Speech to Solomon Scouts and Coastwatchers Commemorative Service

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The Hon Pat Conroy MP

Minister for Defence Industry

Minister for International Development and the Pacific

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7 August 2022

Thank you, MC and I want to join in acknowledging the many dignitaries here, including the Honourable Anthony Veke, Minister for Police, the Honourable Peter Kenilorea Jr., Member for East Are Are and Patron of the Solomon Scouts and Coastwatchers, and can I acknowledge the other honourable ministers and members of the Solomons Parliament. The Honourable Peeni Henare, New Zealand Minister of Defence. The Honourable Makoto Oniki, State Minister for Defence, Japan. Wendy Sherman, US Deputy Secretary of State. Lieutenant General Stephen Sklenka, Deputy Commander, US Indo-Pacific Command. Lieutenant General Steven Rudder, Commander, US Marine Corps Forces Pacific. Her Excellency Caroline Kennedy, US Ambassador to Australia. Members of the Diplomatic Corp. Sir Bruce Saunders, Chair of the Solomon Scouts and Coastwatchers Trust Board. Veterans from Australia and other conflicts, and most importantly, descendants of the Solomon Scouts who are present, some who have travelled long distances to be here for this event.

Can I say what a privilege it is to be here in Solomon Islands for such an important commemoration. This is my first bilateral visit as Minister for International Development and the Pacific, and it's a tremendous honour to be here. This week, we are marking the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal, one of the pivotal battles of World War Two, and I want to echo the remarks of Sir Bruce Saunders about the contribution, the significance of this battle to the outcome of World War Two. And I'm very glad to be here today in particular, to acknowledge the roles of the Solomon Islands Scouts and Coastwatchers in that campaign and acknowledge the presence of relatives of so many brave, brave men.

Ladies and gentlemen, war is full of terrible loss, and the Battle of Guadalcanal was no exception. The campaign, fought here in 1942 and 1943, bears a special place in American hearts, for good reason, and in Australia. We continue to remember the lives we lost 80 years ago, particularly through the sinking of HMAS Canberra. The effects of the Battle of Guadalcanal and the Second World War more broadly, carry a particular resonance for Australians. We remember the bravery of the Solomon Scouts and Coastwatchers, who worked hand in hand, trusting each other, risking their lives together. It is their very bravery we remember today. These Scouts collected critical intelligence, conducted search and rescue as we’ll hear shortly, and provided vital logistical support, rescuing 321 Allied airmen, 280 Navy personnel, and 190 missionaries and civilians from behind enemy lines.

And, ladies and gentlemen, in times of war, few of us get to make choices about what we do or what happens to those around us. But it's particularly true to say that the people of Solomon Islands had no role in choosing their beautiful country for the terrible campaign we remember today. Solomon Islanders were drawn into the conflict here, not because they wanted to pick a side in the conflict, but when needed, they answered the call and formed a vital part of the Allied logistical effort, enduring hardships and sacrifice. Many of these hardships still affect this country today.

I doubt those brave Solomon Scouts and Coastwatchers could have imagined that the terrible conflict brought here to this beautiful country would still be affecting their children and grandchildren 80 years down the track. It is unbelievable and terribly sad that the curse of unexploded ordnance still afflicts Solomon Islands today, 80 years after the campaign we mark. I acknowledge those that continue to be impacted by unexploded ordnance and pay respects to those who have lost their lives. Australia recognises this terrible legacy and remains committed to working with the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force to solve this ongoing World War Two era problem.

In 2022, explosive ordnance disposal cooperation is a key pillar of our defence partnership with the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force. We are focused on building up the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force's own explosive ordnance disposal capability and supporting Solomon Islands’ status as a regional explosive ordnance disposal leader. This is ultimately about supporting the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force to ensure the safety of Solomon Islands people, the safety of people whose ancestors were caught in the crossfire of a global conflict and yet still chose to risk their lives to save so many Allied personnel. Again, I thank and commemorate the Solomon Scouts and the Coastwatchers for their sacrifice and bravery. We will not forget you. Thank you very much.

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