16 November 2017
From the High Commissioner’s Desk – Australia and Solomons - friends on land and at sea
Australia and Solomon Islands have a lot in common. We share a passion for laid-back beach BBQs with family and friends, for example, especially when there are fresh-caught fish and prawns on the barbie.
For both Australia and Solomon Islands, our national identity is closely tied to the ocean. The peoples of both nations have deep cultural, social and economic connections with the coast and sea.
We are such close neighbours, with a long history of working together as partners and friends. So, Australia and Solomon Islands are using our similar appreciation of the ocean to share experiences of managing our maritime borders.
Recently, Solomon Islands officials visited tiny Boigu Island in the Torres Strait, a narrow and beautiful stretch of water between Australia and Papua New Guinea.
Australia and PNG have a unique and internationally recognised border agreement, the Torres Strait Treaty, which upholds traditional connections between the peoples of Torres Strait and PNG.
Signed in 1978 and ratified in 1985, not only does the Treaty define the maritime boundaries between Australia and PNG, but it also protects the ways of life of the traditional inhabitants in the Torres Strait Protected Zone.
Within the Protected Zone, traditional inhabitants may move freely for traditional activities. The Treaty also makes sure that commercial fishing in the Protected Zone is in harmony with traditional fishing.
Maritime cooperation between Australia and Solomon Islands will get a further boost next week with the first Exercise Coastwatchers.
The Australian Defence Force will train with the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force over two weeks in humanitarian and disaster response, with a focus on maritime security.
Named after the Coastwatchers who played such an important role during World War II, with the support and protection of the heroic and loyal Scouts, the Exercise will commence in Honiara and then move to Western Province for training in Gizo and a side trip to the Shortlands.
Like the islands in the Torres Strait Protected Zone, the tiny islands in this part of Western Province are located on a shared maritime border with PNG.
So we continue to share challenges and solutions for managing maritime borders, particularly on working with traditional inhabitants who have longstanding cultural and family connections across borders.
And I’m delighted the RSIPF Patrol Boat Lata is back in Solomon Islands this week.
In May 2016, Australia unveiled plans to build the next generation of Pacific Patrol Boats under the new Pacific Maritime Security Program.
The PMSP is a major investment by the Australian Government to support maritime security in the South Pacific. Australia will spend around AUD2 billion on the acquisition and sustainment of the replacement vessels over 30 years.
The new vessels will be more fuel efficient, with improved crew accommodation, and they will have greater range and seakeeping ability. They will significantly enhance the maritime capability of Solomon Islands and other recipient Pacific Island nations to conduct surveillance and patrols in their exclusive economic zones.
In the meantime, Lata has been in Cairns for nearly five months, undergoing a multi-million dollar refit.
It’s great to have Lata, looking very spruce and ship-shape after her extensive refit, ready to resume making a vital contribution to protecting Solomon Islands’ maritime and national security.