Doorstop Interview, Honiara, Solomon Islands

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The Hon Richard Marles MP

Deputy Prime Minister

Minister for Defence

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02 6277 7800

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21 May 2024

SUBJECT/S: Australia’s contribution to Solomon Islands Border Management System and Birthing Clinic; AFP support in Solomon Islands; Climate change in the Pacific; Greater cooperation between Australia and the Solomon Islands; Solomon Islands Security Review and potential defence force

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Well, it's a real pleasure to be here in Honiara, this afternoon on what is my 11th, visit to Solomon Islands. This morning, I had the opportunity to meet Prime Minister Jeremiah Manele about the future of our relationship with Solomon Islands. This is a critically important relationship for Australia, and the formation of the new government in Solomon Islands is an opportunity for a new partnership. That is what we spoke together about, the Prime Minister and I. And there was a great sense of optimism about how we can take this relationship forward and take it to the next level. Over a long period of time, we have been the number one partner of choice for Solomon Islands when it comes to the economy, security, for development assistance, They form the priorities of our partnership going forward. 

Today, we've announced and $18 million Solomon Island dollar contribution to the establishment of a new Border Management System, which will see the digitization of the Solomon Island border management. This is a really significant advance for Solomon Islands which will be operating from next year. And later this afternoon, I'll be announcing a $45 million- Australian dollar- contribution to the Naha Birthing Clinic which again, greatly improves the health infrastructure of this country, and in particular, Honiara. These projects speak to the partnership which exists between our two nations. And that comes on top of what is almost 7,000 Solomon Islanders who are today participating in the Pacific labour mobility scheme in Australia, and that's in addition to the support that has been in Solomon Islands for a very long period of time from the Australian Federal Police- in terms of the RSIPF. All of these issues; security, economic development, development assistance is part of the partnership that we have with this country. In speaking with the Prime Minister today, there was a sense of optimism about a new partnership between Australia and Solomon Islands with a new government. And we look forward to the opportunities that this partnership will present to both our nations- two nations which have strategic alignment, who are friends, but we are more than that- we are neighbours, we are family. And our relationship is underpinned by a deep sense of trust and that is the trust that we will take forward in this new partnership. 

JOURNALIST: Australia still has hundreds of police here in Honiara, so if you reach an agreement with Mr. Manele or other senior ministers about how much longer they will stay in the country?

MARLES: Prime Minister Manele and I spoke about the security partnership that we've had in the past, and how we want to make sure that this forms part of the relationship that we have going forward. The Australian police that have been here providing training and advice to Solomon Islands have been making a really significant contribution to the RSIPF. Prime Minister Manele made that clear in his comments to me about how greatly they are valued. And we're certainly committed to looking at ways in which we can make sure that that ongoing presence is here- we're very open to that. Right now, Prime Minister Manele made clear to me that the Solomon Islands government is going through a security review. We obviously will watch that with great interest and we await the outcome of that. And that will, I think, inform both governments in terms of the exact form of the presence of police- Australian police here have, in their ongoing work to provide a training and advice to the RSIPF.

JOURNALIST: What steps is Australia taking to support Solomon Islands in building resilience to natural disasters from climate change (inaudible)?

MARLES: Well, as we stand here in the Pacific, we really are standing here on the frontline of the effects of climate change. And we're very mindful that here in Solomon Islands and right throughout the Pacific, it is so important that Australia provides support in allowing the Pacific to tell its story to the world. Because for the people of the Pacific, for the people of the Solomon Islands, the effects of climate change are literally existential, and they are being felt as we speak. Again, we will work closely with Prime Minister Manele and his government around how we can support this. Climate change security is at the heart of the security review which is being undertaken by the Solomon Islands government right now, and we will be very keen to understand the outcomes of that and the needs that the Solomon Islands government has in respect of climate change security and how Australia can best contribute to supporting those needs. 

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

MARLES: So this has been an ongoing project for a long period of time. So, we're really pleased to be able to announce the $45 million today. In making that announcement today, what we will also make clear about the Naha Birthing centre is that it will become operational in the next two years. And so we are really near the end of what has been a long journey. And when it is up and running it is going to make a huge difference for families here in Honiara and it will make a really big contribution to the health and infrastructure on Honiara and Solomon Islands.

JOURNALIST: How will the BMS streamline visa processing and digitally?

MARLES: What the Border Management System will do is digitize the existing paper based system, which is obviously expensive, it takes time, and it is cumbersome. Being able to have this digitized really gives the Solomon Islands government an ability to have power over its borders and power over the policymaking it has in respect of borders. The Border Management System will make it much easier to collect revenue, it will be much easier to track who's entering and leaving the country, but is will also make it much easier to introduce new visa classes, which gives the Solomon Islands government a much greater power to put in place different types of visas, which in turn enables a really fundamental control over the policy of its border management. I mean, this will be a watershed in the way in which Solomon Islands manages its borders. And it is a trilateral program- it is us working closely with Solomon Islands but also with Papa New Guinea with whom the Solomon Islands obviously shares a very significant maritime border. This is a trilateral project between our three countries, which is a great example of the cooperation of three countries which are very close but three countries which are really family.

JOURNALIST: What key areas of cooperation and partnership do you see for Australia and the Solomon Islands moving forward?

MARLES: As I said at the outset, with the formation of the Manele Government, there is the opportunity for a new partnership with a new government between Australia and Solomon Islands. And we are very optimistic about the future of that partnership. We also make clear that we are right now the most significant development assistance provider, the most significant economic partner and the most significant supporter of Solomon Islands security. And that's very much acknowledged by Prime Minister Manele and his government.  Development Assistance, security, the economy and economic cooperation- that is at the heart of what we see this new partnership being; with almost 7000 Solomon Islanders working in Australia now under the Pacific Labour Mobility Scheme- the fastest growing cohort within that scheme, making an enormous contribution to Australia, but also making an enormous contribution through remittances to the Solomon Islands economy, which has seen two very significant development assistance announcements today, and that will form part of an ongoing program of development assistance. This is one of our largest development assistance programs in the world that Australia engages in. And in terms of security, we've got a long history of the Federal Police working with the RSIPF. The Solomon Islands government is going through a security review, we want to understand it’s aspirations for the future. And we are there to support Solomon Islands government and whatever those aspirations are.

JOURNALIST: Mr Marles, when you were last here, Mr. Sogavare Manasseh said he'd like to explore establishing an armed Solomon Islands. Did Mr. Manele show interest in this idea?

MARLES: As you as you say, then Prime Minister Sogavare raised the prospect of a defence force for Solomon Islands. And what we've said then and what we say now is obviously this is a matter for Solomon Islands. But if Solomon Islands wishes to walk down that path, we stand ready to assist Solomon Islands in the establishment of such course. Prime Minister Manele made clear that these were issues which would be considered in the broader security review, which is being undertaken by his government, which is due to be done within the course of the next year. And I think we will have a sense of what the aspirations of this government are in respect of the establishment of a defence force when that review is ultimately handed down. But from Australia's point of view, wherever Solomon Islands wants to go in relation to this, we stand ready to help. We're there to help establish a defence force if that's what Solomon Islands wants to do. Alternatively, if Solomon Islands wishes to proceed in way that it always has, with the RSIPF we stand ready to support that too. 


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