BRUCE HILL: Australia and the wider Pacific region are not abandoning Solomon Islands in the wake of the official end of RAMSI. That’s the message from Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Australia’s Minister for International Development and the Pacific. She says ongoing security and administrative assistance will continue well into the future.
CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well, of course while RAMSI is ending, our commitment to the Solomon Islands' peace and stability will remain, and it remains resolute. There are about 44 unarmed AFP advisors who will remain. Australia and the Solomon Islands will shortly finalise a bilateral security agreement and I took the opportunity to have a discussion about that while I was there. Look, I think, stepping back a bit, the RAMSI deployment has been successful because it really was a partnership - not just between the people of the Solomon Islands and the fifteen contributing countries, but because it really did not just strengthen what was happening in the Solomon Islands, but has left a longstanding legacy. And that legacy hopefully will see a continuation of that framework. We know that RAMSI has succeeded in bringing law and order, and economic progress, and stable government back to the Solomon Islands. It’s very very clear that the meeting of the Pacific Island Forum members acknowledged not just the success of this regional collaboration, but also discussed ways that they can further bolster security cooperation in the Pacific.
BRUCE HILL: So is this going to be an ongoing commitment to Solomon Islands, and how much is it going to cost? What will it consist of?
CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Certainly Australia... Australia, on a bilateral basis... During my visit to the Solomon Islands, we signed an aid partnership arrangement between Australia and the Solomon Islands, basically with three key priorities. One is a unified nation with stable and effective governance and public order; a second priority is sustained and inclusive economic growth; and the third priority is to ensure that Solomon Islands have access to quality social services, including education and health.
BRUCE HILL: Now, I remember when the ethnic tensions first began in the Solomon Islands, the Government asked Australia to send fifty Australian Federal Police up there for security, and the then-Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said no because they felt this would be - you know, cost a lot of money. Well, $3 billion, two peacekeepers lives, and fourteen years later, it cost us a lot more not to do that. Would it be fair to say that perhaps Australia might be more open to this kind of request for security assistance - not just from Solomon Islands, but from other Pacific countries facing a similar situation - in future?
CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well, I think one only has to look at, now, the position of the two leaders. Of course, Prime Minister Howard, a number of weeks ago, at the time of the RAMSI farewell, wrote an article, and too, both Prime Minister Sogavare published some comments. Certainly, in the tenor of his comments that he did make at the RAMSI farewell, was to say that it was the correct move. And I believe that it was the correct move and history will judge Prime Minister Sogavare, notwithstanding his reservations, as having made the right decision. As far as Prime Minister Howard is concerned, he described it as his best foreign affairs achievement. And so I think as the two leaders look back, we can see, yes, it did cost what it did, but two key things came out of this, Bruce. It meant that, yes, the cost of this was $3 billion, of which Australia footed $2.8 billion, and we were by far the largest contributor - monetary contributor. But we also had obviously personnel - at its peak there were almost 2,000 military, 375 police and 185 civilian advisers there. But the reality is that this was a partnership between the Pacific family. This is what it really was about in the end, and as we sat around at the Pacific Island Forum Leaders meeting, we sat around as a family, as a Pacific family. From the smallest contributor to the largest contributor, we sat at that table as equal members of this family. And that’s really what RAMSI was about. And there is a sense that there is a legacy which RAMSI is leaving - should leave - and, certainly, we discussed ways and we will continue to discuss ways that we can further bolster security cooperation in the Pacific, so that the benefits of RAMSI will be there for the future. May we never need another situation like RAMSI arising, but, certainly, I think that there is definitely a sense that the benefits of RAMSI, it is now - it has now become an internationally recognised model for future regional assistant missions. We have seen the significant contribution that is has made to the peace and stability in the region, and rebuilding governance, and I think that it is something that the Pacific family can be justly proud of.
BRUCE HILL: Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Australia’s Minister for International Development and the Pacific.
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