Colonial ambitions: Australian Government's plan to take over the Solomon Islands
by Peter Symon The Howard Government is stepping up its activities as the deputy sheriff of the United States in the Asia-Pacific region and even further afield. It is planning its own "pre-emptive strike" against the Solomon Islands and to send more Australian troops overseas. The daily newspapers of June 12 reported three planned strategies of the Australian Government: 1) To take over the administration, policing and economy of the Solomon Islands for up to ten years with a police force with orders to kill and a military occupation force "on standby". The Australian Government's policy is called "cooperative intervention". 2) To commence the "interdiction" of North Korean ships to be searched for missiles, counterfeit money and drugs. 3) To return Australian troops to Afghanistan where the situation is spinning out of control as resistance to foreign occupation mounts. At the same time, the Australian Government is maintaining occupation forces in Iraq where resistance to the occupying forces is also rapidly gaining strength. A media blitz has been mounted to justify the re-imposition of a colonial regime in the Solomon Islands. It is "Time to help thy neighbours", writes a Financial Review (FR) editorial (12-3-03), in an attempt to sugar coat the Howard Government's colonial ambitions. The Sydney Morning Herald claims "Australia may lead an "armed intervention force into the Solomon Islands" while The Australian newspaper claims that "Rescuing the Solomons makes sense". What is needed says the FR is "leadership" in the form of "devising and marketing new policy directions". The policies have already been devised and the marketing has begun. The flurry of talk about and preparation for intervention have been promoted by reports released by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and the misnamed reactionary think tank, the Centre for Independent Studies. The proposals of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute are summed up by the FR as a "blueprint" for a governing council of about 12 people led by a chief executive with a light infantry company on standby, a judicial team of 20, prison staff, a group of accountants and other financial managers to administer the economy. "A constitutional review would be held, with a form of federalism as an option." In effect this would turn the Solomon Islands into a sort of corporation to be run by an appointed Board of Directors and a CEO. Nowhere is there any talk of democracy except that to "market" what the Government has already decided to do it is claimed that the Solomon Island's parliament would have to approve. The media reports that approval has already been given by Solomon Islands' Prime Minister, Sir Allan Kemakeza, Sir John Ini Lapli, Solomon's Governor- General and Sir Peter Kenilorea the Parliamentary Speaker. Parliament has not met for the last 12 months. While railing about the Solomon Islands being a "failed state" with lawlessness and corruption abounding, the FR reports that "Big money has been paid to government figures, for remitting export duties on timber" and that "Substantial 'compensation' money, mostly from Taiwan in return for diplomatic recognition, has gone to political leaders." It is most likely that the above listed government leaders, all knighted by the British Crown, would have known of this corruption and could have been included among recipients of these payments. After recalling that Australia's merchandise exports to the South Pacific were worth $2.5 billion in 2002, the FR comments, "That's worth looking after." But in 2001-2002 Australia exported $62 million of merchandise to the Solomon Islands but imported only $2 million worth. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute document says that "The collapse of Solomon Islands is depriving Australia of business and investment opportunities." The truth is that the present crisis in the Solomon Islands has been created by neo-colonialism. The economy is dominated by foreign interests. Neo-colonialism has created competition between different groups for economic and political patronage. The Solomon Islands were settled at least 4000 years ago by Melanesians. The 2000-island Solomon archipelago was claimed initially by Germany. A treaty between Germany and Britain subsequently divided the islands: the southern majority of the islands fell under British dominion; Bougainville and several other northern islands remained under German control. Australian sugar planters "blackbirded" labour from the Solomons to work on Queensland's sugar plantations. It was, in effect, slave labour. Following WW2 the northern part of the archipelago was placed under a UN- mandated Australian colonial administration as part of Papua New Guinea. In 1975 Britain agreed to the independence demands of the southern Solomons and independence was finally declared in July 1978. The independent state of the Solomon Islands is a member of the Commonwealth and a member of the United Nations. In the post-independence period, a Westminster style government was foisted on the