16 Oct 2006

Australia makes it clear that aid to Pacific comes with strings attached

6:56 pm on 16 October 2006

Australia has warned its South Pacific neighbours that it will cut aid unless they do more to tackle graft.

The Prime Minister, John Howard, says Canberra has every right to place conditions on aid and he will deliver that message to Pacific Islands leaders in Fiji next week.

He says they will be told that if they want Australian aid they've got to reduce corruption and improve governance.

Australia's tough talk came as an extradition row continued to chill South Pacific relations.

Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer on Sunday barred visits to Australia by the PNG Prime Minister, Sir Michael Somare, and other PNG ministers, repeating a ban already in place for the Solomons.

The ban would stay until PNG explained why the Solomons' suspended chief legal officer, Julian Moti, an Australian lawyer wanted in Australia on child sex charges, was flown to the Solomons last week on a PNG military aircraft.

Last week, the Solomons Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, warned he may expel more than 460 Australian peacekeepers and advisers unless Canberra dropped its extradition request.

Meanwhile, the Fiji government is reported to be doing everything it can to play down the political crisis so it won't disrupt next week's Forum leaders' summit in Nadi.

Radio Legend reports that there have been discussions on the crisis between the chief executive of Fiji's foreign affairs ministry, Isikeli Mataitoga, the Australian high commissioner in Suva, Jennifer Rawson, and the PNG foreign secretary, Gabriel Pepson.

The radio says they are trying to ensure that the issue is not brought up during the Forum summit.