Prime Minister Sogavare, Foreign Minister Tozaka, my parliamentary colleagues in Senator Fierravanti-Wells, Minister Keenan, Senator Penny Wong the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, the distinguished diplomats who are here today, and the alumni of RAMSI – and I see AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin here for a start.
Prime Minister, I welcome you and your delegation here to Canberra for your very special visit to our nation so shortly after the departure of RAMSI from your country, and we’ve had a delightful couple of days with you. I know you’re staying on in Australia to go to Sydney and Brisbane, and I know that Australians will warmly welcome you and embrace you, Solomon Islands being one of our closest neighbours, our dearest friends.
This year in the 75th anniversary of the battle of Guadalcanal, the war in the Pacific, we are reminded again of the debt that we owe the people of Solomon Islands for the support you gave us during some of our darkest hours.
Prime Minister, you will recall that Senator Fierravanti-Wells, Senator Wong and I visited Solomon Islands last December with Senator Claire Moore, and we were treated to a wonderful display of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force and we noted the professionalism, the number of women in your Police Force, and how well trained they had been.
We felt very reassured that Solomon Islands was ready to take over the law and order responsibilities for your country.
RAMSI has been an extraordinary initiative.
Fourteen years ago at the request of the Solomon Islands Government, Australia led a regional response to restore law and order at a time of conflict.
From the Australian Government’s perspective, RAMSI was a success because of the partnerships we have formed across governments – 15 Pacific Island nations were involved – across agencies, and the way we all worked together, sharing information, sharing knowledge, sharing experiences.
From the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade point of view, we had oversight for the Australian Government, but the work of the Australian Defence Force and the Australian Federal Police was extraordinary.
Representatives and officials in Finance and Treasury worked to help restore governance and support the Solomon Islands Government, ensuring that they had responsibility for the safety and security of the people.
It is an example of Pacific Regionalism at its best.
Last weekend in Suva, Foreign Minister Tozaka and I were together when we discussed with other Pacific Islands nations the importance of maintaining peace, stability and security in our region, and RAMSI was invariably held up as an example of cooperation across the Pacific for a common cause because it is in all our interests that there be peace, stability and security.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade knew that there were going to be very many memorable moments during the 14 years of RAMSI, and that we needed an historic record.
In the period leading up to the handover, we engaged Sean Davey, a photographer, to take images so that we can remember those very emotional but important days when RAMSI handed back to Solomon Islands the responsibility for law and order, peace, stability and security.
I understand he took about 5000 images and, Prime Minister, you and the Foreign Minister feature in a number of them.
Also a number of the RAMSI alumni, so many of them are here today, but there are some marvellous photographs – and I like the look on Nick Warner’s face there, very reflective – but this was an opportunity for us to capture forevermore this historic moment when RAMSI came to an end.
Of course we will continue to support you and your people.
Earlier today, Prime Minister Turnbull and I with you, Prime Minister, and Foreign Minister Tozaka signed a treaty for further cooperation, a framework in the event that there every be a need for Australia to work with the Government again in these circumstances, whether it be some kind of crisis, natural disaster, whatever it is, we will be there.
This is the depth of the relationship between Australia and the Solomon Islands; we know each other well, we’ve worked together over a very long period of time, we trust each other, and we are friends.
So Prime Minister, I hope that you will be as delighted with this exhibition as we are, Next Generation: Solomon Islands after RAMSI.
We are looking to the future, a positive, optimistic future for the people of Solomon Islands with your friend Australia and the people of Australia.
I have great pleasure in launching this photographic exhibition, Next Generation: Solomon Islands after RAMSI.
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