TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH DOROTHY WICKHAM & KOROI HAWKINS, ONETELEVISION,SOLOMON ISLANDS.
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 13 JULY 2011
TOPICS: Solomon Islands.
STEPHEN SMITH: So, I've had a very good day in the Solomon Islands and, of course, as you'd expect, I've also taken the opportunity of meeting with Australian officials and, also, RAMSI officials, and I'm about to pursue further conversations with RAMSI officials.
DOROTHY WICKHAM: In your discussions with the Minister of Police and National Security, issues of RAMSI's work and, of course, the beginning of the reduction of their numbers within the country, was that the subject?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, transition has been a feature of all of my conversations from the Prime Minister to the other Ministers. We are in a state of transition, but there are some very firm fundamentals.
Firstly, RAMSI has, on any measure been very successful. With some of my own observation, theSolomon Islandsis a vastly different country than the early 2000s. So, RAMSI has had a very beneficial effect in terms of bringing peace, security and stabilisation. But we do need to transition to a Solomon Island-led responsibility for security and stability, particularly the police function.
From the height of RAMSI, both in terms of civilian, police and military personnel, we now have much lower numbers. We do need to now work our way through the ultimate transition. ButAustraliawill do that; not by itself, we'll do it in conjunction, obviously, with the Solomon Islands Government, but also do it in conjunction with our RAMSI partners and also with our Pacific Island Forum friends and partners.
DOROTHY WICKHAM: But with the feeling of a gap, if RAMSI starts, you know, in transition as you said, that means, of course, a reduction. Is there a certain plan in place for filling of that gap?
STEPHEN SMITH: The clear shared view about priority is that we need to make sure that theSolomon Islands’ police have got greater capacity. At the moment, for example, the Participating Police Force numbers are far larger than the military or Defence Combined Task Force numbers.
So, the priority now has to be continuing to give theSolomon Islandspolice the training, the mentoring, the capacity to do the job by itself. What we don't want to do is to make a judgement about transition while continuing to ensure there is security and stability. In other words, that we're confident that the Solomon Islands Government is confident, that RAMSI is confident, thatAustraliaand neighbours in thePacificIslandsare confident that the security task can be effected by theSolomon Islands' police. I fully expect that, in terms of police training and police assistance, that will continue for a relatively long period of time.
DOROTHY WICKHAM: Now, you talk about meeting a capacity for theSolomon Islands' police to take on the role, does that include re-arming some sectors of the police force?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the re-arming of the police force is, of course, a matter for the Solomon Islands Government. But that's being mentioned in passing in terms of the course of my discussions. But everyone understands that that is a sensitive matter that needs to be thought through very carefully.
So, it's not for me to indicate a timetable or a view about that. Everyone knows that that is a very serious issue, a sensitive issue and one that needs to be worked through the Solomon Islands Government and theSolomon Islands' community.
In the meantime, we have to continue to make sure that theSolomon Islands' police can perform basic security functions and be trained and skilled in public order and public order management. That issue is a sensitive issue that needs to be addressed at some time and carefully worked through, not just by the Solomon Islands Government, but also theSolomon Islands' community.
DOROTHY WICKHAM: Australiahas in the past - I think – you’re still funding border controls and helping with the border security of theSolomon Islands. TheBougainvilleborder is always an issue for us. As you know, there have been problems on their side of the border, which, of course, if anything serious happens there will affect us on this side. What'sAustralia's position on this?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I think there are a few separate issues there. Firstly, we provide two patrol boats, as you know, for maritime and border protection and surveillance purposes, and that's been a very successful part of the program of assistance between Australia and the Solomon Islands and, also, between Australia and Pacific Islands Forums generally, because our patrol boat program covers all of the Pacific Island Forum countries who have wanted to take it up. So, that program is ongoing; it's a very successful program. So, that is a significant contribution to maritime security and to border protection.
A number of Ministers mentioned to me the issues with respect to the border withBougainville. There's no direct role forAustraliain that; it's really a matter that theSolomon Islandsneeds to address with Bougainville and, also, withPapua New Guinea.
So, there's no intention or view on the part ofAustraliato intercede or to have a role in that. It's a matter in which the Solomon Islands Government, Bougainville andPapua New Guineaneed to resolve.
