For decades Australia and Vanuatu have worked side-by-side to create a peaceful and prosperous region.

In my first visit to Vanuatu I bring a clear message from the Australian Government: our two countries have come a long way together, but there is much more to be achieved.

The Australian Government has a clear vision to step up and enhance our Pacific family ties and shared values, and work together to support our Pacific community to thrive.

That vision is why I am here, and why Prime Minister Scott Morrison made Vanuatu his first overseas trip this year.

In my roles as Assistant Defence Minister and Minister for International Development and the Pacific, I am personally committed to working with our Pacific family.

My focus during this visit to Vanuatu is on building on decades of cooperation between our governments and our people, in order to achieve our shared interests. I will also attend my first regional ministers’ meeting in Port Vila, the 5th Pacific Water and Wastewater Ministers’ Forum.

Water security is vital. Australia is one of the driest continents in the world, and we know all too well the impact a lack of fresh water can have.

In the midst of this vast oceanic region, many Pacific Island states are also facing a severe lack of freshwater. This is something we both understand: after Cyclone Pam we worked together to restore 80 fresh water systems across Vanuatu.

The deep stresses caused by natural disasters, the growing demand for water, and the impacts of climate change are causing us all to rethink how we manage water more wisely and efficiently.

Regional collaboration and partnerships in water management and climate change are essential. Cooperation is also vital to ensure a secure and stable region.

Australia joined Vanuatu and our broader Pacific family in signing the Boe Declaration on Regional Security in 2018. This declaration clearly articulates the range of security challenges in our region, from climate change to cyber security.

Australia is committed to the Declaration and building a stronger and more resilient neighbourhood.

Australia and Vanuatu have a history of security cooperation, often in times of great need.I am proud of the way that the Australian Defence Force responded so swiftly to support the people of Vanuatu in times of crisis – be it after Cyclone Pam in 2015 or following the Ambae volcanic event in 2017.

As we look to the future, we know that working in partnership to deliver emergency assistance and maintain law and order is essential to achieving the region’s development aspirations.

It is for this reason that Australia is supporting the recruitment and training of young men and women across all three arms of the Vanuatu Police Force. This year 187 recruits were supported through their training by Australian Federal Police and Australian Defence Force personnel, working alongside Vanuatu Police Force instructors.

These shared training experiences reinforce bonds that were formed with the Vanuatu Police Force during operations in Timor-Leste, Bougainville and the Solomon Islands. We will continue to expand the opportunities for our two nations to train and operate together in support of regional security, including through new and important investments.

Through Australia’s $2 billion Pacific Maritime Security Program, Vanuatu will receive a Guardian-class patrol boat in 2021. This vessel will be supported by integrated aerial surveillance and enhancements to regional cooperation that will assist Vanuatu to secure its maritime borders and tackle illegal fishing as well as rising transnational crime.

These activities further strengthen the partnership between Australia and Vanuatu security forces – all the time being backed by Australia’s highest-ever contribution to Pacific development, with an estimated $1.4 billion in development assistance in 2019-20.

From health, water and education investments – including Australian funded school grants that supported tuition free education for over 40,000 primary school children – to our security cooperation, we have already achieved so much together.

Next year we celebrate Vanuatu’s 40 years of independence. Australia looks forward to continuing to work with Vanuatu in the next chapter of our relations, building on our shared values and aspirations.

We will work together for a stronger, more secure and prosperous future for our nations and for the Pacific community.

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