I rise on behalf of the Green Party to support this bill. We support the commitment to the Solomons. This will help to make sure that the people who go over there – the police and other civilians as part of the Government commitment there – abide by law.
There is not a very functioning legal process in the Solomons at the present time, so it is appropriate in negotiation with the Solomon Islands authorities to have this application of New Zealand law to the people serving over there. However, I see this in practice as only a temporary measure because we do not want to establish a precedent of people going over there on Government positions to work in Government departments either in the Solomons or anywhere else to be in any long-term, regular, or normal sense only responsible to the law of New Zealand and the courts of New Zealand rather than the laws and the courts of the country they are in.
The quicker we can move to a situation where there is a proper justice system in the Solomons where people who commit offences can be tried there, the better it is.
It is somewhat different with the military in that has its own law, and when military personnel go on operations like this they do have a Status of Forces Agreement as has been developed with the Solomon Islands and the military law applies to them under that.
If our main purpose in going to the Solomons is to help the people of the Solomons to gain more control of their own destiny to create democratic institutions, to truly express their culture and ways of doing things, and develop their economy and all their social institutions, then we have to be careful not to be too patronising and not to be the great white fathers or mothers going over there.
There has been much more of a debate in Australia around this commitment than there has been here. Under John Howard the Australian Government has made all sorts of strange statements about the reasons that it is going to the Solomons – that is, it is about combating international terrorism, gun running, drug-smuggling, and these sorts of things that we do not really see in the Solomons. A lot of the stuff the Australian Government talks about is just mythical, but it sort of fits its world view at the present time that there is a terrorist under every bed and we have to have military forces, police, new security laws, and everything else. Part of the rationale of the Howard Government for going to the Solomon Islands fits into that. If we start to talk about in that way – that is: “We’ve got to go over there and situate our police and military over there because of the danger of terrorists and how they will affect us” and so on – then one is operating from a basis of self-interest for the bigger powers, in particular Australia in this case, rather than in terms of helping the Solomons Islands increase its capacities to determine its own future.
It has been a problem right from the beginning of colonisation in the Solomon Islands that there has been too much domination of that country by outside interests. Even in the period since the Solomons has had its independence the economic influence of outside powers has increased. The Solomon Islands is very rich with logging, gold, and all kinds of minerals, palm oiI plantations, and so on. It is high on natural resources, but many of these natural resources are effectively under the control of foreign companies. In the plantation area the local shareholding is quite small. During the Asian economic crisis of 1997 the Government in the Solomons at the time was pressured by overseas forces to implement one of these “tighten your belt” approaches and sell off more of the State assets. That put the country into a bit of a downward spiral. It contributed seriously to the problems we see in the Solomon Islands today.
With this commitment, and the people covered under this bill, we should increase the capacities of the Solomon Islanders themselves and help them to become more skilled and covering all the functions they need in the civil service, health, education, and elsewhere.
One concern I have in the Australia-New Zealand commitment, particularly as it may be applied by Australians – and obviously there has been some tensions between Australia and New Zealand over the nature of this commitment and its extent – is that I am a bit worried that we could get our balance wrong. A number of Australians and New Zealanders as part of this operation will go into ministries like the Solomons Treasury. On one level that may help in terms of making sure that the procedures are there and that there is not the same ability for corrupt practices to take place However, on the other hand, if Australians and New Zealanders go into these jobs in the Treasury and other Government departments then start to determine the economic policy of the country and perhaps apply the Howard approach of much more deregulation, privatisation, and all of those sorts of things, it would not be in the long-term interests of the Solomon Islands people.
We have to realise that the Solomon Islands is an extremely diverse country. There about 120 different tribal groups and about that many languages. We should not see the tribal nature of social life as a problem. Sometimes people look at it from a white Western viewpoint and see that as a problem. When a country like the Solomon Islands spirals downwards and conflicts develop, and in particular the armed conflict that has developed in the Solomons, that can result in tribal loyalties being expressed in that conflict. However, we have to look at the strong tribal traditions in the Solomons and the commitment of people to help others in their tribes as basically their way and something that we should help them build on in a very positive way. It is a positive thing, not a negative thing.
In so far as we can help through this commitment and establish more law and order and due process, and just encourage that to happen, then we do not want to think of our economic assistance to the Solomons as being just establishing Western interests in institutions on top of a tribal structure, but in utilising the tribal structure that the people want to develop, help them to develop their tribal economic institutions – as many of the aid organisations do that go from New Zealand to the Solomons.
Organisations like the Christian World Service have had people over there recently working out how they can help at the grass roots with their aid work. Under the definitions of this bill I hope those non-governmental organisations are not covered by the bill because we would move into quite a grey area if we say that non-governmental organisations separate from the Government are covered by New Zealand law in the way this bill proposes.
Another thing is that if we are serious about helping the Solomons, we have to look at the trade issue, and provide real markets in New Zealand for Solomon Islands products, for example, the products of cooperatives of Solomon Islanders. The Trade Aid organisation in New Zealand has provided a market for Solomon Islands honey. We have to assist in that way and not just help them restructure their economy in a way that some Western interests might like.
In summary, I think that what we are doing, essentially, is helping the Solomon Islands paople determine their own future, and not trying to dominate the country in any longer term sense.