Australian High Commissioner's statement on increased connectivity between Tonga and Australia
After the challenges we have experienced to connectivity as a result of COVID-19, I am delighted the physical links between Australia and Tonga are building back. We are looking forward to greater flight connectivity between Tonga and Australia beginning this June, and I thank the Government of Tonga for taking the initiative to increase the frequency of passenger flights between our countries.
While our physical links were temporarily less frequent, the link of friendship has always been strong. As members of the Pacific family, Australia and Tonga share a close relationship, built over more than fifty years of diplomatic relations. We are tightly bound together by our shared place in the Pacific, but geography is only one part of the story. We have built strong cultural, family, economic and sporting ties over many decades, and our partnership continues to reach new heights.
As members of the Pacific family, Australia will always stand ready to support Tonga in times of need – just as Tonga reached out to Australia during our 2020 bushfires. Following January’s eruption and tsunami, we saw an incredible outpouring of support from Australians. Her Royal Highness Princess Angelika Latufuipeka Tuku’aho, the Kingdom’s High Commissioner in Australia, led the local response, arranging donations and resources for affected Tongan communities. The Tongan diaspora across Australia continues to deliver donations from Australian schools, rugby matches and churches to Tonga.
And we were proud to work so closely with the Tongan Government on the disaster response. Our decades-long partnership in humanitarian response, disaster resilience and defence cooperation swung into action. It is the reason we were able to so quickly deliver over 440 tonnes of emergency supplies, reconstruction materials and COVID-19 support to Tonga. It was wonderful to see a comprehensive response by the Pacific family with military personnel from Fiji and the French Armed Forces in New Caledonia joining the HMAS Adelaide, Supply and Canberra (three of Australia’s largest navy vessels!) in conducting clean-up operations, delivery of vaccines, and restoration of international telecommunications.
But we do not just work together in a crisis. Over many years Australia and Tonga have cooperated in many fields in support of Tonga’s continuing development – and so much of this is founded on the links between our people and communities. There are almost 4,000 Tongan workers in Australia filling gaps in Australia’s workforce and delivering economic benefits and skills home to Tonga. The reconstruction of Tonga’s Parliament House and Legislative Offices by Australia and New Zealand will focus on using local labour wherever possible, and the new kava pilot is allowing the commercial import of kava to Australia, offering important economic opportunities to Tonga and easier supply for Pacific communities in Australia.
With the Australia Awards restarting, we hope that up to 25 Tongan students will soon be able to commence their studies in Australia. We are also supporting the World Bank’s Safe and Resilient Schools Project in Tonga, which is improving school infrastructure and supporting an upgrade of curricula and assessments. And Australians are thrilled to watch elite Tongan athletes compete in our premier rugby league and rugby union competitions.
Our shared values, as well as a common love of sport, food and Pacific arts, is the foundation of our nations’ partnership. It is deeper than politics or even friendship. It is family.
Australian High Commissioner to Tonga
4 May 2022.