Well, thank you very, very much.
Can I start by acknowledging you, Prime Minister Sogavare and Madame Emmy Sogavare; to all the Ministers; to the Leader of the Opposition, Honourable Jeremiah Manele; Members of Parliament; Major General Smith, Rear Admiral Cottrell and the many representatives of the United States, United Kingdom, New Zealand armed forces; Rear Admiral Mayer, Commodore Woodall, Commander Zilko and to the members of your ships’ company of HMAS Success; US Ambassador Catherine Ebert-Gray, Australian High Commissioner Rod Brazier, Japanese Ambassador Kenichi Kimiya and other members of the diplomatic corps; veterans and the family of veterans; distinguished guests; ladies and gentlemen.
It truly is an honour for me and my husband John to be here this evening.
The bonds between Australia and Solomon Islands were cemented during the horrific events of the Second World War.
Seventy-five years ago, an Australian naval task group, including HMAS Canberra, joined with the US Navy to engage the Japanese Imperial Fleet, while American marines liberated Guadalcanal from the Japanese.
Australians knew then that the security of the Pacific was indivisible: the freedom of Solomon Islands was at stake, and so was that of Australia and our other island neighbours.
Eighty-four Australian servicemen aboard Canberra were tragically lost during the subsequent Battle of Savo Island.
Our allies made extraordinary sacrifices, especially the United States.
And in a very recent context, our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of the three missing US Marines and those injured following last Saturday’s Osprey crash off the coast of Queensland.
Ladies and gentlemen, I was honoured to take part in this morning’s moving ceremony hosted by the Solomon Islands Government at Bloody Ridge, including its declaration as a National Park.
I took note of the request from the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, and from the Solomon Islands Scouts and Coastwatchers Trust for assistance from development partners to maintain the Bloody Ridge National Park in perpetuity.
The Minister for Tourism at lunchtime, Prime Minister, chewed my ear about this as well.
So tonight, I am very pleased to announce that Australia will provide the services of a technical expert sourced through the organisation Australian Volunteers International and funded by the Australian aid programme to work under the Ministry of Tourism and Culture on the development of the Bloody Ridge National Park.
We owe it to the Solomon Islands to help them with this work.
During the Second World War, Solomon Islanders, at enormous risk, formed part of The Coast Watchers network, which surveyed Japanese forces for the Allies.
In the now immortal words of Admiral Halsey, “The Coastwatchers saved Guadalcanal, and Guadalcanal saved the Pacific.”
Seventy-five years later, we all are making our way in an international environment that has changed beyond recognition.
However, one thing has not changed.
Australia and the Solomon Islands are still bound together, by common values of freedom and democracy, and by common security interests.
Australia’s 2016 Defence White Paper underlines our commitment to supporting regional stability, security and prosperity, as well as defence capacity in the Pacific.
The security of Australia’s immediate neighborhood is second only to the defence of Australia.
This extends to non-traditional security threats facing the Pacific, including humanitarian disasters.
Prime Minister, can I echo your words, “we need each other now more than ever”.
When the Makira earthquake struck Solomon Islands in December last year, Australia assisted the Solomon Islands Government by quickly arranging aerial and sea damage assessments.
We purchased humanitarian supplies, which the assessment teams distributed, and deployed a structural engineer to assess damage to hospitals, schools and other critical infrastructure.
We recognise that disaster relief is not just a short-term response but an ongoing, long-term endeavour as well.
I am proud to say that Australia will be providing a $1 million package of support, which includes ongoing assistance for the earthquake recovery process.
This will fund structural reinforcement of the Kirakira Hospital, as well as the repair and reconstruction of school classrooms and dormitories across the Makira province.
Responses to security issues, including disaster relief, are most effective when they form part of a regional effort.
It is imperative that we work together as regional partners to promote our common security interests.
Pacific Island countries have made great progress in this area in recent years.
We commend Pacific Island countries, and in particular the Solomon Islands, for partnering to strengthen regional security architecture, such as the Pacific Islands Forum, the Forum Fisheries Agency and the South Pacific Defence Ministers Meeting.
As we look to the future, I wish to once again emphasise that Australia is committed to helping Pacific Island countries expand and strengthen this cooperation.
As part of our stepped up engagement in the Pacific, we want to work with Pacific Island countries to build on the success of regional security missions, such as RAMSI, to enhance the region’s capability to respond to crises.
I congratulate the Solomon Islands Government on the steps it has already taken to address its national security challenges.
Key Solomon Islands institutions have made great progress in a short time.
The Royal Solomon Islands Police Force is now amongst the best police forces in the Pacific.
Key government agencies, such as the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and External Trade, the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs, Police, National Security and Correctional Services, the Customs and Excise Divisions of the Ministry of Finance and Treasury are enthusiastically identifying and prioritising threats to Solomon Islands’ security.
The challenge now is for the Solomon Islands Government to ensure that these national agencies amplify their respective strengths by working together.
In this fast moving and complex security environment that is the Pacific today, it is essential that agencies, and indeed nations and regional organisations, share information and collaborate. Australia stands ready to assist the Solomon Islands Government in this endeavour wherever possible.
Prime Minister, can I say we are looking forward to your visit to Australia and I am sure that we will be discussing this and many other issues.
Can I conclude by saying that I hope that as Solomon Islands embarks on the next phase of its journey as a young nation, with responsibility for its own national security, it will also play a central role in Pacific security efforts.
Seventy-five years after we joined together to liberate Guadalcanal, we must continue together to promote a peaceful and prosperous Pacific.
For just like in 1942, the security of the Pacific region remains our common concern.
We have good foundations for the necessary security cooperation. Now it is up to all of us to play our part in preparing together to meet the challenges of the future.
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