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 724,462, 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, replacing 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, 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 steadily and there are estimated to be around 600-1,000 Australians in Solomon Islands, mainly in Honiara. Ambition on climate change, increasing Pacific ODA and labour reforms are particularly important to the bilateral relationship.
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. 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. More than 300 personnel have since deployed, working alongside Fiji, PNG and New Zealand, to restore law and order in Honiara.
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. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted on Solomon Islands economy with GDP growth declining by 4.5 per cent, and a further 4.5 per cent contraction in 2022, the third consecutive year of contraction. 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. The IMF estimates the economy is expected to start recovering in the second half of this year and rebound further in 2023.
Trade and investment
In 2020, Australia exported $45.8 million to Solomon Islands. In the same year, Solomon Islands exported $5.14 million to Australia. During the last 25 years the exports of Solomon Islands to Australia have increased at an annual rate of 1.57%, from $3.48 million in 1995 to $5.14 million in 2020. Australia maintains close business relations with Solomon Islands. Solomon Islands major exports include logging (70 per cent), fisheries (11 per cent) and agriculture (palm oil and kernels – six per cent). 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. A number of Australian legal and accounting firms are represented directly or in association with local firms.
Australia is Solomon Islands' main development partner, providing over an estimated $161 million of Official Development Assistance in 2021-22. Australian development cooperation focuses on supporting stability, enabling economic growth and enhancing human development.
Direct Aid Program (DAP)
The Direct Aid Program (DAP) 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. In 2020-21, over 270 projects were funded in over 70 countries.
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.
Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme
The Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme commenced in 2021. Under the Programme, seasonal horticultural workers from Pacific countries are recruited by horticultural enterprises in Australia to meet their seasonal harvest needs. This 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. Reforms to the PALM scheme, including family accompaniment and a dedicated agriculture visa stream, were announced in April 2022, and are continuing to rollout throughout 2022 and 2023.
High level visits
- August 2022: Minister for International Development and the Pacific, the Hon Pat Conroy MP visited Solomon Islands to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal. He met with Solomon Islands Foreign Minister the Hon Jeremiah Manele MP, among other Solomon Islands officials.
- June 2022: Foreign Minister, Senator the Hon Penny Wong, visited Solomon Islands and met with PM Sogavare and a number of his Cabinet ministers to discuss pandemic recovery, economic development, labour mobility priorities, shared security interests and climate change.