind eye? It’s none of our business? Or is this something more sinister?
Minister Seselja: Well, look, it’s – you know, as I say, I’m aware of the reports. In terms of, you know, funds and other things that occur within Solomon Islands democratic processes, that’s a matter for them. I’m aware – it’s on the public record, I think – of constituent funds and the like. Obviously different parliaments have different ways of dealing with those. But I wouldn’t want to offer any detailed commentary on that except to say that we respect those democratic processes. Those democratic processes are important, there’s obviously a no-confidence motion today, that’s part of Solomon Islands democracy. And what our role is to do is to respond to the request that we have responded to – our brave police and Defence Force personnel are there to make sure that these democratic processes can play out as peacefully as possible.
Laura Jayes: Initially Australian troops and personnel were deployed to the Solomons for a length of only I think 14 days. Is that going to be extended?
Minister Seselja: Well, I don’t think we set a time of 14 days. I think we’ve spoken of it being a matter of weeks. That was what the Prime Minister said when he made the announcement and that’s what I’ve said publicly as well. So, we anticipate that it will be a short-term deployment. It is there to provide that stability. We did see – and it’s worth reflecting – that when we were asked to respond initially, we were seeing burning buildings, we were seeing some violence, we were seeing looting and rioting. And that has not been the case largely since the Australian presence has been on the ground along with our partners from PNG, Fiji and now New Zealand. So bringing stability there has been very, very important. So obviously further judgments will be made as to what should be the length of our stay, but it’s still our anticipation that it would be a relatively short period of time.
Laura Jayes: Okay, so does Australia have a responsibility to stay there and ensure that democracy works, or would that be above our remit?
Minister Seselja: Well, it’s our remit to respond under the bilateral security treaty to the requests from the Solomon Islands government, which I note has been welcomed I think across the political spectrum – from the opposition and the government – to respond to these individual circumstances where there was significant unrest. What we don’t want to see is a situation where democracy can’t operate. We don’t take sides in these democratic battles. They – just like every other democracy, they have their arguments in the parliament and outside the parliament. That’s a healthy thing, but it’s obviously not healthy, it’s not good for regional stability, if we see that degenerate into violence. So that’s the most important thing. That’s the reason we’re there but we certainly don’t take sides between the different democratic factions and parties.
Laura Jayes: Sure. But when it comes to supporting a democracy, Australia can’t really stand by and allow Chinese money to be paying off individual MPs, can we?
Minister Seselja: Well, look, Laura, I’d just make the point that when it’s come in our own domestic settings when there have been concerns around things like foreign interference, we’ve responded very strongly in relation to that. It’s up to individual countries as to how they deal with those issues when there are those type of allegations or those type of suggestions. It is up to the people of the Solomon Islands through their government, through their parliament and ultimately answerable to their people to make these judgments and, of course, to be accountable when there are these suggestions that are put out there or when there are reports as we’ve seen in The Australian today.
Laura Jayes: Can I just ask one final question on a totally different issue: Gladys Berejiklian. Is she going to run for federal parliament? Would you encourage her to do so?
Minister Seselja: Well, she certainly hasn’t told me.
Laura Jayes: Why not?
Minister Seselja: And if she had, I probably wouldn’t be able to tell you. But, Laura, what I would say is, look, I’m an admirer of Gladys Berejiklian. I think she did an outstanding job as Premier of New South Wales, I think she has a lot of support in the community because of the way she helped to steer New South Wales through very difficult times over these last couple of years. So she’s someone who has, I think, a lot of support in our party, a lot of support in the community. But obviously ultimately that will be a matter for her.
Laura Jayes: Sounds like you’re encouraging her to do so.
Minister Seselja: Well, I certainly wouldn’t discourage her, that’s for sure. I think she’s a great asset. She’s been a great as to the people of New South Wales.
Laura Jayes: ICAC’s not a problem?
Minister Seselja: Well, look, that’s – ICAC has obviously, you know, got its own processes. You know, I haven’t seen any sort of suggestion in any of the evidence that Gladys Berejiklian has done anything unlawful or corrupt. I don’t think that that’s – I think any – most Australians who have looked at that evidence or have seen Gladys Berejiklian’s career over a long period of time would say that she certainly is not a corrupt politician. She is a decent politician, she’s a hard-working politician – or was a hard-working politician. If she chooses to go back in, well, I think there would be a lot of support.
Laura Jayes: Sounds like she’s got Christmas to think about it. Zed Seselja, thanks so much.
Minister Seselja: Thanks, Laura.
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