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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Page: 5616

Mr McMULLAN (Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance) (10:01 AM) —I thank the member. Let me respond specifically to his point and also more generally. Although the date is not officially set, one of the critical things—and it is a plus for the democratic development of the Solomon Islands—is that the election is imminent. The general expectation is that it will be held in the first week of August, although it is for the Governor-General to announce the date. Nobody would welcome me announcing it for him, but that is probably the general expectation. Of course, it is not for us to involve ourselves in who is elected to the government of the Solomon Islands; it is our job to deal with whoever is elected. But we have had a very good and a greatly enhanced relationship with the current government in the last year or two. It has been a feature of the Rudd government that we have entered into the partnership for development.

The new elements of the relationship that have strengthened and improved are the partnership for development and the high level of cooperation and agreement between our two governments. A continuing feature of the strength that goes back beyond the Rudd government is RAMSI, the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands. The RAMSI initiative remains, according to the public opinion surveys, very popular with the people of the Solomon Islands. It is not only an Australian initiative but an initiative of all the countries of the region. For that reason, we continue to enjoy the leadership role in it. I congratulate the Special Coordinator of RAMSI and all those who have been engaged in the discussion in and around the initiative and done an enormous amount of valuable work—personnel from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, all the other departments, the Army and the police who have participated in RAMSI. I think our relations with the Solomon Islands are at as high a point as they have been.

One of the critical issues for the Solomon Islands going forward—and I was discussing this with the planning minister last Friday—is the imminent end of logging exports, which is a critical part of export income and government revenue for the Solomon Islands. But the logging has been excessive, and everybody knows that by 2012 there will basically be no logging exports or revenue other than from some of the sustainable plantations. So the Gold Ridge gold mine is critical in filling that gap, and the Australian government have sought to be as helpful as we can in facilitating the reopening of that mine. I and the trade minister have been involved in some discussions, and we are very positive about it.