PRIME Minister Manasseh Sogavare and Australian indigenous leader and prominent businessman Warren Mundine met yesterday to discuss opportunities for economic growth in Solomon Islands.
Mr Mundine, who is currently Chair of the Australian Indigenous Chamber of Commerce and Managing Director of Nyungga Black Group, is here for the Solomon Islands Business Excellence Awards to be held in Honiara tonight.
The Nyungga Black Group is a company that assists traditional landowners to promote economic, environmental and cultural development in New South Wales.
Mr Mundine told the Prime Minister that the focus of his talks in Solomon Islands is about doing business within the framework of communal land and traditional cultures and how Solomon Islands can work through these issues to ensure economic growth.
He said Australia had to deal with the same issues of landownership and land reform with the indigenous Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders in order to create a favourable investment environment and economic opportunities to lift people out of poverty.
“Traditional landowners and custodians have the right to pursue economic development on their land and to ensure the benefits are sustainable,” Mr Mundine said.
“It’s even better when the benefits give opportunities for permanent and meaningful work, as well as the chance to obtain training and skills and other spin-off business activities.”
Mr Mundine said the best examples of using land for economic growth in Australia were when developers and traditional landowners worked in partnership to negotiate agreements that produced fair outcomes for future generations.
He spoke of the Australian Mabo court decision of 1992 whereby for the first time in Australian history, Australia recognised its indigenous people as the owners of the land.
Mr Mundine also touched on talks by Australia to make Northern Australia its gateway to Asia, which he said will be an interesting development because 82 percent of the land is owned by the Aboriginal people.
The Prime Minister in turn welcomed Mr Mundine to Solomon Islands and told him that the nation has a lot to learn from Australia in terms of land reform and economic development and growth.
“Land issue is one of the major challenges that are continuing to affect the development of Solomon Islands and we are struggling to deal with the challenges,” Mr Sogavare said.
“Our problem is trying to strike the appropriate framework that balances development with cultural issues and indeed we have a lot to learn from the experiences of Australia,” he added.
Prime Minister Sogavare said the prerequisite for development in Solomon Islands is ascertaining land ownership.
“The ownership of the land must be cleared, that is the only way that development can happen and yes of course we have to strike the right balance with the owners of the land because people are attached to their land.”
The Prime Minister said the Government is now looking at the recommendations of the recent land conference in Honiara funded by the Australian Government and the Australian National University to effectively address the issue of development and economic growth.
“We are determined more bills will be taken to Parliament in the first quarter of 2016 to improve the existing legal frameworks that govern land tenure and business investment in this country.”
Prime Minister Sogavare also told Mr Mundine about the Government’s efforts to improve the investment environment through the introduction of a new legislation.
“We are working vigorously to attract more genuine investors into the country through the introduction of free economic zones and the legislation for this initiative will be one of the bills to be tabled in Parliament in the first quarter of next year.”
Prime Minister Sogavare and Mr Mundine exchanged traditional gifts at the conclusion of their meeting.