Diplomats have been scrambling since Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare rang John Howard on Monday to declare Australian High Commissioner to the Solomons, Patrick Cole, “persona non grata”.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer didn’t mince words about Sogavare’s actions: “It’s an extraordinary, frankly rather outrageous thing to do to our High Commissioner.”

Sogavare’s hackles were apparently raised by what he perceived as Cole’s interference with local affairs — he believed Cole had been speaking to the Solomons opposition and had expressed concern about a commission of inquiry into the April riots in Honiara.

Whatever the political implications for Australia’s leadership of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI), Crikey reader Advocatus Diabolis knows of some who’ll be relieved to see the back of Cole — and sees Sogavare’s political skill at play. He writes:

Most citizens of Honiara will be relieved and enjoy walking the streets knowing that Patrick “Speedy Gone-Honiara” has left. Canberra’s finest will watching Patrick’s driving very carefully — they have long memories…

Sogavare’s belief in Social Credit, which is akin to the cargo cults of the islands, is laughable but his skill as a politician makes John Howard look like an amateur.

Sogavare wanted to shift the blame for the riots in April onto RAMSI (the peacekeepers) and away from his Malaitan “mates” who are in jail awaiting trial for causing the riots (amongst other charges).
So Sogavare sets up a Commission of Inquiry and appoints embattled former Australian Federal Court Judge, Marcus Einfeld (he with interesting doctorates and a dead friend who drove his speeding car) to guide it. Then Fred Fono, the leader of the opposition in parliament tables a motion of no confidence for 2 October, it looks as if Fred has got the numbers to win as well.

Sogavare realises that at least four of his supporters in parliament have gone over to Fred’s side. He also realises his current role as prime minister is ending, he is not worried, he will be back later, but to strengthen his credentials with his Malaitan “mates”, who are his traditional power base, he throws the brown stuff at Australia.
The average islander (Malaitan or otherwise) wants RAMSI, the peacekeepers, to stay as they are far better than the armed thugs that used to roam the streets of Honiara. They are also sick of the corruption of the “big men” and a Chinese dominated economy that sees them denied the wealth of their country.

What better way to throw brown stuff at Australia than get rid of Patrick “Speedy Gone-Honiara” Cole — it’s a pretty popular move all round.

Peter Fray

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