GENERAL NEWS: Prime Minister Helen Clark says the New Zealand and Australian governments will be holding discussions about the possibility of establishing an Asia Pacific Community.

It is an initiative floated last week by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who is thinking about a regional structure which could engage in security, economic and environmental issues.

It came up when Miss Clark held talks today with Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who is leading a delegation to a trans-Tasman leadership forum in Wellington.

"We need to engage on the idea and see what interest others are showing in it," Miss Clark told reporters after meeting Ms Gillard.

"I think it’s an idea that needs to be fleshed out. We’ve always been very supportive of being part of a broader Asia Pacific Community."

Miss Clark said it would be taken further when an Australian government representative visited Wellington shortly.

She said a broader community could be developed through Apec, the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference, or through the East Asia Summit.

"We need to see whether either of the two major regional vehicles that exist can be adapted to that," she said.

Asked whether she had been given advance notice of Mr Rudd’s announcement of the initiative, she replied: "I wouldn’t expect to be consulted about a speech the Australian prime minister makes."

Miss Clark and Ms Gillard discussed a wide range of regional and bilateral issues.

Ms Gillard said her government wanted the closest possible ties with New Zealand, and the fact that she was leading a delegation of six ministers to the Forum was an indication of that.


Clare Swinney

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