Honiara, Canberra to discuss cable project

FILE PHOTO: Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Picture: REUTERS

CANBERRA, 13 JUNE 2018 (AAP) – An undersea high-speed communications cable is expected to dominate Malcolm Turnbull’s talks with his Solomon Islands counterpart.

Rick Houenipwela will sit down with the prime minister in Canberra today

Canberra is set to chip in two-thirds of the cost of the project to connect the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea to Australia via fibre-optic cables to improve internet affordability and reliability

Money will come from the aid budget, but no dollar figure has been publicly released.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade(DFAT) is weighing up whether Sydney, Townsville or the Sunshine Coast will be the best Australian link point.

Turnbull said Houenipwela’s visit was an opportunity to discuss shared challenges and strengthen bilateral ties.

“We value our strong and enduring friendship with Solomon Islands, and work as partners to ensure stability, security and prosperity in the Pacific region,” he said in a statement.

Australia’s aid budget to the Pacific island nation is $146.1 million (US$110 million) in the next financial year.

Houenipwela’s wife Rachel is accompanying him on the trip which includes visits to Brisbane, Bundaberg, Sydney and Canberra.

He is also expected to deliver a speech at the Australian National University.

The visit comes almost a year after the lengthy Australian-led peacekeeping mission to the Solomon Islands wrapped up.

The Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands began in 2003, involved 15 countries, and concluded at the end of June last year.

Rampaging violence and lawlessness was tearing apart the Solomon Islands at the turn of the century when then-prime minister John Howard committed to a rescue operation.

Howard was keen to avoid a “failed state” on Australia’s doorstep, fearing the tiny nation could become a terrorist safe haven and trans-national crime hub.

More than 1700 federal police officers and 7200 Australian military personnel were deployed at an estimated cost of $2.8 billion (US$2.1 billion).