Thank you Salote for that very warm welcome and I certainly have enjoyed my time here in Tonga. It's actually been a marvellous visit and I certainly will be visiting again.
Can I start by acknowledging: Lord Sevele and Lord Tupou, Your Excellency the High Commissioner, Reverend, thank you very, very much for your very, very warm words with God amongst us this morning, to you our host, CEO of the Bank of South Pacific, David Henson and to you Salote and to all the people who contributed to make this a wonderful launch.
It is indeed my very great pleasure to officially open this magnificent netball night facility for Tonga. This innovative project has been realised thanks to a unique partnership between Tonga Power, the Tonga Netball Association, the Bank of the South Pacific and the Australian High Commission’s Direct Assistance Program.
It is a great example of how aid works best when it is delivered in partnership with communities and the private sector. This program is supporting action against non-communicable diseases, inequality experienced by women and girls and is helping to overcome barriers for people with disability.
Australia has enjoyed a good working relationship with the Tonga Netball Association for a number of years. We are very, very interested in encouraging good health, community participation and great sportsmanship through netball.
Netball is a wonderful sport. I have to confess I am a netballer. But I am also, until my recent injury some months ago, the goal shooter for the Australian Parliamentary netball team. So until I fell over, I had a very good record. So it’s going to take me a little bit of time to get back but I really am looking forward to getting back. And perhaps Salote I will give you a challenge. We have inter-parliamentary netball which we play. We play with New Zealand and the Parliament of NSW. So perhaps at some stage in the future, we will have sufficient female members of your parliament to be able to join our tournament. That’s a challenge I put out there for you!
From the Australian Government’s perspective we have already committed over half a million dollars over 2015-17 to Sport for Development Programs in Tonga through our flagship Pacific Sports Partnerships Program. And this includes funding for badminton, football, rugby union and swimming. Of course, as well as netball.
Can I highlight the "Come in, play Tonga" which was so successful and when funding ended from the Australian perspective, it was really good to see the Tongan Government take up the initiative and continue supporting that program.
The Australian Government will provide further support for innovative sport for development projects across the Pacific.
Today, I am pleased to announce that about $450,000 will go towards partnerships that will directly benefit the people of Tonga with new initiatives including: a new $75,000 Pacific-wide partnership with Netball Australia to support gender equality through community netball; education and empowerment through rugby league; communication and outreach training for local sporting federations through a partnership with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation; promoting healthy behaviours and attitudes through hockey; and $150,000 partnership between Table Tennis Australia, Oceania Badminton and the Oceania Paralympic Committee to research how sport changes attitudes towards children with disabilities.
Salote, as you said, healthy individuals make productive individuals. And that is so vitally important to the economic growth of the Pacific and the economic growth of your wonderful country.
For Australia, our highest priority is a strong and stable Pacific and through initiatives like this we join the dots. Healthy individuals, productive individuals, economic growth and strength and stability across the Pacific.
Can I conclude by congratulating all who have been involved in this process and can I particularly acknowledge the CEO Daniel Henson for the contribution that you make and the vision that you have had for this wonderful part of Nuku’alofa.
Thank you very, very much.
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