Envoy’s suggestions to fix Australia and Solomon Islands’ relationship


Solomon Islands’ High Commissioner to Australia has suggested the relationship between the two upset nations can be resolved through simple communication and the expansion of a successful government scheme.

Robert Sisilo flagged Honiara and Beijing were strengthening its partnership after the leaders agreed to a security pact last month on maintaining social order, protecting people’s safety, aid and combating natural disasters.

He stressed on Monday the Solomon Islands was not turning its back on Australia and it was simply “seeking more cooperation” with China.

“Australia’s always been a neighbour,” he said on ABC Radio.

“We are not seeking to move away from Australia, but seeking more cooperation with China.

“For now I think we are in testing times. But I am sure through proper dialogue and mutual trusts, I am confident our relations will be back on track.”

Sisilo reiterated during the interview that climate change and unemployment were still the major issues facing the population of the Solomon Islands.

He then suggested an expansion to Pacific Labor Mobility Scheme – which allows Australian businesses to hire workers from Pacific Island countries and Timor-Leste when there are not enough local workers – as one way to mend the relationship.

Businesses can recruit workers from ten countries in the Pacific Islands for seasonal jobs in rural and regionals areas for up to nine months or long-term positions for unskilled, low-skilled and semi-skilled positions.

He said there were only 189 Solomon Islanders working in Australia in 2019, but the popular programme – which has contributed “big time” to the island’s economy – has rapidly grown to more than 3,000 labourers.

“This is a scheme that is confined to only rural and regional Australia,” Sisilo said.

“If only the scheme can be extended to the whole of Australia and metropolitan cities like Sydney, Brisbane, Wollongong, Perth, Melbourne, Adelaide, Newcastle, Gold Coast, where the demand for plumbers, brick-layers, caregivers is huge.

“What an impact this would have.”

He added pathways to permanent residency for Solomon Islands residents would also build a stronger partnership between Canberra and Honiara.

Last week, Scott Morrison responded to Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogovare’s fiery comments about Australia’s engagement in the AUKUS arrangement.

Sogovare claimed he was left in the dark about the trilateral security pact between Australia, the United States and United Kingdom.

Morrison denied Sogavare’s comments saying he spoke to him the day after the AUKUS announcement and “no issues were raised at that time in that discussion”.

“But obviously, as time goes on and new relationships are entered into, there’s obviously been some … other influences in the perspective taken by the Solomon Islands Prime Minister,” he said.

The Prime Minister said the “reality” was there was never going to be wide-ranging discussions about the agreement due to it being conceived over “pretty much an 18-month period” and its “highly sensitive nature”.

“It’s not obviously something that was going to have wide discussion before entering into it. That, of course, would have been against Australia’s national interests,” he said.

“But once we entered into it and we made our announcement, it was very important that we engage quickly with our allies and partners in the region, which is exactly what we did.”

When Morrison was asked whether Sogavare was parroting China’s rhetoric, he replied: “There’s a remarkable similarity, he said.