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Monday, 3 November 2003
Page: 21729


Mr LINDSAY (2:16 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Given that last Friday marked the 100th day of the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands, could the minister inform the House of Australia's ongoing commitment in helping to bring about peace and stability to the Solomon Islands?


Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —First of all, I thank the honourable member for his question. I think all members of the House know that his electorate, which includes the city of Townsville, is very much the heart of the military component of the regional assistance mission. The honourable member himself has been very supportive of those Australian Defence Force personnel in the Solomon Islands.

Last Friday, 31 October, marked the 100th day of the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands being in place. As we have said before, the government is very pleased with the progress that the mission has made. A lot of attention has been focused on the successful law and order component of the mission, and we have seen some tangible results: some 3,700 firearms have been handed in and ex-militants such as Jimmy Rasta and Harold Keke have been arrested, which is obviously a very important step forward. Also arrested were more than 25 Royal Solomon Islands Police members. The 25 Solomon Islands Police members have been arrested on serious charges, including murder, assault and robbery. This is a very important part of the mission—not perhaps so far much publicised—to ensure that the Solomon Islands Police operate more effectively. So successful has been the stabilisation of law and order that at least some of the troops are going to come home.

But RAMSI, as we call the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands, is a lot more than just security. We do not think that a bandaid solution to the problems of the Solomon Islands is sufficient. We have to help Solomon Islands rebuild their institutions, their economy and indeed their nation as a whole. Working with RAMSI are financial advisers. They are assisting the Solomon Islands government to put together a credible budget for 2004. RAMSI is also conducting a strategic review of the Solomon Islands Police, in this case in consultation not only with the Solomon Islands government, obviously, but also with civil society.

Finally, let me say that today in Sydney the Australian government is hosting an aid donors meeting which is being attended by delegates from Japan, the European Union, the United States, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. Not only will they be briefed by the Special Coordinator of RAMSI, Nick Warner, but we hope that this meeting and a follow-up meeting which is to be held in Honiara on 20 November will encourage much-needed investment to reverse the decline of the past five years. The challenges are still daunting. We appreciate the cooperation with the Solomon Islands government, but importantly we appreciate very much the cooperation with our friends and partners in the Pacific Islands Forum. Representatives from a number of countries in the Pacific Islands Forum are here today in the House of Representatives, including the Prime Minister of Vanuatu. I want to say in front of them how much we appreciate the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands being a regional solution to a regional problem.