Australian government policy on Solomon Islands
Following the RAMSI intervention in July 2003, Australia has maintained an increased engagement with Solomon Islands, increasing its aid program and deploying ADF troops in support of the Participating Police Force (which includes Australian and other Forum police). Relations between the conservative Howard government and the Solomon Islands government of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare were strained in 2006-07, highlighted by the Moti affair. But the election of an Australian Labor Party (ALP) government in Canberra in November 2007 has improved relations with the new Sikua government in Honiara.
Minister of Defence Visit to Solomon Islands, Minister for Defence John Faulkner, media release MIN 8/09, 16 July 2009
“The Minister for Defence, Senator John Faulkner today visited the Solomon Islands. Senator Faulkner met with the Solomon Islands Prime Minister, the Hon. Dr Derek Sikua MP, and the Royal Solomon Islands Police Commissioner, Mr Peter Marshall. Senator Faulkner was accompanied by the Chief of Joint Operations, Lieutenant General Mark Evans. Senator Faulkner and Lieutenant General Evans were also briefed on the Defence-sponsored Pacific Patrol Boat Program, which has provided two patrol boats to assist with protection of resources within the Solomon Islands Exclusive Economic Zone.
“Senator Faulkner met with the Commander of the Combined Task Force, Lieutenant Colonel Neil Grimes and with some of the 140 Army Reserve personnel that form the Australian Defence Force contribution to the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI). Operation ANODE’s Rotation 18 personnel are drawn mainly from the Australian Army’s Victorian-based 4th Brigade.”
Special Coordinator to Solomon Islands, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, media release, 21 October 2008
“RAMSI’s arrival in July 2003, at the invitation of the Solomon Islands Government and under the auspices of the Pacific Islands Forum, has seen the return of peace and economic stability to Solomon Islands. Law and order has improved. RAMSI police advisers from 15 Pacific Island countries continue to work with their Solomon Islands counterparts to rebuild the police force. RAMSI civilian advisers have helped stabilise and improve the management of government finances, and provide reforms to encourage business and economic growth.
“While much has already been achieved in the partnership between RAMSI and the Solomon Islands Government, significant challenges remain. RAMSI’s focus is now on capacity building for public servants and the institutions they work in. Australia remains committed to RAMSI and will continue to support its long-term work to assist the Solomon Islands Government to create a peaceful and more prosperous future for all Solomon Islanders. Prime Minister Rudd and Solomon Islands Prime Minister Sikua have agreed that Australia and Solomon Islands will establish a Pacific Partnership for Development to improve the long-term development outcomes in Solomon Islands. This bilateral initiative will complement the work of RAMSI.”
Travel to Fiji and Solomon Islands, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, media release, 13 July 2008
“The Pacific Islands Forum Ministerial Standing Committee on the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) comprises the Foreign Ministers of the Pacific Islands Forum troika of past, present and future chairs of the Forum – Papua New Guinea, Tonga and Niue – as well as the Foreign Ministers of Solomon Islands and Australia. The FMSC was established to help ensure a greater degree of regional coordination and oversight of RAMSI’s operations.
“….At the meeting, the Committee underlined the importance of consultation between the Solomon Islands Government and RAMSI in formulating jointly agreed development strategies, and endorsed the proposal to jointly develop a Solomon Islands Government – RAMSI Partnership Framework. The Framework will develop agreed timelines to reduce RAMSI’s engagement in critical areas of government as the capacity of the Solomon Islands Government continues to grow.”
Australian PM congratulates all RAMSI members, RAMSI media release, 12 March 2008
“The Australian Prime Minister, Hon Kevin Rudd has congratulated all members of Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) police, soldiers and civilians for their efforts in rebuilding Solomon Islands. Speaking during a brief visit to the mission’s headquarters in Solomon Islands, Mr Rudd said it was the individual efforts of every member of the mission whether they were from Australia, New Zealand or around the region in partnership with the people of Solomon Islands that really made the difference.
…’To our friends from the Pacific Island Forum (countries) can I say this is a wonderful example of cooperation across our great Pacific region… as an arrangement coordinated through the Pacific Islands Forum. As members of the Pacific Islands Forum community of nations, where ever you come from across our region through your participation in RAMSI here, I would like to express my personal appreciation and that of my government, for your work in the field.’
Mr Rudd said RAMSI would remain in Solomon Islands for as long as it was welcome and for as long as it had a job to do: ‘(Based on) my discussions with the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, its quite plain to me that we are welcome and that RAMSI is welcome and it continues to do a good job and that will remain the case into the future.’”
Travel to Solomon Islands, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, Media Release 20 February 2008
“I will be travelling to Solomon Islands on 21 – 22 February to attend the inaugural meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum Ministerial Standing Committee on the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI…The Forum Ministerial Standing Committee will help to ensure a greater degree of regional coordination and oversight of RAMSI operations. The meeting on 22 February will also provide the opportunity for a strong early endorsement by the region of the new Solomon Islands Government’s commitment to a cooperative partnership with RAMSI and the Pacific Islands Forum.
