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Thursday, 6 April 2000
Page: 15482

Mrs GASH (5:49 PM) —This speech was written by 15-year-old Brett Chant, who is sitting in the gallery and who has spent the week with me on work experience. These are his words:

Mr Speaker, Mr Prime Minister and Mr Opposition Leader and Members of Parliament

I would be honoured to take this opportunity to talk to you all about the tiny island nation of Solomon Islands.

The country in which I was born, the country which produced the likes of two great Australian sports people namely Alex Wickham the great swimmer and also the controversial Mal Meninga.

But most importantly, the country which I represent on my visit to Canberra.

As most of you are aware, the Solomon Islands, located approximately 1500 kilometres north east of Australia, is an archipelago consisting of thousands of islands.

The main island is the well renowned Guadalcanal, which played a crucial role in the second world war.

The country's capital Honiara is located on Guadalcanal.

The Solomon Islands was a protectorate of the British Empire prior to gaining sovereignty in 1978.

The Solomon Islands is classified as a developing nation, and has a population of over 320,000 people, with a Gross Domestic Product of US$1200 per capita.

The country's major industries are gold, copra, palm oil, tuna and foreign funded projects indicate that rice and honey have major potential if investors are enthusiastic in these two industries.

Because the whole concept of western society is still relatively new to Solomon Islanders, the majority of the population is still living the simple village life.

And whilst 19% of the population who live in the city pay taxes, the generated revenue is just not sufficient thus forcing previous governments to cheaply exploit the country's resources to foreign investors.

Because of this, the Solomon Islands has almost solely relied on foreign nations to provide the simplest of infrastructure all over the country and also to be advised on different political issues affecting the development of the Solomon Islands.

Australia has played an enormous role in the socio-economic development of the Solomon Islands by funding a seemingly endless number of projects ranging from police and national security advisers to forestry policy making.

Also providing funds for Solomon Island delegations to attend essential workshops around the four corners of the globe.

And through Ausaid, Australia has invested millions of dollars into the country yet there is still much to be done that unfortunately Australia simply can not do.

What Australia has done for the Solomon Islands is just absolutely remarkable and this really does reflect on Australia's attitude towards its neighbours and especially those in need.

The Solomon Islands has seen many years of rather incompetent governments however the first steps to recovery are being taken under the current Government and in fact the government was highly commended by the IMF for their first signs of possible economic growth.

Most of you may have been made aware of the current ethnic tension between a militant group and a rival ethnic group outside of the capital of Honiara.

The tension has cost the Solomon Islands government several millions of dollars due to the temporary closure of the country's biggest plantation, one of the Government's highest income earners.

Though the situation is under control, it's very touching to the hear the concern of a few members of parliament.

Over the past 18 months, three parliamentarians have visited the Solomon's with a successful outcome of all issues discussed.

However, the education curriculum was never brought to their attention.

The education curriculum is something I feel strongly on and it is something I would like to stress to you all.

In a country such as the Solomon Islands, it is imperative that we breed leaders that will lead us beyond 2000 into this new age.

Though the Australian government has provided considerable assistance to the education sector by building extra classrooms, laboratory's, Dormitories and a few library resources, the vital necessities of education in this day and age is life skills and information technology.

But unfortunately students don't have access to these learning resources.

A few days ago, I watched with admiration a class of primary school students from the Gilmore electorate, answer almost accurately a series of government related questions.

Their extensive knowledge of the government, which they obviously gained at school, was just unbelievable, no student in junior secondary school in the Solomon Islands could answer such questions based on their own simpler form of government.

This is a an example of how disadvantaged, student's in all third world countries are.

And it just goes to show that compared with Australia's high standards of education, the Solomon Islands' education system is not adequate enough to prepare students for leadership roles or for utilising skills attained at school to contribute to nation-building.

So please, I urge the Australian government to consider the difficulty facing many students and assure Solomon Islanders a better future, a future we are entitled to.

Mr Speaker, Brett is attending Bomaderry High School in my electorate of Gilmore to try to better himself so that he can return that knowledge to his country and his people.