islands which have rich undeveloped mineral resources such as lead, zinc, nickel, gold bauxite, and phosphate — an attractive target for the big mining corporations. There are also considerable timber resources. However, timber felling has created severe environmental damage on some islands. The total population is about 500,000 with 45 percent of the population being under the age of 15 years. Only three per cent are over 64 years. As far back as 1994, the Australian Government was pressing Pacific Island states to adopt economic rationalist policies. At a meeting of the South Pacific Forum held in Brisbane in 1994, the then Minister for Pacific Island Affairs in the Hawke Government, Gordon Bilney laid down the law. He called for "Public sector reform and private sector development". "We believe that a confident and growing private sector is one of the keys to the success of any trade and investment strategy." Even at that time there were media reports depicting the "urgency of the situation", "The stakes are very high, the challenges we face cannot be ignored", said Bilney. The policies of successive Australian governments and the corporations that they have promoted and protected have directly caused the so-called "arc of instability" to Australia's north and the impoverishment of the people. It is sufficient to recall the devastation caused by the BHP at Ok Tedi (PNG) and Rio Tinto when it exploited the Panguna copper mine on Bougainville. Now, with the Solomons facing economic and political disintegration, the Australian Government is contemplating the military occupation of the nation state in a pre-emptive strike type operation to re-establish a colonial regime. Its plans are not limited to the Solomons. They include Papua New Guinea, Bougainville, East Timor and elsewhere if deemed necessary. The FR editorial referred to earlier says of East Timor that it "stands on the cusp of a slide into poverty. Clearly its friends need to be there for the long haul." The hostility to independent Bougainville is revealed by the FR that writes, "The poison leaching out from the Bougainville civil war, which began 15 years ago, infected both Papua New Guinea — now in deep economic depression — and the Solomon Islands." The "poison" coming from Bougainville was the struggle by the people of Bougainville for real independence, the kicking out of Rio Tinto from the Panguna copper mine, the promotion of an economic system that works for the people of the island and not for the corporations or for conservative governments such as those in Australia. North Korea Not content with the planned occupation of the Solomon Islands the Howard Government is also discussing with its US masters and with Japan the "interdiction" of North Korean ships on the high seas. With unparalleled arrogance, The Australian headlines its story: "Navy flagged in policing Koreans". It reports that Howard had talks with Bush during his recent visit to the US while Alexander Downer has had talks with his Japanese counterparts. This proposed act of piracy has, according to The Australian raised "questions about the legality of such naval intercepts. One option is to use non-military vessels. Seeking UN authorisation is another alternative." It is also more than likely that the Koreans may not easily accept being "policed" by the brigands and pirates of Australia and the US. The media also report that the Howard Government is considering "bolstering its presence in [Afghanistan] which is experiencing a resurgence of al- Qaeda and Taliban activity". It is reported that "Ferocious firefights with Taliban, suicide bombings and threats against United Nations and other non-government personnel have become common." The reality is that the people of Afghanistan, Iraq and eventually the Solomon Islands, will not tolerate for long the occupation of their country by foreign military forces and the imposition of a government that is made up of stooges of the occupying countries. Wherever the US, British and Australian military forces go, (to be followed by the big and rapacious corporations), there is conflict, instability, impoverishment and war. This conflict will not be overcome by the occupation of the Solomon Islands or any other country, but will become even more serious and acute in the future. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) was established by the Commonwealth Government and is funded by the Government out of the Defence budget. At the same time it claims to be "independent and non-partisan". The Director of ASPI, Hugh White makes the comment in an APSI document on the Defence Budget, "We should acknowledge that we are not disinterested observers of the Defence Budget." The ASPI claims that its purpose is to "promote Australia's security by contributing fresh ideas to strategic decision-making". Its published reports are to promote "public debate and understanding of strategic and defence issues". The ASPI invites comment by writing to Level 2, Arts House, 40 Macquarie Street, Barton ACT 2000 or by email enquiries @aspi.org.au
* * *Peter Symon is the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Australia.