Solomon Islands country brief
Solomon Islands is an archipelagic state situated in the south-west Pacific Ocean, approximately 2,000 kms to the north-east of Australia. Its land mass of 28,400 km² extends over nearly 1000 islands comprising nine main island groups. The capital, Honiara, is located on Guadalcanal, the largest island.
The population of Solomon Islands, estimated to be about 555,000, is predominantly Melanesian (about 95%) although there are also small Polynesian, Micronesian, Chinese and European communities. There are 63 distinct languages in the country, with numerous local dialects. English is the official language but Solomons Pijin is the lingua franca for the majority of people.
Solomon Islands' first contact with Europeans was in 1568, when the Spanish explorer Mendana visited the region. Whaling boats and traders began to visit the archipelago during the nineteenth century, followed closely by Christian missionaries.
In 1893, the UK Government established a protectorate over the eastern group of islands, Germany controlling most of the west. As the result of an Anglo-German agreement of 1899, the UK protectorate was extended to all nine main island groups now part of Solomon Islands, while Buka and Bougainville became part of German New Guinea (later incorporated into Papua New Guinea).
The UK granted Solomon Islands internal self-government in 1976, followed by independence on 7 July 1978. At independence, Solomon Islands joined the Commonwealth with Queen Elizabeth II as its Head of State, represented by a Governor-General.
System of Government
The unicameral national Parliament comprises 50 members elected for a four-year term under a first-past-the-post voting system. The Prime Minister is elected by a simple majority of members of Parliament. Party structures in Solomon Islands are fluid, with extensive coalition-building usually required to form government. In addition to the national Government there are nine provincial assemblies, each led by a Premier.
In December 1998, existing ethnic tensions on Guadalcanal rapidly escalated. Many Guadalcanal people resented the influence of settlers from other islands and their occupation of undeveloped land in and around Honiara. The settlers, mostly from nearby Malaita, were drawn to Honiara and its environs by comparatively greater economic opportunities. Violent clashes involving rival militant groups erupted, destabilising Solomon Islands and undermining national institutions and coherence. This situation persisted for more than four years.
Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI)
In April 2003, then Solomon Islands Prime Minister Sir Allan Kemakeza wrote to request Australian assistance in addressing the violence. Following consultations between the governments of Solomon Islands, Australia and New Zealand, a comprehensive package of strengthened assistance to support the Solomon Islands Government — the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) — was proposed and unanimously endorsed by a meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the Pacific Islands Forum. RAMSI was debated and unanimously endorsed by the Solomon Islands Parliament, welcomed by the President of the UN Security Council, commended by then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and supported by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group and then Commonwealth Secretary-General Sir Don McKinnon.
RAMSI has been a long-term commitment aimed at creating the conditions necessary for a return to stability, peace and a growing economy. In 2009, RAMSI and the Solomon Islands Government signed a joint Partnership Framework, which sets out shared objectives and timelines for RAMSI's work, so that RAMSI activities can gradually draw down as Solomon Islands' capacity grows.
On 1 July 2013, RAMSI's military component was withdrawn and development assistance activities transferred to the programs of other donors, mainly Australia's. Today RAMSI is focussed on building the capacity of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force.
Further information is available on the RAMSI website.
National elections were last held on 4 August 2010. On 25 August 2010, Danny Philip was elected Prime Minister by the newly-constituted Solomon Islands Parliament. Prime Minister Philip's party joined a number of others to form the National Coalition for Reform and Advancement (NCRA) Government.
On 16 November 2011, MPs voted for a new Prime Minister, electing former Finance Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo. Lilo was sworn in on the same day and retained much of the NCRA Government's policies.
National elections are due to be held before January 2015.
Australia has a deep and longstanding relationship with Solomon Islands. During the Second World War Australians were involved in the struggle to liberate the islands from Japanese occupation. In the post-war period, people-to-people and business links grew steadily and there are now estimated to be around 1500 Australians in Solomon Islands, mainly in Honiara. Australia is Solomon Islands' main development partner. Australian development assistance to Solomon Islands, through the Solomon Islands–Australia Partnership for Development, focuses on improving health, education, water and sanitation, transport, telecommunications, law and justice, rural livelihoods and effective governance.
Australia maintains close business relations with Solomon Islands. Shipping and air services directly connect Solomon Islands with Australia and two Australian commercial banks (ANZ and Westpac) operate in Solomon Islands. A number of Australian legal and accounting firms are represented directly or in association with local firms.
