Statement by The Hon Richard Marles MP, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Defence of Australia, on the conclusion of the South Pacific Defence Ministers Meeting in Tonga.
The pandemic brought home an eternal truth for every South Pacific nation, including Australia.
A challenge for one of us, is a challenge for all of us.
For too long, Australia’s eyes had drifted from the region we live in.
The tide has changed in Australia, and the Albanese government is focused on how we can be better neighbours, stronger friends and more effective partners with the Pacific.
Because Australia is a Pacific country and we are all Pacific peoples.
This week South Pacific Defence Ministers and senior military leaders came together in Tonga for what was a vital meeting.
Australia will be there as a partner and a friend, as together we confront common threats to our collective security, including climate change, transnational crime, cyber-attacks and natural disasters.
Climate change is an existential threat for the nations of the Pacific.
The Albanese government is taking strong action, including our ambitious climate targets – having legislated a 43% emissions reduction target by 2030 - and a commitment to achieving net-zero.
We will walk together with our Pacific family, taking responsible action ourselves and focusing on the best way we can lend a hand in the natural disasters that are becoming more common as the climate changes.
From raging bushfires to flooding rains, Australia is not immune from extreme weather events either.
And when they’ve hit us, our Pacific friends have come to our aid.
Papua New Guinea and Fiji both deployed personnel to Australia to assist us during the 2020 bushfires, and Fijian soldiers came to our aid during the floods of 2022.
And earlier this year, when the underwater volcano erupted off Tonga, triggering a tsunami, Australia, Fiji, France, and New Zealand, and our partners from around the world worked together to provide humanitarian and disaster relief.
All are examples of how quickly and effectively we can come together as a Pacific family when one of us faces an urgent and critical need.
I’m keen to make it simpler and easier to deploy together – on land and at sea, when disaster or crises strike – so that it becomes our default arrangement.
The Australian Defence Force is a trusted partner in the Pacific, thanks to the tireless work of our Defence Force personnel over many decades.
Stronger and better defence cooperation with our neighbours in the region can make all of us safer and more secure.
I’ll be working with the Defence Ministers right across the region to boost our defence cooperation, to find more opportunities for our servicemen and women to work alongside each other in a spirit of partnership, so that our forces become more capable and more interoperable.
Australia has no closer friends than the nations of the Pacific and that is the message I give to the nations of the region, and to the watching world.