18 November 2017
Solomon Islands and Australia share challenges, solutions for managing maritime borders
A delegation of Solomon Islands government officials visited the narrow stretch of water between Australia and Papua New Guinea last week.
The purpose of the visit was to see firsthand the arrangements Australia and PNG have agreed to manage their shared border and to enable the Torres Strait Islanders and the coastal people of PNG to carry on their traditional way of life.
The highlight of the visit was attending a traditional reconciliation ceremony between the peoples of Boigu Island and Sigabadaru, Mabadadauan and Buzi/Berr, three of the 13 Treaty villages located on the coast of PNG’s Western Province.
The Solomon Islands delegation had the opportunity to hear from community leaders from both sides of the border at a meeting chaired by Boigu Island Councillor Dimas Toby with Councillor Keibei Salee, Peter Papua and Frank Warapa.
The Solomon Islands delegation shared perspectives and experiences on peacebuilding and community approaches to maritime border challenges at the meetings, which were conducted in English, Tok Pisin and Torres Strait Creole.
The Torres Strait Treaty is recognised as one of the most creative solutions in international law to a shared boundary touching on the lives of traditional inhabitants.
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 (TSPZ).
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.
Respected community leader Councillor Getano Lui Junior from Iama (Yam) Island described the evolution of the Treaty from 1978, when he and his PNG counterpart Councillor Keibie Salee from Sigabadaru Village represented traditional inhabitants in the Treaty negotiations.
The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has overall responsibility for the Treaty and has established the Torres Strait Treaty Liaison Office on Thursday Island. The PNG Government has a PNG Border Liaison Office on Daru Island.
The Solomon Islands delegation started their visit in Thursday Island where they attended a policy coordination meeting with a range of Australian agencies that support the implementation of the treaty.
These agencies include the Torres Strait Regional Authority, Australian Fisheries Management Authority, Australian Federal Police, Australian Border Force/Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Australian Maritime Safety Authority, Queensland Health and Queensland Police.
Implementation of the Torres Strait Treaty covers immigration, border control, environment, fisheries, law and order, health, maritime safety and traditional inhabitant matters.
The delegation attended a meeting of Councillors from the Torres Strait Regional Authority chaired by Fred Gela, Mayor of the Torres Strait Islands Regional Council.
The visitors were delighted to discover that Mayor Gela has ancestral links to Nggela, Central Province, through his great-grandfather who hailed from Solomon Islands.
Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of National Unity, Reconciliation and Peace Justus Denni said he was impressed by the interaction of customary practices and international law, including the leadership and active contribution of the Regional Councillors.
"I would like to thank all the communities we visited for their generous hospitality and for sharing their experiences with us," said Permanent Secretary Denni.
For additional photos and information, please visit the Australian High Commission’s Facebook page, Australia in Solomon Islands.