Australia and Solomon Islands signed a memorandum of understanding for Solomon Islands' participation in the Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme in December 2011. The Pilot was replaced by the permanent Seasonal Worker Program in July 2012. Under the Program, seasonal horticultural workers from Pacific countries are recruited by horticultural enterprises in Australia to meet their seasonal harvest needs.
People to people links
Every year around 125 Solomon Islanders study at Australian or regional universities supported by Australian scholarships. With very limited tertiary studies in Solomon Islands, these scholarships are helping the Solomon Islands Government to meet the training and human resource development needs of the country.
For more information see the Australia Awards website.
The Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program promotes economic growth and poverty reduction in the Indo-Pacific region by assisting host organisations to deliver effective and sustainable development outcomes. Australia’s overseas volunteer program, Australian Volunteers for International Development, has a one-stop entry point to Australian volunteering. See the AVID website for further information.
Australia’s development assistance is focused on building a stable nation underpinned by viable institutions and economic growth. We are the largest donor in Solomon Islands, providing around seventy per cent of Solomon Islands’ aid. Since 2003, Australia has, through our bilateral program and the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI), restored law and order, rebuilt national institutions and stabilised the economy.
Australia’s assistance through the bilateral program has increased since the transition of RAMSI in mid-2013. There is an enhanced focus on public sector governance, economic management and law and justice. This complements the existing focus on essential services (health and education) and broad based economic growth (transport and rural development). Together, these are important areas of assistance to support Solomon Island’s long term recovery and a positive development trajectory for the people of Solomon Islands.
ACIAR’s program in the PICs embraces Fiji, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati and Tuvalu. Agriculture, forestry and fisheries sustain many households in these countries and supply the majority of livelihoods, as well as food security. The ACIAR strategy works towards underpinning the competitiveness and security of these sectors. Women, in particular, have a central role in household food gardening; tree crop production; and marketing of horticultural, tree crop and fisheries products. To achieve sustainable change, ACIAR will help develop innovative approaches that engage, empower and invest in women. Transforming these agricultural, fisheries and forestry systems into sustainable income-generating activities through improved productivity and marketing will enhance food security and self-reliance, and reduce poverty.
Direct Aid Program (DAP)
The Solomon Islands Direct Aid Program is a small grant scheme that partners with various organisations to support projects that directly contribute to the welfare and income-generating capacity of poor or disadvantaged groups. The grants can also be used to enhance the long-term productivity and sustainability of the physical environment.
Solomon Islands experienced severe economic contraction and stagnation over the period of the ethnic conflict (1998-2003). Since RAMSI deployed in 2003, economic growth has averaged 6.3 per cent, despite a contraction of 1.25 per cent in 2009 during the global economic downturn. In 2011, economic growth was a record 10.7 per cent on the back of continued strong logging revenue and mining receipts. In 2012, economic growth was more modest at 4.8 per cent and growth in 2013 was an estimated 2.9 per cent.
But Solomon Islands remains relatively poor and continues to face serious economic challenges. The majority of the population (growing at about three per cent per annum) is involved in subsistence/cash crop agriculture, with less than a quarter involved in paid work. The logging industry accounts for about 40 per cent of export earnings, and is a significant source of government revenue., but is expected to decline over time.
Severe flooding struck Honiara and surrounding areas in April 2014 killing 23 people, damaging key infrastructure and disrupting livelihoods. The Gold Ridge Mine suspended operations. The combined impact of the flood and the mine closure saw economic growth projections revised downward from four per cent to around one per cent for 2014.
High level visits
- April 2014: Parliamentary Secretary assisting the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator the Hon, Brett Mason visited Honiara in the days after the devastating April floods to convey Australia’s support to Prime Minister Lilo, visit the evacuation centres and view the international humanitarian response.
- December 2013: Foreign Minister, the Hon. Julie Bishop visited Solomon Islands accompanied by a parliamentary delegation including Parliamentary Secretary assisting the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator the Hon. Brett Mason, and the Ambassador for Women and Girls, Natasha Stott Despoja. Ms Bishop met senior members of the Australian business community to discuss how to increase trade and investment ties. She and Prime Minister Lilo agreed to elevate the relationship between Australia and Solomon Islands by holding regular Ministerial talks.
- July 2013: then Foreign Minister, Senator the Hon, Bob Carr, along with then Minister for International Development the Hon, Melissa Parke, visited Solomon Islands to commemorate the 10 year anniversary of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands.