Thank you so much for inviting me here this evening. I am very honoured by your very warm welcome.
I am very pleased to be in Fiji for the first time as Australia’s Minister for International Development and the Pacific.
And as two countries with a proud record of humanitarian service, it is fitting that we meet here ahead of World Humanitarian Day tomorrow 19 August – a day on which we recognise those who face danger and adversity in order to help others.
Earlier this year we got to see the humanitarian work of Fiji’s military servicemen and women up close in the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Winston.
I want to pay tribute to the Republic of Fiji Military Forces who responded so quickly and effectively to this disaster, which caused devastation right across your beautiful nation.
I would also like to congratulate the Fiji Government for its quick response to such a devastating natural disaster.
I am proud that Australia was among the first countries to respond and provide assistance to Fiji when the Cyclone Winston hit.
We are supporting Fiji because that is what good friends and neighbours do – we help each other in times of need.
Australia has committed $35 million in humanitarian assistance and mounted one of our largest civil-military responses to a humanitarian crisis overseas.
The Australian Defence Force played a key role in our response through Operation FIJI ASSIST.
Surveillance aircraft assisted the Fiji Government with early damage assessments.
Seven MRH-90 helicopters helped move emergency supplies and equipment to affected areas.
And regular C-130 and C-17 flights delivered over 520 tonnes of humanitarian supplies and equipment to Fiji.
Close to 1,000 Australian Defence Force personnel were also deployed to deliver humanitarian assistance and support immediate repair work on critical infrastructure.
It was great to see our personnel working side by side with their counterparts in the Republic of Fiji Military Forces.
It was great to visit HMAS Canberra earlier today, right here in Suva Harbour – quite a long way from its usual berth in my home town of Sydney.
Canberra’s deployment to Fiji in the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Winston was its first operational deployment, and we really put the team to the test.
Australian personnel from the Canberra worked with the Republic of Fiji Military Forces on the island of Koro to repair schools and medical centres, restore water and sanitation facilities and clear debris.
Our Force and your Forces have a long and proud history of working together.
My husband served in the Royal Australian Navy for 35 years and over that time, had the great pleasure of attending staff courses and participating in other operations with Fiji military personnel over the years. The strength of our military ties have been and will continue to be an important part of our relationship.
The outstanding cooperation shown in the response to Tropical Cyclone Winston stands as testament to what we can achieve together.
I look forward to visiting Ra Province and Rakiraki tomorrow and seeing first-hand the great work that the Canberra has done with the Fiji Forces. And I look forward to seeing the smiles on the faces of those young children tomorrow.
Australia looks forward to continuing to strengthen our defence cooperation with Fiji, including through training for personnel, refitting RFNS Kula and RFNS Kikau, and supplying two new Pacific Patrol Boats to help strengthen Fiji’s maritime security.
I am very pleased that the relationship between the Australian Defence Force and Republic of Fiji Military Forces continues to be marked by friendship, cooperation and open dialogue.
Can I conclude by putting my own thanks to the crew of the HMAS Canberra – you have made Australia very proud.
Thank you very much.
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