Solomon Islands University, Honiara

  • Speech, check against delivery


Gudfala aftanun yufala evriwan! (Good afternoon everyone).

Nem blong mi Pat Conroy, an mi waka osem Minister for International Development an Pacific blong Australia. (My name is Pat Conroy and I am the Australian Minister for International Development and the Pacific.)

Thank you and can I say what a pleasure it is to be here at the Solomon Islands National University, among the future leaders of this country.

I believe education is central to equipping ourselves and our nations to meet the significant challenges of our time.

Young students at universities are a critical national thinking resource, and investing in people like you is investing in a deeper understanding of the world around us and future generations.

So thank you for being here today, for being part of this discussion that will – I hope – focus on how we can all play a role in shaping the kind of region we want to live in - peaceful, prosperous and resilient.

A lot of what I want to talk about today is what we have in common and our mutual interests – like the value of education, jobs and skills – and how we might work even more closely given our futures are tied together.

Our partnership and value of education, skills and jobs

Our connections with Solomon Islands are deep, built on a shared history and ocean, longstanding partnerships, shared values, enduring friendship and respect – and of course our shared love of sport!

We want to further deepen our connections.

We see our future in you. We want you to see your future in us through education, skills development and labour mobility. In this way we can have a shared future.

We invest in education because it is a powerful driver of development, and one of the strongest instruments for reducing poverty and improving health, gender equality, peace, and stability.

Globally, there is a nine per cent increase in hourly earnings for every extra year of schooling.

Australia is a strong supporter of education in Solomon Islands – at the school, technical and university level.

Basic literacy and numeracy are the building blocks of education. Together, through investment in teachers, we are improving literacy and numeracy in Solomon Islands. Reading proficiency increased for 54 per cent of year 4 students in 2018 to 60 per cent in 2021.

We are investing in education linked to jobs. Since 2006, we have supported 480 Solomon Islanders to complete tertiary degrees in Australia.

And through the Australia Pacific Training Coalition we have supported 2,326 Solomon Islanders to undertake Australian accredited technical qualifications so they can find meaningful, well paid work and provide important skills to your economy as well as find opportunities offshore.

For example, Miriam from Solomon Islands completed a Certificate in Care and now works in aged care under our Pacific Australia Labour Mobility Scheme (PALM) in Alice Springs.

Miriam said, “It's my dream, my passion to work with old people. When I work here I feel like I can be connected to my parents, my forefathers, and my grandparents”.

Australian aged care residents ask for care from Solomon Island workers. “They sing, braid ladies' hair and bring joy to the site”. Solomon Islanders like Miriam bring important benefits to Australian people.

Kali from East Honiara dropped out of school due to family hardship. With assistance from the Kobito [Ko-bi-to] community church he was given an opportunity to complete form seven and in time gained employment through PALM.

He has now worked three seasons in Australia on farms. He has been able to support his family and has now built a two storey permanent house for his extended family. Kali's hard work is also important to Australian businesses who depend on PALM workers to harvest their crops and get their goods to market.

Miriam and Kali show how investment in basic education and skills development with pathways to labour mobility create opportunities and how together our futures are intertwined.

Tugeda, yumi na moa strong. (Together we are stronger.)

What we have in common – our Pacific region

The Blue Pacific is our shared home.

Our people have shared our oceans and traded for thousands of years. Our first nations people and shared culture are an important part of our identity and our connection with the Pacific.

Today the Pacific faces many challenges – from climate change and environmental pressures to economic development and strategic competition.

As members of the Pacific family, Australians and Solomon Islanders have a real and lasting interest in the outcome of this competition.

It will have a lasting impact on our future, on the sort of Pacific in which we live.

At stake, frankly, is our shared vision for a peaceful and prosperous Pacific, a harmonious, inclusive region, as set out by leaders in the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent.

We want to live in a region where sovereignty is respected and upheld.

Where no country, large or small, dominates.

Where nations like ours can live according to our own values and can shape our own destinies.

Where we listen to each other, respectfully.

And help each other when times are tough.

As Australian Prime Minister Albanese has said, “peace is not a gift and it's never a given”.

We have a collective responsibility to protect the peace and prosperity of our region.

I say this not only because it is in our national interest. It is something we care about deeply. It is intrinsic to our values, to our sense of mateship, wantok, and of family.

As my colleague Foreign Minister Wong has said, “Families are about care, love and forgiveness. But they are also about duty and loyalty, looking out for each other, and listening to each other”.

Listening, openness, transparency and dialogue in the Pacific Way are essential to how we navigate our shared challenges together. Peace and security is a shared endeavour and decisions of one country can impact others.

The decisions that we and our leaders take today can have ramifications for generations – with climate change being the most obvious example of that.

As sovereign nations, we need to actively pursue and promote our national interests and values to shape the region we want.

We need to be active in standing against behaviours that undermine our interests – against disinformation, coercion, against political interference and the imposition of impossible debt burdens.

Sovereignty, democracy, peace and prosperity – in an age of competition, these are critical national values.

People across the Pacific have stood up for these values time and time again, over the years.

The Pacific came together to support Solomon Islands through RAMSI – now entering its 20th anniversary.

