RAMSI photographic exhibition

Reception, Parliament House

Speech, E&OE, check against delivery

21 August 2012

Introduction

I'd like to start by welcoming Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo — it is a great honour to have you here today and I know that Prime Minister Gillard is looking forward to meeting you later this evening.

It's good to see such a great turn out for this event.

Of course, this photographic exhibition has been here for a little while now.

But this is the first time that we've been able to bring together so many of those who have been crucial to the success of RAMSI.

Last month, I attended the Festival of Pacific Arts in Honiara, which brought together 3,000 artists from across the Pacific and was the country's biggest cultural event ever.

That the event was so well organised and so successful just underscores how much things have improved in Solomon Islands.

Following the opening ceremony, the High Commissioner and I walked back to the hotel from the stadium, surrounded by justifiably proud and excited Solomon Islanders.

That walk, at night, would have been inadvisable a decade ago — and probably in breach of the Travel Advice.

The RAMSI mission

As these pictures around us document, in 2003 Solomon Islands was on the edge of disaster.

When RAMSI was deployed in July 2003 at the request of the Solomon Islands government, they found a country ravaged by lawlessness, violence and near economic collapse.

Almost a decade later the violence has given way to peace.

Lawlessness to stability.

And a country that was heading towards bankruptcy has built those foundations so necessary to economic prosperity and development.

At its core, RAMSI has been a partnership between the people and the governments of Solomon Islands, with the 15 contributing countries of the Pacific Islands Forum.

It's a partnership that we in the region can all be proud of.

And a mission that Australia has been proud to lead.

Looking around this exhibition, what strikes me most is the contrast between the photos taken almost a decade ago and those taken more recently.

Most early photos are of newly arrived RAMSI officers reaching out to Solomon Islanders, often shaking their hands.

Photos taken later show RAMSI officers standing side by side with Solomon Islanders, smiling proudly.

These later photos are a true testament to the mission's success.

They show the pride, the confidence and the hope for the future — as well as the strong friendships that have been formed along the way.

Over the past nine years, thousands of police, military and civilian personnel from across the Pacific, including many of the Australians in this room today, have worked with Solomon Islanders to help rebuild their country.

Your contribution is having a lasting effect.

The removal of weapons from the community was one of RAMSI's most significant achievements.

During its first year, RAMSI collected and destroyed some 3,700 weapons and over 300,000 ammunition rounds.

This represents between 90 and 95 per cent of all the weapons stolen from police armouries.

RAMSI and its Participating Police Force has helped clean out and rebuild the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force.

And law and justice — certainly for the more serious offences — is being delivered.

The apparatus of government, which was once described as 'unravelling' has largely been restored.

The capacity for the Solomon Islands government to deliver services has greatly improved.

And the social services that were very weak are now flourishing.

This has all helped improve economic prospects.

The IMF recorded an almost 10 per cent growth rate for the country last year, which is a massive improvement on the minus 15 per cent recorded in 2000.

Quite simply, RAMSI has helped Solomon Islanders turn their country around.

It has also helped bring Pacific Island countries closer together marking a new phase of cooperation in our region.

It hasn't always been easy.

And it has come at a cost.

There of course has been no greater cost than the lives of those RAMSI officers who have died in service.

Conclusion

Operation Helpem Fren, or helping a friend, was what brought us together.

The operational part may now be changing.

But that doesn't mean Australia will be winding down its efforts to help a friend.

We remain committed to helping the Solomon Islands government provide security and improve the lives of all Solomon Islanders.

And we are committed to building on all that we have achieved together over the past nine years.

Thank you.

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