Can I acknowledge Acting Prime Minister, Lord Minister Ma’afu. In fact, I think you gave a very, very good speech and thank you so much for your very, very warm welcome. To you High Commissioner and to your wife Christine, thank you for your warm hospitality this evening. To the Ministers who have honoured us with your presence, thank you very, very much. Excellencies, other distinguished guests, Ladies and gentlemen.
It is a pleasure to be here on this my first trip to the Kingdom of Tonga. During my husband’s 35 year career with the Royal Australian Navy, he spent a lot of time sailing the Pacific.
John had spoken to me of Tonga’s beauty and I am thrilled to be able to see it for myself. It was wonderful to go out today on one of the police vessels and we went past – now let me see this - Big Mamma’s at Panga’moto and we literally dropped in to FaFa Island. As we approached, I think they were a little bit concerned to see the police launch approach, but we assured them we came in friendship and in peace so they warmly welcomed us onto the island. I have to say though, the travel brochures do not do justice to the absolute magnificence of the colours that we saw out there today.
Indeed, since becoming Australia’s Minister for International Development and the Pacific, I have made it my mission see as much of the region as I can.
Can I especially say that as a supporter of the constitutional monarchy, it is also great to see another strong system in our region.
Constitutional monarchies offer both our countries a line of continuity in times of change. And for each of our countries, they are a symbol of our traditions and our values.
Australia and Tonga have been good friends for a long time now and it is pleasing to see how much we have achieved together as I have travelled around your beautiful country.
No doubt, in the next couple of days that I am here I will see much, much more of that.
Over 25,000 people of Tongan heritage are living in Australia today. As a Senator for NSW and as a former Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs I have seen firsthand Australians of Tongan heritage and the growing contribution they have been making in Australia for many years.
And yesterday as I was flying over here I read The Australian and there on page two just below the photo of our Prime Minister in New York is a lovely photograph of our Governor General who also visited in honour of the King’s Coronation. “Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove meets with the Sanctuary of Tonga cultural group while visiting Mildura.” Now Mildura of course is a regional part of Australia. But I just wanted to raise that with you because that just goes to show where your community is making the mark in Australia.
Of course high profile Tongan Australians like Israel Folau and many, many others are definitely in the limelight, shining brightly and dazzling with their skills. And of course raising the stocks of the Wallabies but I have to sort of say that! And of course assisting quite a number of our rugby league and rugby union clubs in Australia.
But it’s efforts like our Australia Awards Alumni program that are showing us just how broadly the people of Tongan heritage are contributing their professional skills throughout Australian society.
On top of the strong bonds between us, we have had great success working together on the development challenges for the Kingdom of Tonga.
That is why I was so proud to sign the next three-year iteration of our Australia-Tonga Aid Partnership with Minister Eke today. (clapping) Thank you.
This partnership covers our commitment to work with you to address the challenges you face in areas like economic development and health.
It also signals our commitment to help create opportunities for all Tongans, including especially, for women and girls.
We have achieved a lot through our defence co-operation over recent years and I was impressed by the professionalism on display at Masefield Naval Base during my visit today. And can I say not just the professionalism of the military but the professionalism of our police force as well. And can I particularly thank the Acting Police Commissioner for your assistance and hospitality today and for allowing us to trek across the bay in one of those wonderful launches.
Recently I was in Fiji and I saw the aftermath of Cyclone Winston first-hand. I know that the people of Fiji were very thankful that you made a patrol boat and a landing craft available to them during their hour of need.
As good neighbours you are in the neighbourhood and you were there first and so that is very, very important. We can achieve a lot when we work together in the region’s best interests.
I am hopeful that our commitment to the Patrol Boat program and to our policing partnership will support security in Tonga and in the region for years to come.
We have also been happy with the success of our Seasonal Worker Program in recent years.
Tongan workers are respected and sought after in this program - for their hard work ethic and their sense of humour.
The hard work of your people supports prosperity, both in Australia and in the Kingdom of Tonga.
The Seasonal Worker Program is just one part of how we are working with Tonga to support sustainable growth through our economic diplomacy.
We are also proud to be investing in the skills of your people. I am told some people here this evening honed their craft as Australian Awards scholars.
I am also pleased that 32 new scholars have been shortlisted to receive Australia Awards in 2017.
Of course, this skills exchange is two-ways.
I am proud that the 20 Australian New Colombo Plan scholars who have recently come to Tonga to share and develop their nursing skills.
I look forward to hearing about the experiences of the 45 scholars coming to Tonga over the next year.
Today, I had the pleasure of meeting some of the 18 Australian volunteers who are helping you manage development challenges and to develop their own skills and experience. And can I say thank you very, very much to all of you for helping and making them feel so welcome in your country.
My tour of Vaiola hospital tomorrow will enable me to see firsthand the scale of the non-communicable disease challenge faced in Tonga.
I am hoping that our investments in healthy living will help your people live life to the fullest.
Healthy people are also more productive, able to support families, start businesses and create opportunities.
As a keen netballer, I am looking forward to opening the Bank of the South Pacific night netball courts on Friday morning, which I am hoping champions of all ages can use to stay fit and healthy.
I am also glad to say this facility will give the women and girls of Tonga an opportunity to play sport in quality facilities day and night.
I was particularly pleased to host a group of women at lunch today and thank you, I see some of the faces here this evening and certainly we had a great opportunity to chat, also about some of the challenges that women and girls are facing.
We are proud to be helping you make the most of the great opportunities presented by Tonga’s natural blessings.
Australia, through the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, is proud to be supporting the re-establishment of the Mabe pearl industry.
I am looking forward to travelling to Ha’apai tomorrow to see the results for myself.
Ladies and gentlemen, this has truly been thus far a wonderful first visit to Tonga.
I am encouraged by the progress we are making together and I am optimistic about what we can all achieve together in the future.
Can I thank you all for your support, can I thank you for all your hard work and your commitment and dedication to our partnership. May God bless this beautiful land and the people of Tonga.
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