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 720,956 (2019), is predominantly Melanesian, although there are 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 most commonly spoken.
Solomon Islands was first settled sometime between 30,000 and 28,000 BC by people coming from the Bismarck Islands and New Guinea when sea levels were lower and Buka and Bougainville were physically joined to southern Solomon Islands in one landmass (Greater Bougainville).
In 1893, the UK Government established a protectorate over the eastern group of islands, with Germany controlling most of the west. 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).
Solomon Islands was granted internal self-government in 1976, followed by independence on 7 July 1978. At independence, Solomon Islands joined the Commonwealth.
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.
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. 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 requested 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 the contingent of military personnel, police and civilians. On 1 July 2013, RAMSI’s military component concluded and development assistance activities were transferred to the programs of other donors, including Australia’s. RAMSI concluded on 30 June 2017.
Australia has a deep and longstanding relationship with Solomon Islands. Australia is an important economic partner, and Solomon Islands’ largest development partner, supporting almost all areas of society and the economy, with programs spanning health, justice, education, infrastructure, private sector development, policing, gender, governance and rural development. People-to-people and business links continue to grow and there are estimated to be around 600-1,000 Australians in Solomon Islands, mainly in Honiara.
The conclusion of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) in June 2017 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 strong Australian Federal Police partnership, a 40-year Defence Cooperation Program and growing ties between our border agencies.
On 14 August 2017, our governments signed a new security treaty which allowed Australian police, defence and associated civilian personnel to deploy rapidly to Solomon Islands in the event of an emergency. This agreement entered into force on 13 June 2018. The treaty was activated for the first time in November 2021 following civil unrest in Honiara, resulting in deployment of Australian, New Zealand, Fijian and Papua New Guinean officers to the Solomons’ International Assistance Force (SIAF). At Solomon Islands’ request, Australia agreed to extend SIAF to provide security support for the 2023 Pacific Games and the 2024 National General Elections.
Solomon Islands is one of the Pacific's poorest countries. Achieving development outcomes and providing necessary services is challenging due to its small and geographically dispersed population. Just under a quarter of Solomon Islanders are paid and working in the formal sector of the economy and most of the population is involved in subsistence agriculture. The economy has limited commercial sectors and logging accounts for the majority of exports (around 75 per cent).
Starting in 2020, Solomon Islands experienced two major shocks (COVID-19 and the Honiara unrest) that contributed to a three-year period of recession. As a result, the economy contracted 8.1 per cent between 2020 to 2022. The Pacific Games in 2023 spurred a minor recovery (estimated at 3 per cent) but major long-term constraints to growth remain — including, poor infrastructure, under-developed labour skills, high utility costs, land tenure issues, and limited public administration and financial management capacity.
Trade and investment
In 2021, Australia exported $105 million to Solomon Islands and imported $121.7 million from Solomon Islands. Major exports from Solomon Islands to Australia include gold, timber, and copra. Australia is Solomon Islands largest source of foreign direct investment ($29.4 million) and we maintain close business relations between our countries. Shipping and air services directly connect Solomon Islands with Australia, and one Australian commercial bank (ANZ) operates in Solomon Islands. SolRais (a division of SunRice) is the largest Australian commercial presence in Solomon Islands. Australian legal and accounting firms are also represented directly, or in association, with local firms.
Australia is Solomon Islands' main development partner, providing an estimated $171 million of Official Development Assistance in 2023-24. Australian development cooperation focuses priority sectors including infrastructure, jobs and skills, private sector development, health, education, governance and elections, access to justice, and women’s leadership.
Community Partnership Grants
Community Partnerships Grants (previously the Direct Aid Program) is a small grants program funded from Australia's aid budget. It has the flexibility to work with local communities in developing countries on projects that reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development consistent with Australia's national interest. Funding is available on a not-for-profit basis to community groups, NGOs and other entities engaged in development activities in countries that are eligible for ODA.
People to people links
Australia Awards are prestigious international scholarships offered by the Australian Government to the next generation of global leaders for development. Through study and research, recipients develop the skills and knowledge to drive change and help build enduring people-to-people links with Australia. Australia Awards are aligned with Australia's development assistance in Solomon Islands, targeting human resource gaps in identified priority sectors. They aim to provide awardees with the skills and knowledge to drive change and influence economic and social development.
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.
Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme
The Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme commenced in 2022, merging the previously existing Seasonal Worker Programme and Pacific Labour Scheme. Under the scheme, workers from Pacific countries and Timor-Leste are recruited by eligible businesses in Australia to fill labour gaps in rural and regional Australia for up to four years. roles. It offers Pacific and Timor-Leste workers the opportunity to develop their skills and send income home.