Senator FAWCETT (South Australia—Deputy Government Whip in the Senate) (14:59): My question is to the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator Fierravanti-Wells. Can the minister advise the Senate on the achievements of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands and how it is contributing to stability in the Pacific?
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South Wales—Minister for International Development and the Pacific) (14:59): Thank you, Senator Fawcett, for the question. As a close neighbour, Australia has a strong interest in the ongoing security of our Pacific neighbours. As I have indicated to the Senate before, the 2016 Defence white paper identified Australia's immediate neighbourhood as our highest strategic priority after the defence of Australia. In April 2003 the then Solomon Islands Prime Minister, Sir Allan Kemakeza, wrote to request Australia's assistance in addressing the violence besetting his country. Following consultations between the governments of the Solomons, Australia and New Zealand, a comprehensive package of assistance was agreed to. The centrepiece of this was RAMSI, which was proposed and unanimously endorsed by the foreign ministers of the Pacific Islands Forum. RAMSI has been critical to re-establishing and maintaining peace and stability in the Solomons for the past 13 years, and it has been a success because it has been a regional effort, with 15 Pacific countries contributing to RAMSI since its inception. It was led and largely funded by Australia and has helped to restore law and order, to rebuild national institutions and to reform the economy of the Solomon Islands. I have had the opportunity to see firsthand the work that we have done and the positive benefit there has been for the people of the Solomon Islands. As the Senate may be aware, RAMSI will end on 30 June next year. That said, our support for the Solomon Islands and the stability and security of that country will continue, and we are working with the government of the Solomon Islands on a new police capacity-building program, which will include advisers from the Australian Federal Police.
The PRESIDENT: Senator Fawcett, a supplementary question.
Senator FAWCETT (South Australia—Deputy Government Whip in the Senate) (15:01): Minister, as RAMSI draws to a close, could you outline to the Senate what have been the practical results? How has it helped the people of the Solomon Islands?
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South Wales—Minister for International Development and the Pacific) (15:02): RAMSI has helped to rebuild the critical law-and-order institutions, to stabilise government finances, to rebuild the machinery of government and to restore business confidence. This in turn has created the conditions for longer term stability, development and economic growth in the Solomon Islands, which in turn has not just led to political stability in that country but has added to the broader stability of our region. It has helped the Solomon Islands Police Force and has developed it into a modern, effective and independent institution. The Royal Solomon Islands Police Force has been policing with very little operational support over the past two years, and there is now widespread agreement that the police force is ready to assume full policing responsibilities. We will continue to support peace and stability in the Solomon Islands when RAMSI ends.
The PRESIDENT: Senator Fawcett, a final supplementary question.
Senator FAWCETT (South Australia—Deputy Government Whip in the Senate) (15:03): Minister, could you outline the direct benefit to Australia and our region delivered by RAMSI?
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South Wales—Minister for International Development and the Pacific) (15:03): As a close neighbour and friend, Australia has a significant national interest in the ongoing
security of the Solomon Islands and other Pacific countries. We do not want to see again the kind of situation arising in our region that led to RAMSI. This is one of the reasons why we will continue to support the Solomon Islands and other governments in our region through our overseas development assistance. The Solomon Islands is a country which has significant influence in Melanesia and the broader Pacific, and, as such, its security has a big impact on the security of our region. In recognition of the improved security environment, in 2013 the mission's military component was withdrawn, and support for governance and the justice sector was transferred to our bilateral aid program. It is in Australia's interest to have a strong, stable and prosperous neighbourhood.
Senator Brandis: Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.
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