Thank you High Commissioner for your very warm welcome, I do take this opportunity to thank Andrew Byrne for his service as High Commissioner here. This is in fact his last week. So the timing of this delegation is rather exquisite. We get to see Andrew in his final week here in Honiara, so thank you Andrew and Dawn for the work that you have done for our relationship with Solomon Islands.
I acknowledge Minister Tozaka here this evening, and the other Ministers and Speaker of the Solomon Islands Parliament. The senior business representatives, senior Government representatives, diplomats, friends of Australia, friends of Solomon Islands.
I’m very proud to be leading a delegation here with my three colleagues from the Australian Parliament, my counterpart Penny Wong, who is Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, and the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs. Our Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, and her counterpart from the Opposition, Senator Claire Moore, who is the Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific.
The nature of this visit is to underscore the bipartisan commitment there is in Australia to deepening and broadening the relationship there is between Solomon Islands and Australia.
Ours is a very close relationship. We’re friends, we’re neighbours, we’re partners in so many ways. We were there from the outset, when Solomon Islands became independent and our relationship goes back even further. Indeed, next year will be the seventy-fifth anniversary of the sinking of the HMAS Canberra off the coast of Solomon Islands during the Second World War, 9th August 1942. We are hoping that we can bring the new HMAS Canberra to be part of those celebrations in August 2017 and that will be a fitting reminder of the connections between our two countries.
Next year we will see the drawdown of RAMSI, and that was one of the most successful operations certainly that I think we have seen, and is a model for other regions around the world to follow.
I first came to Solomon Islands in about 2003 at the beginning of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands’ operations here, and there were some mighty challenges ahead. But I’m pleased to see that thirteen years later, and a couple of billion dollars of investment from Australia, and fourteen other countries, we have seen law and order restored in Solomon Islands, we have seen the re-establishment of national institutions, the re-building of confidence across Solomon Islands, and now a police force that is one of the best trained, most professional, and most dedicated in the Pacific.
This afternoon we had the opportunity to visit the police headquarters, and meet with the new recruits for Royal Solomon Islands Police Force, and I was delighted to see, that of the 2016 class, fifty per cent are women and that augers well for the police force.
I want to thank the members of RAMSI that are here, and to place on record the other countries, the fourteen other countries that became part of this Australian-led mission here in Solomon Islands. It has been an enormous exercise, and we appreciate the efforts of each and every officer that was involved in RAMSI. We of course will continue to support Solomon Islands post-RAMSI, and I’m looking forward to a continuing close relationship between the Australian Federal Police and the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force.
Of course our defence force also has deep connections here, our Pacific Maritime Security Program, which provides vessels for patrolling the waters around Solomon Islands. And we’ve taken part in Operation Render-safe, the effort to rid Solomon Islands of the explosive ordinance from World War Two.
We discussed with the Prime Minister today, the relationship is also one of economic partnership and we have been using our development assistance, our aid program, to underpin economic development here in Solomon Islands, for surely that is the objective of foreign aid; development assistance to drive growth and job opportunities, to make this economy sustainable and resilient.
Tonight I’m delighted to announce that we have a new program, a $50 million commitment by the Australian Government for a Growth Program, to drive economic growth, to find those job opportunities, by partnering with the private sector, and ensuring we can leverage private sector funds together with donor funds and the money from the Government budget to ensure that economic growth here is sustainable.
This money will be used to ensure that we can have more public-private partnerships, more opportunities for the private sector to work with the public sector for the benefit of Solomon Islanders.
There are a number of examples of how this has worked so well in the past, and tonight we have representatives from Kokonut Pacific, a great business, innovative business, supported by the Australian Government. A partnership with Kokonut Pacific in Australia, with Kokonut Pacific here in Solomon Islands, working with ANZ, and a really innovative business that is extracting high-quality coconut oil, and doing all sorts of amazing things with it, and what a great export that has become for Solomon Islands.
We’ve also been delighted to work with SolTuna, to see probably the second largest employer in the private sector here in Solomon Islands, also find ways of employing more people, to produce high-quality export products. And I do want to mention ANZ bank again. I really think that their mobile banking service, which has been rolled out across Solomon Islands is quite remarkable.
Last year they signed up 33,000 new customers to mobile banking, and about 69 per cent of those customers had never had a bank account before, and 57 per cent were women. So this gives an opportunity for small business, for enterprise, for entrepreneurs to take part in the formal economy here in Solomon Islands.
Another area of great potential here is tourism, and the Australian Government, through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, signed an MOU with Carnival Cruises. Australians love cruising and about 350,000 of them headed off to the Pacific aboard cruises last year. We’re delighted that under the MOU with Carnival Cruises, Solomon Islands is a destination for cruise ships, and this year seven arrived here in Solomon Islands, and we hope that will be even more next year, because they bring a lot of money and provide a lot of opportunities for businesses here in Solomon Islands.
We’re also expanding the Seasonal Workers Program, and we do hope that more Solomon Islanders take the opportunity to be in a program where there’s unmet demand in Australia for work in agriculture, horticulture, accommodation, hospitality and tourism. We can bring people from Solomon Islands for this Seasonal Workers Program, and we are really hoping we can see more Solomon Islanders involved in it.
I’m also delighted to find out this evening that one of our New Colombo Plan scholars is here, Wendy Xiao. The New Colombo Plan is a Government-supported scheme to give young Australian undergraduates in our universities the opportunity to live and study and work in one of forty destinations in the Indo-Pacific region. By the end of next year over two hundred and seventy young Australians will have chosen Solomon Islands, and have lived and studied and worked here.
Some of them are short courses, but they’re across the range of disciplines, but I’m just so delighted that Wendy, who’s spending twelve months here studying at the Solomon Islands National University and undertaking an internship at the Department of Agriculture, is demonstrating how close our links can be. Of course we have many Australian Alumni in Solomon Islands, studying in Australia and through the Australia Awards.
So this visit is designed to highlight the great relationship we have with Solomon Islands. We are friends, we are neighbours, we are partners, and this is a relationship that will endure.
Ladies and gentleman, I am really hoping that I get to pick a favourite song tonight from the High Commission Choir. There’s one called Tropical Island, so after the speeches are finished perhaps they will grace us with their presence once more.
Thank you all for being here. Thank you for supporting this most important relationship and please continue to be friends of Australia, friends of Solomon Islands.
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