I CAN still remember, as a young boy living in Australia in the 1970s, reading about the world’s newest independent country.
It was a place in the South Pacific called ‘Solomon Islands’.
I had a map of the world in my room and I could see that Solomon Islands was very close to Australia.
But for a boy from a small town in the south of Australia, it still seemed a world away.
I’d never even seen a real coconut!
And I certainly didn’t imagine that one day I’d have the privilege of living in Solomon Islands and contributing, in some small way, to the development of the country.
So as Solomon Islands prepares to celebrate the thirty-eighth anniversary of independence, I’ve been reflecting on the friendship between Solomon Islands and Australia, what we’ve achieved together and what the future holds for us.
Through our aid program, we continue to invest about SI$600 million in Solomon Islands each year in pursuit of our common development goals.
Over the past year, our partnership has achieved some great results.
Fewer children are dying from preventable diseases, the availability of medicines in the provinces has increased to 89%, literacy rates for primary school children have improved, more than 800 kilometres of road has been maintained and more magistrates are available to clear case backlogs.
Of course, there is still work to be done but it is rewarding to see these key indicators heading in the right direction.
Good friendships grow and change over time and so the relationship between Solomon Islands and Australia is set to change over the next year.
Indeed it’s now exactly one year until RAMSI is expected to depart. But with RAMSI’s departure, Australia’s bilateral assistance to Solomon Islands will grow.
Australia’s aid program will remain focused on supporting stability, enabling economic growth and enhancing human development.
But after RAMSI goes, Australia will also provide bilateral support to the RSIPF, via the Australian Federal Police.
That new program of support to the RSIPF is now being designed.
In fact, this week we’ve had the design team here in Honiara, consulting with Solomon Islands Government and other partners.
In addition to the new bilateral policing program, the design team will also prepare designs for the next phases of our governance and justice programs, through which we provide technical support to central ministries and the legal system.
So with one year to go until RAMSI departs and our bilateral relationship expands even further, we’re very well-placed to take the relationship between our two countries into a new era.
By the Australian High Commissioner