28 June 2017
MINISTER FOR INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND THE PACIFIC SENATOR THE HON CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI – WELLS
Solomon Islands Government Meeting with Pacific Island Forum Leaders
Honiara, Thursday, 29 June 2017
Well, thank you very, very much, Prime Minister Sogavare; Excellencies; Ministers; representatives of our Pacific member states; [PIF] Secretary General Taylor; ladies and gentlemen.
It is a privilege to be here today to reflect on the achievements of the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands – RAMSI, as it has affectionately become known – and the lessons we can learn from this very unique Pacific collaboration over the past fourteen years.
Australia takes special pride in the fact that we have provided the leadership and a large part of the human and financial resources that have sustained this regional intervention.
Can I particularly acknowledge Quinten Devlin and the past special coordinators of RAMSI, who have joined us here today.
RAMSI was no accident of history.
Australia acted on a deep-seated belief that threats to the stability and security of the Pacific are threats to the stability and security of Australia and the region more generally.
It was a belief we held in 2003 and it remains our unshakable belief today.
But RAMSI was not solely an Australian enterprise – far from it.
The total cost over the fourteen years was about $3 billion.
And whilst Australia was proud to contribute around $2.8 billion of this, RAMSI’s success can be primarily attributed to the fact that all Pacific Islands Forum member states played their part – whether through contributions of military, police or civilian personnel, or through cultural and social affinity with the peoples of the Solomon Islands with whom they engaged on a daily basis.
Can I especially acknowledge the service of the over 7,000 members of the Australian Defence Force, and the over 1,000 members of the Australian Federal Police who contributed over fourteen years.
RAMSI restored law and order, it stabilised government finances, it promoted longer-term economic recovery and it revived business confidence, and it rebuilt the machinery of government.
RAMSI helped create the environment that allowed a relatively young nation, brought to its knees by conflict, lawlessness and economic collapse, to stand on its own two feet again and declare to the world that it was ready to resume responsibility for its own destiny.
It is now time to preserve those gains.
Can I particularly echo the comments of [New Zealand] Deputy Prime Minister Bennett about the women, and can I congratulate the Government of the Solomon Islands and the police force for this important statement for the women of the Pacific.
But what have we, the nations of the Pacific, learnt?
One of RAMSI’s core strengths and a major contributing factor to its success has been that it was a regional mission with regional endorsement and regional oversight.
It supported “Pacific Style” solutions for “Pacific Style” challenges.
We are now beginning to understand the benefits of this long term stabilisation mission, which were likely not foreseen when the mission began back in 2003.
For example, it has become clear that having our police working together side by side for fourteen years has been in the interests of all of our countries.
I am pleased that the Australian Federal Police is supporting a RAMSI research project being conducted by the Australian National University.
The Pacific Island contingent police officers often took the lead in reassuring and communicating with communities affected by the tensions.
However, this project is looking at the impact of the RAMSI Police Participating Force on the standard of policing in the contributing Pacific island countries themselves.
I am looking forward to hearing what has been the experience of Pacific police and how their participation in RAMSI has impacted on their professional and personal development.
The findings of this project may also provide some useful lessons for our ongoing policing programs across the Pacific.
RAMSI has reinforced with us many home truths.
We knew it was in our national interest not to have a failed state in our region, but we did not fully appreciate the broader benefits certainly to Australia.
RAMSI has invigorated and reinforced Australia’s relationship with our neighbours.
We have a bigger voice when talking to the international community about regional and global security.
RAMSI helped Australia build valuable police, military, diplomatic and civilian links with the region.
And can I at this point also acknowledge, Prime Minister Sogavare, the contribution that was made recently in New York at the UN, at the Ocean Conference, particularly the UN Peacebuilding Commission.
I thought that was a very, very worthwhile initiative and can I congratulate you and your Government for your presentation.
RAMSI, of course, has also helped Australia to understand the security apparatus in our neighbouring nations and to build interoperability.
We want to work with Pacific Island countries to step up our security cooperation, and this would include better information sharing and more integrated security training.
RAMSI has allowed us to start down this path, but my question here today is how can we take this much further?
We should be emboldened by the success of RAMSI and continue to improve regional security capabilities.
We know that our region faces security challenges.
In an interconnected region we are all affected by transnational criminal activities, such as illegal fishing and narcotics trafficking, as well as natural disasters.
Such problems cannot be countered by a single agency or any one country.
Our shared security and stability also depends on a good economy with jobs and a healthy and skilled population.
We need regional solutions to regional problems.
And my commitment here today is to tell you that Australia sees itself, more than ever, as an integral part of the Pacific.
As former Prime Minister John Howard observed when the Government he led decided to help a neighbour in need fourteen years ago, “there is no exit strategy from our region”.
The circumstances of RAMSI’s birth were grave in the extreme. May we not see another circumstance like that.
But Helpem Fren and RAMSI showed us model for future regional collaboration.
And can I echo your words, Deputy Prime Minister Natuman from Vanuatu: I am very pleased to hear the support here today for continued regional security cooperation.
And can I conclude by echoing the sentiments of your words President Christian, as the head of our Pacific Island Forum: it is incumbent upon us to reflect on what RAMSI has achieved, and to harness our collective experience for the future good of our shared Pacific region.
May God bless all our peoples and keep them safe.