12 November 2016
From the High Commissioner's Desk : One step at a time
After three wonderful years in Solomon Islands, my time here is coming to an end. In my next few columns before I depart in December, I’d like to share some of my thoughts and observations on Solomon Islands and Australia’s role here.
One thing I’ve learned is that those who have a longer perspective on Solomon Islands are often more positive and optimistic than those who take a shorter-term view. The country certainly has its challenges - some of which I’ll touch on in my next column - but by and large, most things are getting better. Compared to ten years ago, the economy is bigger, education standards are higher, people are healthier and the roads are in better shape. Those aren’t just matters of opinion, but quantifiable facts.
Solomon Islands is, by and large, a safe, peaceful and stable country – so much so that RAMSI will be leaving next year. As Australia’s Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, told the Australian Parliament earlier this week, “[RAMSI] has helped the Solomon Islands Police Force and has developed it into a modern, effective and independent institution. The Royal Solomon Islands Police Force has been policing with very little operational support over the past two years, and there is now widespread agreement that the police force is ready to assume full policing responsibilities. We will continue to support peace and stability in the Solomon Islands when RAMSI ends.”
New opportunities for business and growth are starting to emerge in Solomon Islands. Cruise tourism, cocoa and coconut oil all have a lot of potential for growth. Over the past few years we’ve also seen the rapid expansion of mobile phones and access to banking services, through mobile technology. And there are big new projects on the horizon, like the Tina River hydro and the potential expansion of GPPOL. I should add that Australia has supported, is supporting or plans to support every single one of the industries and initiatives I’ve mentioned in this paragraph.
And that brings me to some observations about the Australia’s role in Solomon Islands. Australia is the largest donor to Solomon Islands and will remain so for the foreseeable future. We’ll continue supporting health, education, the legal system, the National Transport Fund, key institutions like the Ministry of Finance, rural livelihoods, and so on. And we’ll be doing some new things, like establishing a bilateral program to support the RSIPF and increasing our efforts to stimulate economic growth.
Australia does all this because it’s in our interests for Solomon Islands to become a stronger, richer, healthier and more self-sufficient nation. And taking the long view, we’re delighted to see Solomon Islands becoming all those things, slowly and steadily.
So Solomon Islands is on the right path, but there’s a long way to go. We can choose to celebrate the fact that we’re on the right path, or bemoan the length of the journey ahead. Personally, I’d recommend the approach I took when I walked across Guadalcanal last year – just take it one step at a time and don’t worry about how far you still have to go.
Although my family and I will be sad to leave Solomon Islands next month, I take comfort in knowing that Australia’s important work here will be in very good hands after I depart. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced this week that I’ll be succeeded by Roderick Brazier, a very accomplished and experienced senior official. I’d like to congratulate Mr Brazier on his appointment to what I think is probably the best job in the Australian Government – High Commissioner to Solomon Islands!