“The Australian Government welcomes the new Solomon Islands Government’s willingness to work closely and cooperatively with Australia on RAMSI and on bilateral issues, underscored by the visit to Australia last month by the Solomon Islands Prime Minister, the Hon Dr Derek Sikua MP and the Foreign Minister, the Hon Mr William Haomae MP. RAMSI is committed to helping Solomon Islands achieve stability and security, good governance and economic reform and growth.
“I am pleased to announce the lifting of visa restrictions for Solomon Islands Members of Parliament who seek to travel to, or transit through, Australia. The Australian Government looks forward to working closely with the new Solomon Islands Government under Prime Minister Sikua’s leadership and sees the opportunity for a fresh start to the relationship. The removal of these visa restrictions, which were imposed in 2006, demonstrates Australia’s commitment to this fresh start and to the strengthening of our relationship with the Solomon Islands.”
Prime Minister of Solomon Islands, the Hon Dr Derek Sikua MP visit, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Media release, 23 January 2008
“I look to forward strengthening the relationship between our two countries and building a prosperous and secure future for the people of Solomon Islands. Australia remains committed to supporting Solomon Islands in its efforts to achieve economic growth and stability. I welcomed Dr Sikua’s statements about the value of the bilateral relationship and the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI). RAMSI is helping Solomon Islands achieve stability and security, good governance and economic reform and growth.
“Australia has contributed some $1.3 billion to RAMSI since 2003. This also involves a substantial deployment of around 170 Australian Federal Police and State and Territory police supported by over 130 Australian Defence Force personnel. Around 120 Australian civilian advisers are also working in and with the Solomon Islands public service.”
Australia Welcomes the Report of the Eminent Persons Group on RAMSI Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer, Media Release FA91, 11 July 2005
“I welcome the very positive and constructive report released on the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI). The report was prepared by an Eminent Persons Group appointed by the Pacific Islands Forum at the request of Solomon Islands Prime Minister Sir Alan Kemakeza. The report highlights the excellent progress made by RAMSI in the two years since the mission began on 24 July 2003. Law and order has returned to this once troubled nation and the government’s finances are now well managed. Crucially, the report found that a large majority of the people of Solomon Islands believe in RAMSI and want it to continue with its work…The Eminent Persons Group recommended that the tenure of the mission be linked to the achievements of tasks rather than being time bound. Australia is committed to supporting RAMSI until the task is completed.”
“I welcome today’s vote in the Solomon Islands Parliament in support of Australia’s offer of strengthened assistance. This vote follows a formal request for assistance from the Solomon Islands’ Governor-General, acting on advice of Cabinet, and the unanimous endorsement of the proposed assistance package by Pacific Island Foreign Ministers at a meeting in Sydney on 30 June. Solomon Islands Parliament will now consider the draft legislation necessary to protect and authorise the presence of external police, military and other personnel.”
Solomon Islands, Transcript of the Prime Minister John Howard Press conference, Canberra, 22nd July 2003.
“Ladies and gentleman, I’ve called this news conference to confirm that at its meeting this morning the National Security Committee of Cabinet ratified an approval of the arrangements for Australia’s involvement in the Solomon Islands assistance mission. The Australian contribution will comprise of approximately 1500 Australian Defence Force personnel, 155 Australian Federal Police and 90 personnel from the Australian Protective Services. These personnel will be part of a total mission that will comprise about 2225. The Defence personnel will be under the command of Colonel John Frewen. The AFP contingent will be led by Federal Agent Ben McDevitt and Mr Nick Warner, a senior officer of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and somebody extremely experienced in Pacific Island issues will be in charge of the mission and the three of them together will actively coordinate and cooperate in discharging their responsibilities.
“I want to say that this is a very important exercise in Australia being a good neighbour. It is important to Australia that things in our part of the world on our patch aren’t allowed to deteriorate. We were asked to be involved by the Government of the Solomon Islands. The Parliament of the Solomon Islands has approved the request, legislation has been passed providing the necessary immunities. And whilst, as always, the Australian Defence personnel and police will behave with appropriate restraint and proper respect for the attitudes and the culture of the people of the Solomon Islands, the rules of engagement are sufficiently strong to properly, as they should, look to the safety of our personnel.
“But it not something that is without risk, and I want to make that very clear, there’s always a danger of casualties in something like this. Nobody should see it as just a easy, straightforward, uncomplicated operation. All operations have unexpected turns and whilst it would be our hope that the combat component of the Defence deployment could be out in a fairly short period of time, I’m not going to try and put a number of weeks or months on that, it would be silly to try and do so. The police presence in different forms is likely to remain for quite some time. The initial purpose of the exercise is to restore order and then to begin the process of civilian reconstruction in the broader sense of that term. We do have a nation which has been fast approaching the failed state situation. The criminal justice system is barely functional, there’s been wholesale collapse in relation to the other elements of governance in the Solomon Islands. It’s important to see this as a partnership between Australia and other nations in the Pacific.
