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Monday, 26 November 2012
Page: 13223

Mr KELVIN THOMSON (Wills) (20:00): I present the report of the Australian parliamentary delegation to Solomon Islands and Samoa. The membership of the delegation apart from me were the Hon. Peter Slipper, member for Fisher; Senator the Hon. Ian Macdonald, a Queensland senator; Deborah O'Neill, member for Robertson; Senator Claire Moore, another Queensland senator; and the delegation secretary, Nina Markovic. The delegation visited Solomon Islands between 31 July and 5 August 2011, and Samoa between 6 and 11 August 2011. The challenges which Solomon Islands and Samoa are facing today are common challenges for our shared future in the Asia-Pacific region.

In Solomon Islands, we received a comprehensive briefing from the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands, RAMSI, about the security situation in Solomon Islands, and we toured their base. The government of Solomon Islands invited the regional assistance force in 2003 to help restore law and order after a period of protracted communal violence and the breakdown of security. The delegation was very impressed with the scope of activities in which RAMSI has taken part over the last few years, and we want to publicly express our gratitude to the remaining Australian troops which contribute to the combined task force. The delegation was made aware that some sectors of Solomon Islands society fear what will happen to the maintenance of law and order after the RAMSI mission is completed over the coming years.

We also learnt about key resource projects in Solomon Islands, such as the country's largest industrial forestry project, Kolombangara, and the Gold Ridge mine, which is managed by an Australian company, both of which the delegation visited.

Solomon Islands is an archipelago country which consists of more than 900 islands. Its population in 2011 was 552,000 people. I observe that it has seen a very rapid increase since the time of independence. Australia and Solomon Islands have a longstanding partnership which is underpinned by growing commercial ties.

One of the areas that we took an interest in was the role of Australian aid in the creation of a national diabetes awareness program in the National Referral Hospital, which the delegation learnt had already had quite some success. However, the conditions in this hospital warrant improvement. There are large waiting lines and a lack of beds for some patients, who were actually lying on the ground. In the remote communities, access to adequate health services remains a major challenge. Malaria continues to be a serious health risk, with dozens of children and adults dying each year as a consequence of this mosquito-borne disease.

In Solomon Islands we also met with women leaders. Women continue to face economic and social barriers to full societal participation in Solomon Islands, including in national politics.

We also welcomed Australia's parliamentary twinning project between the New South Wales parliament and the national parliament of Solomon Islands, which allows practical support through staff placements, training, secondments and hands-on knowledge transfer.

I turn now to Samoa. Its population in 2011 was around 183,000. It has been very stable in the years since independence—and, for someone like me, with an interest in population issues, it was noticeable that Samoa is conspicuously more politically stable than the Solomons, which has experienced much more rapid population growth post independence.

We also learnt about the parliamentary twinning project there. The Tasmanian parliament is twinned with the parliament of Samoa. We appreciated the opportunity to visit Savai'i as well as the main island of Upolu, where we visited tsunami affected areas. We also talked about non-communicable diseases, which are a major issue throughout Samoa.

Australia's interests in Solomon Islands and Samoa are very well served by Australian officers posted from various department and agencies. I thank them on behalf of the delegation. I would like to extend our special thanks to His Excellency Matthew Anderson, the High Commissioner to Solomon Islands, and to His Excellency Dr Stephen Henningham, the High Commissioner to Samoa, and their staff, whose liaison with host institutions and support during our delegation's visit ensured its success.