14 August 2017
Prime Minister of Australia, the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP, statement to The
Australian Parliament, on the occasion of the signing of the Bilateral Security Treaty
I extend my warm welcome and that of the House to the Solomon Islands Prime Minister, the Hon. Manasseh Damukana Sogavare MP.
I'm honoured to be able to host him and his wife and his party on his official visit to Australia. We are especially privileged to have him with us in the House today.
The Solomon Islands is one of Australia’s closest neighbours, and we share a strong and enduring friendship. When we met earlier today, Prime Minister Sogavare and I discussed a range of issues including the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands—or RAMSI, as it has been better known. After 14 years, RAMSI officially concluded on 30 June.
Prime Minister Sogavare has been a strong friend and ally during this last phase of RAMSI.He has assisted the smooth drawdown and the transition of security responsibilities to the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force. He has spoken from the heart about needing to reconcile the past, while at the same time looking to the future with optimism and a strong sense of renewal. We value and appreciate his contribution and leadership, acknowledged here in the House today. And we also take a moment to reflect on the history—and recognise the success—of this significant Australian-led initiative, which paved the pathway for future regional cooperation in the south-west Pacific.
RAMSI was a calculated response to a dire situation. From 1998 to 2003, the Solomon Islands was ravaged by lawlessness and violence. Divisions had arisen between the people of its two most populous provinces, who then became embroiled in a destructive cycle of revenge killings. By July 2003 it had become clear that the situation was untenable. Solomon Islands was on the brink of becoming a failed state.
In their hour of need, the Solomon Islands government reached out to Australia. As the House is well aware, intervention in another state is never something to be taken lightly, even upon invitation. But the Howard government understood the need to respond to the Solomon Islands’ request for help and made the momentous decision to deploy the Australian Defence Force, Australian Federal Police and civilian personnel to help the government of the Solomon Islands to take back control of its country.
The deployment of the civilian-led regional policing operation in July 2003 was unprecedented in our Pacific neighbourhood. Fifteen partner countries rallied together to support the Solomon Islands in its hour of need. As the then Chief of the Defence Force, the Governor General, His Excellency Sir Peter Cosgrove ordered the deployment of Defence personnel for the mission. And in June this year, he led Australia’s delegation at the celebrations to mark the end of RAMSI.
The goal of this unique regional initiative was, first and foremost, to re-establish law and order. And it was remarkably successful in achieving this. In RAMSI’s first week, more than 3,700 guns were collected and destroyed. In its third week, the surrender of renegade militants was negotiated with the help of mediators. By the end of its third year, RAMSI had made 6,300 arrests for militant and criminal activity.
RAMSI was also critical in enabling the Solomon Islands government to revive basic functions of state so that life could return to normal for Solomon Islanders. Over the longer term, these revived functions have also provided a foundation from which to build a peaceful, resilient nation, underpinned and secured by democratic institutions.
But as Prime Minister Sogavare observed last night and as we discussed this morning, the foundation of RAMSI’s success was the sense of community and partnership with the people of the Solomon Islands and also, of course, with our Pacific neighbours who participated in the RAMSI mission.
In 2017 we see a very different Solomon Islands. It enjoys what is, by global standards, a very low crime rate. It has a high quality police force that has allowed Solomon Islands to make its own valuable contribution to international peace and security, including to UN peacekeeping missions and training for the police forces of its Pacific neighbours.
Solomon Island markets are bustling. Children are back at school. Medicines are available.And Solomon Islands is reaping the benefits of a relatively stable economy, which grew more than 80 per cent in the first 10 years of RAMSI. It should be no surprise that RAMSI received strong and consistent popular support in the Solomon Islands. From 2006 to 2013, surveys revealed that local support for RAMSI never dropped below 85 per cent.
Today we recognise the efforts of all the Australian government officials, police and Defence personnel, and their Pacific Island counterparts who brought peace and stability to the Solomon Islands. And I extend the gratitude of the Australian people for their commitment and their sacrifice. RAMSI personnel risked life and limb in the line of duty. Some, tragically, made the ultimate sacrifice. Six RAMSI officers lost their lives over its term, including four Australians. Today, in this House, we particularly remember the sacrifice of Private Jamie Clark of the 3rd Royal Australian Regiment of the Australian Defence Force; Adam Dunning, a Protective Service Officer with the Australian Federal Police; Ronald Lewis, also a Protective Service Officer with the Australian Federal Police and Tony Scriva, a civilian adviser to the Solomon Islands government. We remember Chief Inspector Amos Solip of the Vanuatu Police Force and Constable Sisi Puleheloto of the Niue Police Force.These losses we add to the Solomon Islands’ own casualties during the horror of the 'Tensions'.
As we know, the path to peace can be long and complex, and the challenges of addressing internal conflict are intense. So I am pleased to report that, with the assistance of the United Nations Peacebuilding Programme, the Solomon Islands government continues its program of dialogues across the country, aimed at reconciling communities affected by the Tensions. And I wish the Prime Minister good luck with his important anticorruption strategy, and his anticorruption bill, which he plans to put before parliament in the near future.
We stand together with the Solomon Islands government as it looks to the future. Today we signed a bilateral security treaty, which will enable defence, police and civilian personnel to deploy operationally in emergency situations to provide security or humanitarian assistance at the Solomon Islands government’s request.
Australia is providing a post-RAMSI package of capacity building assistance to ensure the maintenance of security and stability. Forty-four unarmed AFP advisers are continuing to mentor, train and advise the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force. And we have commenced a new bilateral program of support for justice and governance. This package will amount to $141 million over the four years from 2017 to 2021.
RAMSI has shown what we can achieve when the member states of the Pacific Islands Forum work together in pursuit of common security goals. The contributing members of RAMSI brought their cultural affinities, their similar experiences and their pooled resources very successfully to this mission. They paved the way for ongoing regional security collaboration across the countries and territories of our shared Pacific Ocean, an objective which I have wholeheartedly committed my government to pursuing.
I warmly thank Prime Minister Sogavare for his ongoing cooperation and leadership and look forward to many years of partnership between our two nations.