“I want to thank Fiji, and Tonga, and Samoa, and Papua New Guinea, and New Zealand for their contributions. And it is important that it be seen in that context. This is not some kind of colonial hangover exercise by Australia, it is a response to the request of a friend and the operation itself will carry the name of Operation Helpem Fren, which depicts very much the motivation of Australia and the sense of comradeship that we are extending to the people of the Solomon Islands. This is our responsibility. I think the Australian people recognise that it is not in the interests of this country that we have failed states on our doorstep, and it would be a failure of our duty as a relatively large and prosperous, stable country in the region, not to extend a helping hand to a neighbour who’s asked for our help, particularly when it is going to be done in cooperation with other countries in the region.”
Statement to Parliament on the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI), Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer, 12 August 2003.
“We supported the  Townsville Peace Agreement not through a policy of non-intervention but through the deployment of the International Peace Monitoring Team and we left that there for some time. A number of arms were collected by the International Peace Monitoring Team.…We also substantially increased our aid program to the Solomon Islands. It is a matter of some debate whether it would have been better to have sent in a more robust intervention force – and I am making the point we did actually send in an intervention force straight after the coup, or particularly after the Townsville Peace Agreement was reached – or whether we should not have. That will be a subject that people can debate.”
Ministerial statement to parliament on the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands, Prime Minister John Howard, 12 August 2003.
“The international community looks to Australia to play a leading role in the South Pacific. Our leadership of the regional assistance mission to the Solomon Islands reflects both a national interest and an international expectation. A failed state would not only devastate the lives of the peoples of the Solomons but could also pose a significant security risk for the whole region. Failed states can all too easily become safe-havens for transnational criminals and even terrorists. Poor governance and endemic corruption provide the conditions that support criminal activities. If Australia wants security, we need to do all that we can to ensure that our region, our neighbourhood, is stable – that governance is strong and the rule of law is just.
“That is why we have joined with the other nations of our region to lend a helping hand. Failure to act would have sent the wrong signal to those who are endeavouring to maintain stability in other parts of the Pacific. On 25 June, the Australian Government decided to undertake a regional assistance mission to the Solomon Islands provided there was a formal request, that necessary legislation was enacted to authorise the presence of external personnel, and that the initiative was supported by the Pacific Islands Forum. This last requirement was met when the initiative was unanimously endorsed at the meeting of the Forum’s foreign ministers held in Sydney on 30 June.
“On 4 July, the Solomon Islands Governor-General, Sir John Lapli, acting on the advice of Prime Minister Kemakaza’s Cabinet, wrote to me formally requesting the assistance package. On 11 July, the parliament of the Solomon Islands supported a motion endorsing the programme of strengthened assistance. On 17 July, it unanimously passed the enabling legislation giving powers and immunities to those police and military personnel engaged in the operation. With all our conditions met, the Australian government agreed to deploy the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands on 22 July. The code name for the operation captures our aims and our intentions – the meaning is as clear in English as in Pidgin – Helpem Fren. The nations of the Pacific are coming together to reach out to a neighbour in need.”
Statement to Parliament on the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI), Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer, 12 August 2003.
“In changing policy we did lay down in our talks with the Solomon Islands’ leadership some quite strict conditions on which we would intervene.
“The first of those conditions was that there should be wholehearted support in the Solomon Islands for an intervention….
“The second thing we said to Prime Minister Kemakeza, his ministers and officials was that we did not want to do this alone, we wanted to do this as a regional intervention….
“The third thing is that we made it clear that we wanted a secure mission. If the Australian government deploy the military, civilian personnel or police then I think we have an obligation to provide them with all the security they need, and we should act on the advice of our military and our police in terms of how much security they need….
“The fourth condition was that this had to be comprehensive support.…what we have said is that there needs to be very substantially increased support for the treasury, the finance department, the customs department and, in the area of law and justice, for the magistracy, the rebuilding of the Rove prison and the list goes on.”
Commentary and Analysis
Our failing neighbour, Elsina Wainwright, Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), 10 June 2003
“Solomon Islands, one of Australia’s nearest neighbours, is a failing state. Over the past five years, a slow-burning political and security crisis has paralysed the country’s capital, stifled its economy, disrupted government, discouraged aid donors, and inflicted suffering and hardship on its people. This report examines Australia’s interests and the problems facing Solomon Islands. It sets out the following possible policy approach: Australia could initiate and support a sustained, comprehensive multinational effort, which, with consent of Solomon Islands, would undertake a 2 phase program to rehabilitate the country.”
Interventionism, regionalism, engagement – new forms of security management in the South Pacific, David Hegarty, SSGM Working Paper No.3, 2004
“While undoubtedly pointing to significant security problems and considerable turbulence – the severity of the crisis in Solomon Islands, for example, necessitating external intervention in mid-2003 – these blanket characterisations [of failed states] do not take sufficiently into account the incredible diversity of the region’s cultures and societies to the degree to which instability varies within the region.”
Lending a fist? Australia’s new interventionism in the South Pacific, Sinclair Dinnen, SSGM Discussion Paper No.2004/5
“The year 2003 marked a significant change in Australia’s strategic relations with the island Pacific…While providing substantial amounts of bilateral aid, Australia has been sensitive to charges of neo-colonialism and interference with national sovereignty. All this appears to have changed with the Howard government’s adoption of a more distinctly robust and interventionist approach.”
Updated: 24 August 2009