Policy, the Left, and the Solomon Islands 10
- While the recent defeat of the Solomons Prime Minister and his
replacement by someone with the avowed aim of improving relations
with Australia is not automatically to be applauded just for that
reason, it is a good example of the way in which - with a little bit
of patience - local tensions and pressures can potentially be
resolved in a beneficial manner to all concerned.
It is very obvious that the Australian ruling class wants the
littoral states to develop in the accepted World-Bank-sponsored
manner. It is equally obvious that the ruling elites of the
littoral states want a similar situation, with the important
qualification that the resulting structure must accommodate their
corruption and/or that their dependence at least looks independent.
Sogavare's appointment of lawyer and alleged paedophile Julian Moti
as the Solomons' Attorney-General, and the assistance given to his
escape from PNG by its Prime Minister, was a good example of both
aspects. Being a fugitive, Moti would be only too willing to
overlook anything that his patrons would want overlooked, while it
would appear that Sogavare and Somare were very happy to give the
Australian government a poke in the eye.
As was said in The Australian, the 4½-year-old Regional Assistance
Mission to the Solomon Islands - RAMSI - has much to be proud of;
ethnic violence has been contained and there have been improvements
in many areas of public administration. Having a quasi-illegal
immigrant and alleged criminal as Attorney-General sits badly with
that situation, nor would a reasonable Solomon Islander be likely to
To that extent a Federal Police submission to a Senate committee
inquiry into "Australia's involvement in peacekeeping operations" was
correct in asserting "Sovereignty, respect and understanding of host
nation culture and laws will assist in the acceptance of police
contributions. Sovereignty will however be used in a variety of
circumstances to obstruct change which may reduce the benefits of
police interventions or capacity building missions as they threaten
the status quo enjoyed by local elites,"
There is inevitably a political aspect to relations with, within and
between our littoral states referring to AusAID, the same
submission noted that "By helping to reduce poverty and promote
development, the aid program is an integral part of Australia's
foreign policy and security agenda."
That political aspect should not automatically be criticised by
socialists. Some aspects - such as pressure to adopt market-based
mechanisms that cause harm - should clearly be criticised and
opposed. Others, such as ensuring that laws are fair and are
applied, deserve our support. To pressure a government such as that
of East Timor or the Solomons towards a particular end may therefore
be acceptable, depending on the "end". In general, the courts
assess such things by the standard of what they refer to as "an
officious bystander" or "a reasonable person", a mythical being who
turns out to be somewhat more complicated once one considers a
Sogavare has called for a RAMSI "exit strategy", criticised it over
the past year, threatened to expel Australian personnel from the
mission, to strip the troops of their immunity from prosecution,
accused the mission of representing too much of Canberra's interests,
and of failing to focus on its mandate to restore law and order in
the South Pacific nation.
Others have accused Sogavare and his cronies of poor governance,
abuse of power, corruption, seeking excuses to frustrate efforts to
rebuild the discredited local police force, and gross failure to act
against abuses such as logging.
South Pacific Form conducted a review of RAMSI at Sogavare's request
that praised and supported it. Only three months ago, a survey
conducted by the Australian National University found that 90% of
Solomon Islanders wanted RAMSI to stay and 80% feared a return of
violence if RAMSI was to leave soon. Those percentages are a
remarkable achievement at the 2007 Federal election, the two-party
preferred vote for the successful candidate never exceeded 76%; the
median was 58%. However, 89% of Australians continue to believe the
ABC provides a valuable service to the community, so such strong
support can occur.
While an internal matter for the Solomon Islands, the democratic
removal of Sogavare does hold promise that better approaches are
prevailing. In East Timor, the Solomons, and Fiji, the local
powerbrokers have become accustomed to a moderate Australian
reaction, and, being confident of non-interference unless they choose
to start clashes with the Australian presence, feel relatively
unrestrained in their internal power struggles. Bainimarama's
ostentatious travels within the region when he was openly plotting a
coup showed his disdain of Australia and New Zealand.
That said, of course, the market-based approach is fundamentally bad,
as will become very clear in seven or eight years, when the Solomons
is logged out and there is little left to sell except a wasteland.
* that report should be tabled in the next sitting of the Senate.
* charges against Julian Moti were laid promptly, with the Queensland
magistracy clearly regarding him as having a case to answer.