Can I start by acknowledging your Excellency the High Commissioner Yogesh Punja. Thank you for your welcome and for inviting me here today. Consul General, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. Can I start by thanking and acknowledging the organisers of today’s event. What a commendable initiative – and representatives from the Fijian community present, ladies and gentlemen.

On behalf of the Government and people of Australia, can I start by expressing my condolences and support for the Government and people of Fiji following the devastation caused by Tropical Cyclone Winston.

We extend these condolences and support to the almost 60,000 people in Australia who were born in Fiji and many more who are of Fijian heritage. Australians and Fijians have a deep affection for each other – we have long-standing and strong people-to-people links, with more than 367,000 Australians visiting Fiji in 2015.

We have all been shocked and saddened at the damage we have seen. The images we have seen over the past three weeks of a cyclone-scarred Fiji have made a powerful impression on all of us. Australia commends the Fijian Government for its preparations and immediate response to Cyclone Winston.

Though there has been tragic loss of life and widespread devastation, the impact could have been worse had the Government of Fiji not invested so well in effective preparations and disaster risk reduction.

Australia is working with the Fijian authorities to help coordinate their response and assist those most in need. The Australian Government has provided $15 million of assistance to Fiji. This funding is helping to provide life-saving supplies to communities affected by the cyclone – and that includes food, clean water and hygiene, and shelter – and is enabling emergency repairs to schools and medical clinics.

We have also deployed significant Australian Defence Force assets to assist with response efforts and that includes surveillance aircraft, helicopters, personnel and humanitarian relief stores. In addition, HMAS Canberra arrived on 1 March loaded with an additional 60 tonnes of engineering assets, helicopters, water purification equipment and medical and humanitarian supplies.

It’s important to acknowledge above all why we are here this morning and that is the role that Australian tourism has to play to help Fiji recover. While some areas of the country have experienced significant damage, others, such as the resort areas of Denarau and the Coral Coast, have been lucky enough to escape the brunt of the cyclone and, as has been repeated over the course of this morning, are open for business.

While of course you should check with the DFAT travel advice and check with local resorts, I encourage the Australian public to return to beautiful Fiji to help it rebuild its economy. The best way we can help Fiji is to help the Fijian economy recover, including by ensuring that Fijians have a continued stream of income. And tourism is one of the main ways that we can help that income to be generated.

As you can see, regretfully I took a fall last Sunday but that’s not going to stop me in any case. I’m hopefully traveling to Fiji as soon as I can and hope that my visit will highlight the situation in Fiji and how Australian tourism and Australian tourists can assist Fiji’s recovery. As Fiji’s needs become clearer, the Australian Government will continue to support Fiji’s response and recovery efforts. Our thoughts remain with the people of Fiji during this difficult time.

Thank you very much for attending. And can I thank you in anticipation of the support that you will give to this very very important initiative for our neighbourhood. Thank you.

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