BRUCE HILL:

A new stronger regional security arrangement appears likely to be discussed by national leaders at next month’s Pacific Forum Summit in Samoa.  The Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission in Solomon Islands (RAMSI) is being looked at as a success and Australia’s Minister for the Pacific, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, says regional foreign ministers are keen to use it as a guide for possible future interventions if they become necessary.  She says the bilateral security arrangement between Australia and Solomon Islands which Prime Ministers Turnbull and Sogavare signed in Canberra earlier this week, is a good example of the possible new arrangement which is being referred to as “Biketawa Plus”.

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Basically it will allow Australian Police, Defence and associated civilian personnel to deploy to the Solomon Islands.  Deployments will be decided on a case-by-case basis, most important though, Bruce, contingent on Solomon Islands request and Australia agreeing to the assistance.  So it will cover a range of foreseeable security threats including natural disasters, but it will also allow for third party contributions, for example from other countries in the Pacific.  So that’s the framework of what this is about and I think that there is a strong sense that the end of RAMSI is the beginning of a new era for the Solomon Islands, but with that comes the need for a transition phase.

BRUCE HILL:

This sounds very similar to the RAMSI arrangement. So essentially, this is like an insurance policy that says if something bad happens again, which we are trying to ensure it doesn’t, Australia will be there and other countries in the Pacific will be there under this arrangement, very similar to what RAMSI was doing.

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Bruce, this is really about the ongoing international support for the Solomon Islands to consolidate the gains that were made under RAMSI and to help build long-term stability and enduring growth.  And so therefore it is, to some extent, yes, perhaps an insurance policy for them, but I see it much, much broader than that.  I think that certainly Prime Minister Sogavare more than anyone understands the importance of committing him, himself and his government to the consolidation of the gains made by the Solomon Islands through RAMSI.

BRUCE HILL:

Are there any wider lessons for the whole Pacific about the security situation post-RAMSI?  I mean RAMSI was formulated under the Biketawa declaration, now that has been successfully concluded is there any thought been given to looking at this kind of thing on a wider level in the Pacific?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

There is certainly a lot of support for a post-RAMSI security cooperation.  I mean there is no doubt that RAMSI was a unique model and one for which the Pacific Island countries, including Australia and New Zealand, can be justly proud recognising now that we face very complex challenges that more than ever require us to work together.

The illegal unreported and unregulated fishing - do you know how much this is costing us, Bruce, per annum? It’s about $780 million per year; it’s a lot of money for our Pacific Island countries.  Of course not to discount the importance of the work that we are doing in the transnational crime area and of course drugs and drug trafficking, which is becoming now a major scourge in the Pacific, practically the route between the United States and Australia. 

So the leaders, basically, foreign ministers called for what’s now being referred to “Biketawa Plus” and I think this is the basis of hopefully a very, very fruitful discussion at the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders meeting which will be in Apia in September and where the foreign ministers’ agreement on the need for a new security declaration will be endorsed by the Pacific Islands Forum leaders.

BRUCE HILL:

So this “Biketawa Plus” idea that sounds like its taking RAMSI as a bit of a template for future potential if there needed interventions in countries which need it.

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Well certainly Biketawa Declaration, as you said, was very important. It was basically the framework under which RAMSI, as well as of course the Solomon Islands Government’s acceptance and its own internal legislation, but it was a very important declaration.  It is a declaration which certainly has withstood time, but now clearly there is a feeling that given the contemporary challenges that we face across the region the time, I think, has come now for a broader security arrangement in the region. 

Of course, we’ve got natural disasters and one of the things in the Pacific, we are one of the most disaster prone areas of the world and we have seen also, the importance of the civilian military connection and how that is vitally important particularly after a disaster like Cyclone Winston.  So all of these things together, it’s not just about what we traditionally know of security and defence, it’s a much broader agenda now.

BRUCE HILL:

Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Australia’s Minister for International Development and the Pacific.

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