Thank you very, very much Benny, and good evening to you all.
I am very pleased that I brought the rain, especially when it poured upon us this morning as the High Commissioner and our delegation was out there walking this morning!
Can I just, before I formally acknowledge the President, say to you: now I understand why - having come to Kiribati - your comment at the Pacific Island Forum, when you said you would give Baron Waqa and his choir and his singing and his dancing a run for their money as the best in the Pacific! And I do understand that, and His Excellency knows precisely when that comment was made.
Can I formally acknowledge you, Your Excellency; First Lady; Ministers; my Senatorial colleague and Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator Claire Moore; our High Commissioner Bruce Cowled, whom everyone knows; and other members of the diplomatic community; our volunteers, thank you, President, for the kind words that you said, good to see you all here; distinguished guests; ladies and gentlemen.
Thank you for the warm welcome that you have extended to me and to the delegation on this - certainly, my, first visit to your beautiful country.
It is a wonderful pleasure to be here.
And, President, as you have said, the partnership between our countries has been built over many decades, and it is reflected in all levels of our societies.
Whether it’s through the Australian missionary sisters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, whom I had the privilege of meeting today, and tomorrow I’ll meet the Good Samaritan Nuns who taught me at high school; to the active engagement of our Australian volunteers working in so many parts of your Government; to the many, many Australian advisers who have worked across Government and civil society here in Kiribati.
But our relationship is not just confined to the shores of Kiribati. Many of your leaders and officials here this evening have studied in Australia.
Education has drawn us together.
It’s led you, President, and you, First Lady, both of who studied in Australia - so you not only have studied and gained qualifications there, but you also have brought back to Kiribati an understanding of the Australian way of life.
And we, of course, in recent years have also had the benefit of the many hard working people of Kiribati who have come to Australia, not just under the Seasonal Worker Programme, but under the Northern Australia Worker Pilot Program.
We value the great contribution that they have made to Australia. They are indeed a credit to Kiribati.
And, Your Excellency, you talked about tourism and aged care, two areas which are an absolute natural fit for the people of Kiribati, with their wonderful warm welcoming smiles and their caring manner.
These are two areas where your people have and will excel.
Your successes and their successes and their hard work reflect well on your Government and they have afforded themselves and their families great opportunities and we will continue to look at their opportunities in the labour mobility space.
Your workers have established a reputation as being hard working, but most importantly very reliable employees. And for many employers they have become the workers of choice.
And we are looking to provide even more opportunities for more people from Kiribati to secure employment in Australia. Yesterday, Your Excellency, we had the opportunity to look at how we can extend our cooperation.
As Prime Minister Turnbull expressed in his commitment, and which you have mentioned in your speech, we want to step-up our engagement across the Pacific.
And we indicated that we would do so at the last Pacific Island Forum Leaders’ meeting.
We want to invest in a region that we share. We want to address the common challenges that, as neighbours, we face. And we want to work together to foster economic opportunities, resilience and closer regional cooperation and integration.
Our commitment to step up engagement will build on our existing partnership, but also build on your vision, Excellency, and the vision of your Government for this country.
We will continue to help Kiribati monitor its valuable ocean resources, through the upgrade of your patrol boat and enhanced aerial surveillance.
Today I had the opportunity to visit RKS Teanoai, one of the best performing of our patrol boats, of the 22 patrol boats.
And we will look at other ways that we can enhance security in Kiribati to help meet the growing vulnerability from a complex range of national and trans-national security challenges.
We will renew our efforts to help Kiribati to address its health priorities.
And I was very pleased today to visit the hospital precinct and to look at some of the ways that we have cooperated together.
We have been working with Kiribati in the development assistance space since 1974.
And on this visit, I am seeing some of the results of our mutual investment - to provide safe and healthy learning environments; to improve access to quality education for all children, including those with a disability - and today, Minister David Collins and I attended the Dai Nippon School and the Special Needs School, which was absolutely fantastic.
We want to work with you to provide training for more qualified and mobile workers from Kiribati and its workforce, and to strengthen the management of communicable diseases, and support the work of your Government in the family safety space - particularly for women and children’s safety.
And as I went about yesterday and today, I had the benefit of experiencing first-hand the most notable key investment in Tarawa’s critical infrastructure, in, of course, the new road.
Now, I didn’t go down with a coffee cup mug, President, but perhaps tomorrow I may just do that!
I was told that before the road was finished, it would take hours to travel between Betio and the airport due to pot-holes.
Not only has the road made that journey quicker and more convenient, but it’s also reduced dust and damage to vehicles.
I look forward to seeing more of the critical infrastructure developments when I visit more.
We are looking at the World Bank investments in the undersea cable for the future, and enhanced telecommunications for Kiribati.
Whilst in Kiribati, I will also be visiting at your villages in North Tarawa, and also visit your technical training facilities tomorrow.
But of all the links between our nations, it is the friendships and the understanding we build that matter the most, and I look forward to sharing some of those this evening.
Can I thank you again for your very, very warm welcome.
And in the English version of your traditional saying: health, peace and prosperity be upon us all.
Thank you for your kind attention.
- Minister's Office: (02) 6277 7110
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555