The Green Party supports our police going to help the Solomon Islands people to help them move to a situation where the rule of law applies. We support what our police force has done so far. I understand that about 10 New Zealand police are there now, and this will expand to perhaps 30 or 40 under the arrangements. We are very grateful to those police who will go on this operation for what they do, and for the sacrifices they will make. The Green Party wishes them well in their work over there.
The critical element in determining how we see such an operation is what the people of the country itself want. So far it seems that the people of the Solomon Islands, from the Prime Minister Sir Alan Kemakeza down, want a contribution of this sort. But, of course, we have to keep monitoring this because we want to make sure that as we go through this exercise that it is always with the support of the Solomon Islands people.
I am a bit concerned about some of the Australian Government comments that almost determine in advance that this will be an operation that will last for years, when the aim should obviously be to help through this process, and boost the confidence and ability of the Solomon Islands people to get their own society on track. Our aim, as it should be, is an operation in the shortest possible time frame.
It is good that the Pacific Island leaders, who met yesterday, endorse this operation. I hope that they will make a contribution, because sometimes Australia and New Zealand are seen as the bigger white members of the Pacific, although of course the New Zealand contribution usually has a strong Maori and Pacific Island dimension to it. However, it is good if other Pacific Island countries are involved alongside Australia and New Zealand.
Essentially I think, as the Minister has explained, it is a policing operation against criminal elements, and there is a need for an armed backup of military components to back up these police, given the situation that has been outlined by other speakers in this debate. But I still am concerned at the number of military envisaged – l,500 Australians, and a total force of 2,000. I take the point that Richard Prebble made, but I do not think it requires a force of that size to indicate to the criminal elements that there is a seriousness about this operation. It is not like the East Timor commitment. There was organised backing from West Timor supporting the militias going into East Timor as an organised force, and we needed to have more systematic patrols in East Timor.
I take up the point that Bill English and Ron Mark made: can our armed forces stand this contribution? I think there is an easy solution to their concerns, and that is not to send the 60 or 100 troops to Afghanistan, as planned, where they will be involved in a dirty war, essentially defending one set of warlords against others. It will be a dirty war, in the sense that any prisoners we capture in Afghanistan will be handed over to the United States and held in places like Guantanamo, where the rule of law does not apply and where those people are mistreated. Rather than getting involved in a dirty war in Afghanistan, as the Government is planning to do, it should concentrate our forces on peacekeeping, which we have good experience in through our Bougainville and East Timor commitments. We are developing a peacekeeping speciality with both our military and our police. I think the nation is proud of what we have achieved in peacekeeping, and what we can achieve in a peacekeeping role in the Solomon Islands.
I want to go back to the origin of the problem there. I think, to a large extent, it is the result of overseas interests such as Malaysian logging interests corrupting the political system to their own ends. Ten years ago there was a big debate in the Solomon Islands about this. The present Prime Minister was forestry Minister at that time and there was large criticism of him for allowing Malaysian logging companies to clear-fell much of the Solomons, with little taxation, duties, or anything like that applying. A couple of years later, in 1995, an anti-logging activist was murdered and seven Government Ministers were charged with accepting bribes.
So there were outside interests fostering corruption, and we put that problem on top of the economic problems that developed around the time of the Asian economic crisis where there was growing unemployment, and that was exaggerated by the IMF’s prescriptions that they should cut the public sector.
The resulting social crisis allowed the more corrupt element in the political system to use factional differences to foster ethnic differences and conflict between Malaitan people and those from Guadalcanal, in their own narrow political interests. That problem continued through to the year 2001. Sir Alan Kemakeza was then dismissed as Deputy Prime Minister. He was charged with taking hundreds of thousands of dollars for himself and his family. The finance Minister, Snyder Rini, was dismissed because he had given undue remissions of duties to forestry companies. So there was that continuing problem of corruption, and a very bad economic situation.
Unfortunately, there is another contributing factor. I do not think Australia and New Zealand have provided sufficient aid to the Solomons over the years. We have, of course, had an aid programme to the Solomons and currently we give $8 million in aid. It is very good that the Government has announced that part of our response to the Solomons crisis will be a doubling of that aid. It is catching up for some of the shortfalls in the past.
However, I am not sure whether we need 2,000 military people in this force. I think we have to be concerned that we can have too much overkill, in terms of military intervention. I am not really concerned about the New Zealand troops operating in an insensitive way because they have a very good record internationally – a better record probably than the Australians. But I think we have to learn from, for instance, what is happening in Iraq today, with the US getting offside with the people. I am not making a direct parallel there, because our peacekeeping force will not be an occupation force, as is the US force in Iraq. But we do have to be careful that problems can develop, if we do not handle the situation sensitively, or there is a bit of overkill in our response, that we can draw hostility from the local population, which can make the situation worse. Whereas what we want to do, and I think Bill English was right, is move as fast as possible to continue the process that began at Townsville in the year 2000 of trying to get the society and the various parties back together, and to work with the politicians and with the civil society.
There are groups, like the Civil Society Network in the Solomons, that are trying to draw things together. One of the problems with the political system is that it is first past the post, where I think one of the MPs is there on 13 percent of the vote because it is an inappropriate political system. So we have to work with the civil society, and also resist the temptation to dominate too much. I have heard reports from Australia of putting different Australians in the different ministries for the long term. I think we have to be a bit wary about being seen to be dominating.
I think another lesson we can draw from this is we have to watch for problems in the Pacific and give support at an early time. For instance, another Melanesian nation is West Papua, which we tend to ignore, and ignoring what is happening to its people could come back to hit us. We should support their rights against the Indonesian occupation, as well.
The New Zealand Greens will be supporting this peacekeeping force, as will our colleagues the Australian Greens on other side of the Tasman. We are very pleased that they are putting their support behind this, because it is something that the Greens as a whole, internationally, put forward, that we should really concentrate on peacemaking, trying to bring parties together, and trying to resolve the situations in other countries in as peaceful a manner as possible but backed up with policing and peacekeeping forces, where required. I think we need to specialise in this area.
One of the Green Party’s proposals is a peacekeeping school in New Zealand, and there are some ongoing discussions with the Government on how to progress that. I think that such a school would increase our ability to do this peacekeeping work and to be able to work with other police and other military in our region towards resolving situations like we see in the Solomons today.