Solomon Islands country brief
Solomon Islands is an archipelagic state situated in the south-west Pacific Ocean, approximately 2,000 kms to the northeast 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 599, 500, is predominantly Melanesian (about 95 per cent) 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 Álvaro de Mendaña, 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, with 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.
National elections were last held on 3 April 2019 and the Hon Manasseh Damukana Sogavare was elected Prime Minister. He led the Democratic Coalition Government for Advancement. He replaces Rick Houenipwela.
Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI)
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. This situation persisted for more than four years.
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 was a long-term commitment aimed at creating the conditions necessary for a return to stability, peace and a growing economy. RAMSI arrived in Solomon Islands in July 2003 and was a partnership between Solomon Islands, Australia and fifteen contributing countries of the Pacific region. Australia led a contingent of military personnel, police and civilians. On 1 July 2013, RAMSI's military component was withdrawn and development assistance activities transferred to the programs of other donors, mainly Australia's. RAMSI concluded on 30 June 2017.
For more information visit the RAMSI website.
Australia has a deep and longstanding relationship with Solomon Islands. Australia is an important economic partner. People-to-people and business links continue to grow steadily and there are estimated to be around 1,500 Australians in Solomon Islands, mainly in Honiara.
The conclusion of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) signalled a significant transition for Solomon Islands and was a recognition of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force's capability to independently provide law, order and security for Solomon Islands. Australia continues to support security and stability in Solomon Islands including through a bilateral police capacity development program, which commenced on 1 July 2017. On 14 August 2017, our governments signed a new security treaty which would allow Australian police, defence and associated civilian personnel to deploy rapidly to Solomon Islands in the event of an emergency.
Solomon Islands is one of the Pacific's poorest countries, with high costs of service delivery due to a small and geographically dispersed population. 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. Agriculture and raw materials (including logging) accounted for 92 per cent of exports, leaving the narrow-based economy vulnerable to shocks.
Solomon Islands experienced severe economic contraction and stagnation over the period of the ethnic conflict (1998-2003). During the deployment of RAMSI (2003-2017) Solomon Islands had relatively consistent economic growth. Economic growth was approximately 1.2 per cent in 2019. However, major constraints to growth and private sector investment remain, including poor infrastructure, under-developed labour skills, high utility costs, land tenure issues, and limited public administration and financial management capacity, which have been exacerbated by the impact of COVID-19.
Trade and investment
Australian merchandise exports to Solomon Islands in 2018-19 totalled $128 million.
Australia maintains close business relations with Solomon Islands. Shipping and air services directly connect Solomon Islands with Australia and one Australian commercial bank (ANZ) operates 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 Programme in July 2012. Under the Programme, seasonal horticultural workers from Pacific countries are recruited by horticultural enterprises in Australia to meet their seasonal harvest needs. The Pacific Labour Scheme officially commenced on 1 July 2018 and enables citizens of select Pacific island countries including Solomon Islands to take up low and semi-skilled work in rural and regional Australia for up to three years.
Australia is Solomon Islands' main development partner, providing over $174 million of Official Development Assistance in 2019-20. Australian development cooperation focuses on supporting stability, enabling economic growth and enhancing human development.
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.
People to people links
Every year 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, visit the Australia Awards website.
The Australian Volunteers Program matches skilled Australians with organisations in developing countries to help these organisations to deliver on their own objectives. The program uses international volunteering as a people-centred approach to capacity development. The Australian Volunteers Program is part of the Australian Government's people-to-people program portfolio, connecting Australians to Australia's development cooperation program and the region. For more information visit the Australian Volunteers page.
High level visits
- October 2019: The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator the Hon Marise Payne, visited Solomon Islands to meet with Prime Minister Sogavare and Foreign Minister Manele.
- August 2019: The Minister for Defence, Senator the Hon Linda Reynolds, visited Solomon Islands to observe the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force and the Australian Defence Force working together to conduct Exercise Coastwatchers.
- June 2019: The Prime Minister of Australia, The Hon Scott Morrison MP, visited Solomon Islands to visit and welcome incoming Solomon Islands Prime Minister Sogavare. Prime Minister Morrison was accompanied by the Minister for International Development and the Pacific and Assistant Defence Minister, the Hon Alex Hawke MP.
- February 2019: The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator the Hon Marise Payne, visited Solomon Islands to join Solomon Islands' caretaker Prime Minister, Rick Houenipwela in a ground-breaking ceremony to mark the commencement of the next phase of the Coral Sea Cable System construction at the cable landing station at Lengakiki.
- September 2018: Solomon Islands' then-Prime Minister Houenipwela visited Canberra to meet with Prime Minister Morrison.
- July 2018: Solomon Islands then-Prime Minister Houenipwela visited Brisbane for the trilateral Prime Ministerial meeting with the then-Prime Minister of Australia, the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP, and PNG Prime Minister O'Neill.
- June 2018: Prime Minister Houenipwela visited Canberra, Brisbane and Sydney on a successful Guest of Government program. The visit included meetings with Prime Minister Turnbull and Foreign Minister Bishop.
- June 2018: Senator the Hon Marise Payne, Minister for Defence visited Solomon Islands.
- August 2017: Former Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare MP visited Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane as a guest of the Australian Government. Mr Sogavare met with the Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, Prime Minister Turnbull, Foreign Minister Bishop and other Australian ministers and senators.
- August 2017: Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells participated in commemorations for the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal and the sinking of HMAS Canberra during the Battle of Savo Island. Senator Fierravanti-Wells met with senior members of the Solomon Islands Government, including Prime Minister Sogavare and Foreign Minister Tozaka.
- July 2017: Assistant Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Keith Pitt made the key note address at the Australia-Solomon Islands Business Forum in Honiara and announced new Australian Government initiative to increase private sector investment in a more inclusive economy.
- June 2017: His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Ret'd), the then-Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia; Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells; and Minister for Justice, Michael Keenan officially represented Australia at the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) farewell celebrations.
- May 2017: The Ambassador for Women and Girls, Dr Sharman Stone met with representatives from Solomon Islands Government, Royal Solomon Islands Police Force, key development partners, women's business leaders and civil society organisations.
- December 2016: Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop led a bipartisan delegation, including the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells; Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Penny Wong; and Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator Claire Moore.
- August 2016: Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells met with former Solomon Islands' Prime Minister Sogavare and Foreign Minister Tozaka.