5 August 2016
From the High Commissioner's Desk : Australia's offer of assistance
I’ve been out of Honiara a bit recently. First I attended the 8th Australia Solomon Islands Business Forum in Brisbane, which was a great success. Then my family and I took some visiting friends from Australia on a short holiday to Western Province, where we enjoyed the natural beauty of Solomon Islands and warm hospitality of Solomon Islanders. I was excited to see Gizo gearing up for the arrival of major cruise ships from next month, although saddened to see the destruction of the old Gizo hospital.
While I was away, I was following with interest the public discussion around Australia’s ongoing support to Solomon Islands after RAMSI departs next year. While debate and discussion is always healthy, it seemed to me that there may have been some confusion about what help Australia is actually offering to Solomon Islands. So perhaps it would be useful to clarify what Australia is, and isn’t, proposing.
Let me start by repeating what I said in this column two months ago:
“RAMSI is widely seen as a great success story not just for Solomon Islands and Australia, but for the whole Pacific. And in Canberra, there’s a lot of focus on ensuring that Australia continues to give Solomon Islands the support it needs after RAMSI departs.”
“RAMSI’s core mission now, of course, is the development of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF). So once RAMSI departs, Australia will support the RSIPF directly with our own bilateral policing program. We’re in the early stages of designing that program, in consultation with the RSIPF and the government, so the details are yet to be worked out. But it will almost certainly involve a large contingent of Australian Federal Police, based in Honiara under the umbrella of the High Commission and working closely with their RSIPF counterparts.”
“We’re also thinking about how Australia will be able to support Solomon Islands if an emergency arises in the future, whether it’s a natural disaster, a security issue or some other contingency. So we’ve commenced discussions with the government about a post-RAMSI mechanism that will enable Solomon Islands to ask for operational assistance from Australia, and allow Australia to provide it quickly.”
Since I wrote those words two months ago, we’ve had extensive discussions with the Solomon Islands Government and other stakeholders about the shape of the bilateral policing program. Indeed the design team is in Honiara right now to undertake further consultations, and will be doing the same in Malaita next week.
It’s important to note two things about these proposals. First, they are intended to ensure Solomon Islands – and in particular the RSIPF – has all the support it needs after RAMSI leaves. And second, any support we provide will be designed in very close consultation with Solomon Islands.
Finally, it may be useful to state explicitly what these proposals are not about.
Australia has no plans – and has never had any plans - to establish a police base or police station in Solomon Islands. Assuming both countries agree on a bilateral policing program, the Australian police delivering that program would be acting as advisers, mentors or trainers. Unlike the current RAMSI Participating Police Force, they would not undertake any operational duties. Australia already supports the police forces of several other Pacific countries through similar arrangements.
Ultimately it’s up to the Solomon Islands Government to decide what kind of assistance Solomon Islands and the RSIPF will need after RAMSI departs. Australia will only provide such assistance as Solomon Islands needs and wants. That’s what we’ve started discussing, but it’s early days yet.