Statement from the Australian High Commission in Tonga.
On Australia Day we reflect on our nation’s history and celebrate its achievements and all its people, including the 33,000 Australians that identify as having Tongan ancestry.
Australia Day is marked on 26 January. On this day, in 1788, Captain Arthur Phillip sailed eleven convict ships from Great Britain into Sydney, and into a country cared for by 750,000 First Nations people for more than 65,000 years.
The Australian Government is committed to telling Australia’s full story, including the rich heritage of our First Nations people, the oldest living culture on the planet.
Australia Day has a special poignancy this year because this is an important year for Australia’s identity. A referendum on constitutional recognition of First Nations people and an Indigenous Voice to Parliament will be held.
This is a response to a request from Australia’s First Nation’s people through the Uluru Statement from the Heart which ask for voice, treaty and truth telling.
Australia’s Foreign Minister, Senator Penny Wong is putting First Nations perspectives at the heart of Australian foreign policy, recognising we have much to learn from Australia’s first traders and diplomats, with skills honed over thousands of years.
Australia’s identity is complex; in addition to our first nations heritage and our British and European history, laws and systems of government, we are a country of people from more than 270 ancestries.
Australia and Tonga
Australia and Tonga continue to build deeper and stronger ties.
In 2021 we celebrated our fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. Our history goes back hundreds of years beginning with explorers, missionaries and teachers.
Our bilateral relationship is important. Like any relationship, commitment, communication, and trust are key.
We are honoured His Majesty King Tupou VI served as Tonga’s first High Commissioner to Australia from 2008 to 2012.
And that Her Royal Highness Princess Latufuipeka Tuku’aho, Tonga’s High Commissioner to Australia, continues to strengthen the linkages between the two countries.
It is also our honour His Royal Highness Crown Prince Tupouto’a ‘Ulukalala completed two Masters degrees in Australia, returning to Tonga last year.
In 2022 Foreign Minister Wong came to Tonga in the second week of her tenure and was privileged to meet with His Majesty King Tupou VI, and with the Government of Tonga.
Deputy Prime and Minister for Defence Minister Marles visited in October for the South Pacific Defence Ministers Meeting, followed by the Minister for International Development and the Pacific and Minister for Defence Industry Minister Conroy who came in December.
We were grateful for Tonga’s exceptional hosting and for the opportunity to listen to your priorities, and your advice on meeting regional and global challenges and opportunities together.
We use the words Pacific Family a lot. We are proud to be part of such a beautiful and diverse part of our world, to be connected not just by history and geography, but also by people, values, sports, art, food and fun with our neighbouring nations.
As Minister Wong said in her National Statement to the UN General Assembly in September, families are about care, love and forgiveness. But they are also about duty and loyalty, looking out for each other and listening to each other.
Facing global challenges
We recognise that Tonga is not only made up of beautiful islands, but 700,000 square kilometres of ocean with all of its amazing biodiversity. That Tonga is, among other things, the birthplace of the humpback whales.
We understand nothing is more central to the security and economies of the Pacific than climate change, as is laid out in the first article of the 2018 Pacific Island Forum’s Boe Declaration on Regional Security.
In 2022 Australia updated our climate policies; within this decade 83 per cent of Australia’s energy supply will be renewable.
We are committed to supporting Tonga’s renewable energy target of 70 per cent by 2025. We have contributed AUD13 million to the Outer Islands Renewable Energy Project (OIREP) and the Tonga Renewable Energy Project (TREP) , as well as AUD5.3 million to Area 3 of the Nuku’alofa Network Upgrade Project (NNUP).
It was my honour to visit the beautiful islands of Ha’ano and ‘Uiha this year as they converted to solar power.
I congratulate your government for the commissioning of Tonga’s first Large Scale Battery Energy Storage System last year, delivered despite the challenges of COVID-19 lockdown and the disasters. As well as the completion of the 6MW solar PV power plant, doubling Tonga’s use of renewable energy in 2022. We stand by to assist with the Tonga Renewables Project.
Australia and Tonga have faced other global challenges together over the last year, with the COVID-19 pandemic reaching Tonga’s shores in February 2022. I congratulate your Government for Tonga’s border policies and vaccination role out which has protected the health of your people.
