25 November 2016
From the High Commissioner's Desk: We’ve come a long way together
As my time in Solomon Islands nears its end, I’ve been focussing on some of the highlights of my experience here, both personal and professional. I’d like to share some of those with you today.
Although I have a fantastic team in the High Commission, my most memorable experiences have all been outside the office. The best part of my job has been getting out into the villages and rural areas - the heartland of Solomon Islands.
Walking along the Weathercoast and then across Guadalcanal was a major highlight. It’s something my wife Dawn and I will remember and treasure for many years. I always like to tell visitors to Honiara that when you’re sitting in comfort at the Heritage or Coral Sea, less than 30 kilometres away there are people still living a very basic subsistence lifestyle, cut off from the outside world. And what tough, resilient people they are.
My three visits to Malaita have also been memorable. I would’ve liked to visit Malaita more often, but the closure of the airport for so long made it very hard to get there – not just for me but for tourists and investors, too. It’s great to know that Malaita is now on a better course, and that its famously hard-working people will start seeing more opportunities in the future.
Western Province will always hold a special place for me. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world and always such a pleasure to visit, either personally or professionally. I’m delighted to have played a small part in opening up Gizo as a cruise tourism destination, allowing many thousands of my fellow Australians to witness the beauty of the west. And many of my family’s favourite memories of Solomon Islands involve snorkelling, fishing and island-hopping around Gizo.
Professionally, I’ve been blessed with a great team in the High Commission. Together, we’ve achieved some incredible things. We played an important role in helping Honiara and Solomon Islands recover from the April 2014 flash floods. We’ve done what we can to help improve gender equality in Solomon Islands. We’ve worked hard to help bring more economic growth to Solomon Islands. And we’ve helped the government provide better services and outcomes in health, education, infrastructure and a range of other sectors.
But there is still much more to be done. With RAMSI’s departure now just seven months away, we’re working hard to ensure the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force remains well-supported into the future. And we’re working on a new agreement to enable Solomon Islands to seek Australia’s help in an emergency.
More broadly, we want to do even more to help stimulate economic growth; to improve outcomes for women; to give more young people access to high quality vocational training; and ensure more rural people have access to markets and financial services.
So there are many challenges ahead for Solomon Islands. But you will have all the support we can give you. I might be leaving soon, but Australia’s commitment to Solomon Islands is enduring.
I’ll return in two weeks’ time with what will be my final Solomon Star column.