All members of the Pacific Islands Forum came together through RAMSI - the embodiment of Pacific solidarity and cooperation.

In the words of Dame Meg Taylor, former Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum, “RAMSI is a perfect example of the benefits of regionalism, embodying more than a decade of partnership and cooperation amongst the members of the Pacific Islands Forum in the true Pacific spirit of helpem fren.”

I also recognise the commitment of thousands of hard-working Solomon Islanders in rebuilding this country and creating a better future.

It was a powerful partnership. The bonds formed through RAMSI are enduring. It created lasting friendships across the entire region.

Today, we are continuing to support the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force, through the Solomon's International Assistance Force along with PNG, Fiji and NZ. This is what family do when called on.

And the people of the Pacific reach across the ocean, time and time again, to help with disasters, whether they be earthquakes or tsunamis, devastating storms or deadly weather, fires or floods.

Australia still remembers the support the people of the Pacific gave us during the Black Summer bushfires just before COVID – and we stand ready to give our support, again and again, when we next confront tragedy and difficulty.

Approach to the world

Strategic competition – interwoven through economic, diplomatic, strategic and military domains – is an unavoidable reality for our region.

Our context isn't just a rivalry between big players, as it's often portrayed.

Overlaid over the top of those contests is a more fundamental tussle for the nature of the Pacific in which we live.

Will our space be determined by power, by force, or by the loudest voice...

...or will it be a place whose future is determined according to norms, by laws, negotiation and – where possible – by consensus among willing participants.

At the same time, our strategic context is not simply about the influence of nations, or what we all want, but is also about big, often global, issues:

  • The fight against climate change
  • More broadly, the battle for sustainability, the long-term sustainability not only of our economies, but also of our environments, of the biodiversity and landscapes on which we all depend
  • It's about global governance, the global economy, and how we work together on the widest range of issues
  • And it's about technology, and disruption, and the rapidly-changing nature of work and society.

Australia-Solomon Islands

Finally, I want to come back to the development and economic partnership between our two countries.

Our development partnership is longstanding and enduring.

It will deliver over 170 million Australian dollars ($A170 million) – that's over 952 million Solomon Islands dollars ($SBD952 million) – in 2023-2024.

Australians invest in development in the Solomon Islands for two core reasons.

First, because it is in Australia's national interest for Solomon Islands to develop. We want Solomon Islands to be prosperous, peaceful and secure because your peace and security is our security.

And secondly, because Australians care. We are a nation with values that believe in helping others.

Our development program delivers in areas that matter to the Solomon Islands people. Our partnership has spanned 45 years.

Australia is Solomon Islands' number one infrastructure partner, supporting the construction and repair of key roads and bridges with over 5 billion Solomon Islands dollars spent ($SBD5 billion) and 3,000 local jobs created since 2019.

Australia has provided approximately 309 million Solomon Islands dollars ($SBD309 million) in bilateral climate change and disaster resilience support to Solomon Islands since 2016.

And our infrastructure partnerships stand the test of time. Every school building Australia and New Zealand have constructed across the country can withstand a Category 4 cyclone.

Our COVID-19 support kept schools and health clinics open, provided essential medicines and equipment, and delivered food during the lockdown…

…our support kept the courts and police operating, and other government services functioning – including supporting Solomon Airlines and Solomon Water to deliver essential services.

Our 178 million Solomon Islands dollars ($SBD178 million) Strongim Bisnis program has assisted businesses with market specialists and expert advice, helping to achieve inclusive economic growth.

We supported 755 businesses owned by women, youth or people living with disabilities to improve their access to economic opportunities.

And Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) is a vital part of our economic partnership.

Solomon Islands is one our fastest growing PALM partners with over 5,000 workers.

There are 30 women and men, like Miriam, recently selected to study and gain Australian qualifications and then work in Australia through the PALM Aged Care Expansion pilot.

PALM not only helps Solomon Islanders like Miriam and Kali realise their dreams – it provides enormous benefits to both our economies and builds links between our communities.

In 2022, remittances – mostly from Solomon Islanders working overseas – contributed 680 million Solomon Islands dollars ($SBD680 million) to your economy.

We see our futures as intertwined. The partnerships we set up now will support the future we create together for us and for generations to come.

And nothing is more important than investment in education, skills and jobs to grow our futures.


Friends, I'm very honoured to be here today to talk with you.

I'm also keen to hear your perspectives.

In Australia, we talk about the Pacific as a family, and we say that with warmth and affection, as well as a sense of mutual responsibility.

In families we talk about our dreams, we listen and help each other …

Because we genuinely care, we share a sense of obligation to each other and we know we're always stronger together …

And we feel proud of each other because we know one family members' success is the success of the entire family.

As you know, families are special. Like the ocean, they bring us together, now and forever. But they also require commitment.

Your generation will shape the future of your country, and our region. Your voice and your aspirations matter.

So I'd love to hear what sort of partnership you want with Australia, and what sort of Pacific family you want in 20 or 30 years.

Thank you, I look forward to hearing your questions.

Media enquiries

  • Minister's office: (02) 6277 7840
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555