By Roderick Brazier, Australia’s High Commissioner to Solomon Islands
Working together to ensure economic growth, security and stability in the Pacific is at the cornerstone of Australia’s strengthened engagement in the Pacific as highlighted in Australia’s new Foreign Policy White Paper. For after all, Pacific island countries are some of Australia’s nearest neighbours; their sea lanes are our sea lanes; their security challenges are our security challenges; and their prosperity helps drive our own.
The White Paper states that the Pacific is of fundamental importance to Australia and that we will pursue stronger partnerships for security in the region. As Australia’s Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, said at the 2nd Annual Pacific Islands Forum Foreign Ministers’ meeting on 12 August 2017, our goal should be to have all our regional organisations and national agencies sharing information, training together and operating seamlessly, as no one country and no one agency working alone can meet the challenges we face.
Backing up these words with action, just two days later, on 14 August 2017, she signed a new security treaty with Solomon Islands Foreign Minister, Milner Tozaka. This is the first security treaty signed in the Pacific after the conclusion of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI).
The new treaty allows Australia to deploy rapidly to Solomon Islands in times of crises, and, where both countries consent. The treaty covers a range of potential security challenges, including maritime security and responses to catastrophic natural disasters.
During the 14 years of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI), Australia joined its Pacific Islands Forum partners to help a close neighbour in need. Several thousand police, military, advisers and diplomats from over ten Australia federal agencies worked in partnership with the Solomon Islands Government and 14 other Pacific Island Forum countries to secure and rebuild a nation. RAMSI has also highlighted the need for regional cooperation to tackle the many challenges facing the Pacific.
As the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) has noted, the end of RAMSI was a milestone, not only for Solomon Islands. Secretary General of the PIFS, Dame Meg Taylor, called it a truly regional exercise in solidarity and a shining example of Pacific diplomacy and cooperation. She rightly noted that RAMSI’s regional character was a defining element of its success and a source of pride for Pacific nations.
Although RAMSI has ended, regional security challenges remain.
So it is pleasing that the PIFS is advancing consultations for a ‘Biketawa Plus’ regional security declaration. This declaration aims to guide future regional responses to emerging security issues. Challenges such as climate change, illegal and unregulated fishing, narcotics, people trafficking and cybercrime require us to work closer together. Building on the original Biketawa Declaration developed almost two decades ago, the new security declaration aims to assist the region to respond more effectively to the emerging challenges ahead.
The Solomon Islands Government viewed the end of RAMSI as a vote of confidence, a sign that the country was once again ready to write its own future. As Foreign Minister, Milner Tozaka said, with a new security treaty, Solomon Islands can “confidently move forward with the region’s full support behind them”.
Australia has now also signed bilateral security partnerships with Tuvalu and Nauru. These new partnerships provide umbrella arrangements covering existing areas of security cooperation with these countries on maritime surveillance, police, border and legal capacity building. Work on a similar partnership with Kiribati is underway.
We will always be there for our friends in Solomon Islands and the rest of the Pacific, to support them to overcome constraints to economic growth, and cross-border challenges including transnational crime, natural disasters, climate change and disease outbreaks. Regional assistance is often the best way to respond to these shared challenges and Australia’s regional assistance reflects our commitment to the Pacific as a whole.