Pacific internet cable on PMs' agenda

Lisa Martin
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Australia is set to fund an undersea high-speed communications cable for the Solomon Islands

Australia's undersea high-speed communications cable to the Solomon Islands will be cheaper and faster than a competing Chinese offer.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Rick Houenipwela had bilateral talks with Malcolm Turnbull in Canberra on Wednesday, with the cable a high priority for their discussions.

Australia has stepped in to majority fund the cable rather than allow Chinese company Huawei to build it.

"What we have offered Solomon Islands and what they have accepted is an alternative to the offer from Huawei and ours is cheaper, it's likely to be a faster result for them and technically superior and also more resilient," Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told reporters on Wednesday.

Canberra will pay two-thirds of the cost of the project to connect the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea to Australia via fibre-optic cables.

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

"I want to ensure that countries in the Pacific have alternatives, that they don't only have one option and no others," Ms Bishop said.

"We were in a position to be able to offer a more attractive offer for Solomon Islands and PNG and they accepted it."

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

Mr Turnbull said the cable will bring economic and social benefits to Solomon Islands' highly-dispersed population.

Australia and Solomon Islands will jointly fund the construction of a domestic telecommunication cable network linking remote provinces to Honiara.

It will link Auki in Malaita Province, Noro in Western Province and Taro in Choiseul Province with Honiara.

Asked whether Huawei and its employees would need to register under a proposed scheme to deal with foreign influence in Australia, Mr Turnbull said that decision would need to be made by the company itself once the laws were in place.

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

Australia's aid budget for the Pacific country is $146.1 million in the next financial year.

Mr Turnbull announced Australian support for establishing a new birthing centre to offer top health care to Solomon Islands women.