DOROTHY WICKHAM: The recent review that was carried out about aid in this country, the independent review of aid effectiveness, recommends that there should be a [indistinct] for governance, was there any concern raised by the Prime Minister in regards to this report?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well that review, and aid generally is a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs. The conversation that the Prime Minister and I, and his Ministers and I had about aid was really in the context of RAMSI making a substantial contribution in terms of development assistance, as doesAustralia. We make a substantial contribution so far as direct bilateral development assistance betweenAustraliaand theSolomon Islands. I made it clear that we would want that to continue, and that as RAMSI's role became less prominent, there would be parts of what RAMSI currently does in terms of development assistance, that Australia would want to have a conversation with the Solomon Islands about Australia taking up.
So I can't see in the foreseeable future, when Australia, either bilaterally or through RAMSI, won't be dealing with development assistance matters, whether it's health, whether it's education, whether it's legal and justice administration, or general capacity-building and public infrastructure building.
DOROTHY WICKHAM: And wouldn't that be a sort of a thought now within your Government, on the way we deal with aid, especially for theSolomon Islands?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, the thought within Australia is that we continue to see Australia playing a significant role so far as development assistance is concerned with the Solomon Islands and, as the RAMSI contribution declines, we see the very distinct potential and prospect for Australia to take up some of that development assistance work, and do that bilaterally, with the Solomon Islands.
So of course there'll be other donor partners who may well want to also play a role, whether it'sNew Zealand, whether it's the World Bank, or whether it's others, we certainly see an ongoing role forAustraliaworking in partnership with the Solomon’s on development systems now.
KOROI HAWKINS: The year 2013 keeps popping up, when they talk about transition, if you could just explain to our public what this year signifies in terms of RAMSI funding, and also what the possibilities are?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, RAMSI is funded on more than an annual basis, so it's currently funded up until 2013, but there's not going to be a departure or a walk-out on that day. RAMSI will be here in some manner or form for a number of years yet.
But what we are currently in effectively a transition process, it was never expected or envisaged that RAMSI would be here forever, but the countries who make up RAMSI don't want to do that, and equally theSolomon Islandsdon't want that either.
RAMSI was introduced to stabilise the Solomon Islands at a very bad period of its history, security and stability have returned, the security and stability position is light years away from where it was in the early-2000s, so we need to affect a transition, but we need to do that in a way in which risks to stability and risks to security don't arrive. So that needs to be done carefully and methodically, in conversation,Australiawith the Solomon Islands Government and RAMSI with the SolomonIslandsGovernment. So RAMSI is funded until 2013, but RAMSI will continue after that.
Australiais currently affecting a review as to what the transition should reflect, what draw-downs, if any, we should make, what the long term outcome should be. We're not doing that in isolation, we obviously want to do that bearing in mind circumstances on the ground here, and also in conversation with the Solomon Islands Government.
KOROI HAWKINS: What isAustralianot happy with, with the current arrangements of RAMSI and the Defence arrangements with theSolomon Islands?
STEPHEN SMITH: We are perfectly happy, we think RAMSI's been a tremendous success, it's been a very good experience for our Defence Force personnel and for our reservists, but with the numerical contribution and the role that we play, that has changed quite markedly from earlier times.
Today for example, I went to the observation post overlooking the Rove Correctional Centre, overlooking the prison, there was a time when that observation post was manned 24 hours a day by Defence personnel. That's no longer the case. There was a time when the Correctional Centre itself was manned by RAMSI officers, it's now manned almost entirely by Solomon Island officials, so there's been a transition to Solomon Islands responsibility, and that will continue, and there will come a point in the cycle, there will come a point where there is no longer any need or utility for a RAMSI Defence Force or military complement.
DOROTHY WICKHAM: Has any comment been made by the Minister of Police towards maintaining some of the infrastructure that RAMSI has put into some of the provinces in terms of police posts?
STEPHEN SMITH: We didn't have a conversation about those matters, and that's really getting down to the fine detail of transition, so those issues would need to be addressed into the future.
DOROTHY WICKHAM: Thank you.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you, thanks very much.