As part of our long-term health partnership, Australia provided prepositioned medical equipment and pharmaceuticals, including a cold chain freezer and 74 oxygen concentrators, and over 115,000 vaccine doses to Tonga. As well as training, technical assistance, 150,000 RATs and 2.6 tonnes PPE to support your policies and contribute to Tonga’s enormous success.
Our votes in the United Nations matter and we have stood together in multilateral forums, including against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
It is up to all of us to create the kind of world to which we aspire; stable, peaceful, prosperous and respectful of sovereignty.
This week we have had the second visit in the last six months by our Chief of Defence Force, General Angus Campbell.
By having members of our Australian Defence Force (ADF) and Australian Federal Police (AFP) in Tonga as part of our mission, we are able to work with your forces everyday, lining up our assistance to meet Tonga’s priorities and enabling our interoperability to meet shared challenges.
We were very proud you selected an Australian, Shane McLennan, to be Tonga’s Police Commissioner last year.
Pacific Island Forum and the Pacific Family – stronger together
In the Pacific, the Pacific Islands Forum is the pre-eminent institution, the heart of Pacific regionalism.
For more than fifty years the Forum has brought us together in the Pacific way. Through talanoa we are able to listen, seek to understand and to reach agreement on issues that impact us all.
We are stronger together.
Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai
When the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai disaster struck last January, Australia supported the Government and people of Tonga as part of our Pacific family, as did the Government of New Zealand and others.
Our partnerships are long term and Australian gifted prepositioned humanitarian supplies and the HMAF Patrol Boats were able to be deployed by NEMO and HMAF from the morning of 16 January.
Australia brought in 24 Australia Defence Force flights and three ships with troops from Australia, Fiji and New Caledonia with a total of 417 tonnes of humanitarian supplies including water tanks, building supplies and small boats.
Australia’s first ADF flight arrived with supplies on 19 January and HMAS Adelaide arrived on Australia Day last year.
The troops stayed and helped with the clean up, logistics and tasks including supporting Tonga’s vaccination role out and transporting telecommunications technicians including to Kao sland. Several of the ADF troops were Australians with Tongan heritage.
Australia is steadfast in its commitment to support Tonga in disaster preparedness, response, recovery and resilience. You can rely on us.
Supporting Tonga’s recovery
We appreciate that Tonga is having to work hard to recover from challenges that are not of your making. Australia is committed to helping you expedite your recovery.
In the last 12 months, Australia provided over AUD50 million in budget support for government priorities.
We will continue to support Tonga’s priorities in health, including in reducing non-communicable diseases, and education where we are supporting disaster resilient infrastructure in partnership with the World Bank.
In 2023 we are also assisting the Government of Tonga on your broader priorities including communications redundancy, aviation and connectivity, and security. As well as key infrastructure projects such as Tonga’s new Parliament House.
We are proud to partner with Tonga’s civil society organisations including through the new Tonga Australia Partnership Grants, which will support organisations working to progress gender equality, disability and climate change.
People to people links
Through labour mobility programs, over 5000 Tongan are living in Australia and working with Australian businesses. We value both the essential assistance that this provides to our private sector, and the linkages it strengthens between our countries.
This year we saw a sister city relationship between Gunnedah and Kolomotu’a grow from the friendships created through the labour mobility program.
Australia and Tonga have a shared love of sports. There are Tongans playing in just about every sport in Australia, up to the highest levels. In Tonga, we are proud to work with Tonga’s rugby league, rugby union, soccer, netball, table tennis and Olympics Committee through the PacificAus Sports and Team Up programs.
Netball Australia has partnered with Tonga Netball for over ten years. We have been delighted by Tala’s meteoric rise to top 10 in netball and have the Tonga Australia match to look forward to at the Netball World Cup this year.
Tongan artists exhibited at the at the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane last year to great acclaim with their work purchased by the Gallery.
We are so pleased to see the return of our Australian volunteers and the people to people links this program brings.
And this year we are proud to support thirty-six outstanding Tongan scholars travel to Australia to study through the Australia Award programs.
The long-term relationships between Australia and Tonga extend through Rotary International, St John of God Ballarat Hospital, Sione’s Foundation and many other professional partnerships. Each of these make a valuable contribution to the relationship between our nations, so thank you.
On Australia Day, as we look to the year ahead, Australia’s commitment to the people of Kingdom of Tonga is steady and strong.
Thank you for your partnership with us, we value being part of your Pacific Family.