Journalist: Can you please tell me why you are here today?

Minister: Well, Australia and Tonga have a very close and warm relationship.  We have relationships in terms of defence cooperation. This morning I signed a further aid partnership agreement with the Kingdom of Tonga.  We have here, where we are, in these police quarters, we have contributed to financing this building and our police cooperation is extensive.  We have the three vessels that are available to the police which have been vitally important in terms of search and rescue.  So our relationship is on different levels – aid, defence cooperation.  Tomorrow I will be going out to Ha’apai Island.  We will be taking some live oysters with us because of course the pearl industry is very important to those areas.  Australia, in terms of its research and what we are doing through our researcher facilities, are assisting this industry and other industries.  We have assistance in terms of a whole range of different areas – health, education.  I will also be doing some work during these three days in relation to sports sponsorship.  I will be making some announcements in relation to health.  So, a whole range of different areas.  And as I said, the relationship between Australia and Tonga is a very good one and it is a relationship that is built around quite a number of different areas.

Journalist: Thank you so much.  I understand that you also visited other Pacific Islands, Fiji included.  And one of your comments is that you are watching the projects especially assistance and funding from Australia very closely.  What has this revealed about the projects here in Tonga?

Minister: Well, it is important as Minister for International Development in the Pacific to be out and about and to see how Australian aid is assisting the development of a strong, stable Pacific.  It is in Australia’s interests to ensure that we assist and we have strong economic growth in the Pacific.  We obviously are in the concluding end of the PACER-Plus and are very, very grateful for Tonga’s participation and work as part of the PACER-Plus negotiations.  So it is very important for us to see not only what is happening on the ground but also to get feedback from the different governments and in particular, here in Tonga.  I am very, very pleased to be here.  This is, as I said, my first visit to Tonga as Minister and I am very pleased to not just be coming to the main island, but actually to be going out of the main areas and going out to see some of the work we are doing in terms of the stores, the Red Cross, as I said the pearl industry and to look at other things as well.

Journalist: Thank you so much.  I understand you were saying this is your first time in Tonga.  Apart from the current projects, is Australia looking at funding more projects for Tonga?

Minister: We have just signed this morning our aid partnership agreement which is an important agreement between our two countries.  It focuses on Tonga’s priorities and how they align with Australia’s priorities and of course, economic participation, particularly our focus in terms of economic participation of women and of people with disabilities.  So our aid partnership is focused on a range of different areas.  Can I particularly congratulate the Government of Tonga for the work that it is doing, particularly in terms of economic reform, which is so vital ultimately to the economic growth of this country.  So our aid bilaterally and multilaterally is around $30m per annum.  And within this is built in, as I said earlier, a range of different areas, a range of different priorities but they do accord with the priorities of Australia’s aid objectives and Tonga’s aid requirements.  So it’s very, very much that meeting of the minds as to how we can help but dovetailing in very importantly to Tonga’s long term strategy and long term development strategies.

Thank you.

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