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Thank you very much, Matt, for that very generous introduction and Bula Vinaka everybody! Welcome and good morning.
I’d like to begin by thanking Matthew for your wonderful Welcome to Country and making us all feel so welcome here this morning, and I do pay my deepest respects to your ancestors and also to all of the traditional custodians, the Whadjuk people of the Noongar nation, so thank you for that very warm welcome this morning.
But I also, as Minister for Defence, pay my respects to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women who have served our nation with such great distinction in the past and also today.
And Reverend Lucas, thank you very much for that wonderful prayer welcoming us here this morning – it was very meaningful.
I’m very, very proud to be here today and particularly to welcome the Prime Minister of Fiji and Mrs Bainimarama today here. You are both very welcome guests back here in Western Australia.
Welcome also to my good friend now and the Minister for Defence in Fiji, Inia Seruiratu, it’s good to see you again here so quickly in Western Australia for this joyous day.
Also the Commander Republic of Fiji Military Forces, Rear Admiral Viliame Naupoto – it’s good to see you again. Last time we met it was in Victoria and I think it was the Admiral’s birthday that day, but welcome back and welcome to Western Australia.
To the Chief of Navy, Captain Humphrey Tawake, welcome. It’s good to see you here. Also, it’s good to see you again High Commissioner – I welcome you to Perth.
But particularly to the distinguished crew of RFNS Savenaca, you are very welcome and as David Singleton has said, you have certainly made your mark here as the best crew so far to come through and you’ve done your nation a great pride in terms of how you’ve conducted yourself and the professionalism which you are here today to receive this vessel.
So a warm welcome to all of you here who have made today possible and hand over of this magnificent vessel to Fiji.
Today does mark a new era of cooperation under our Vuvale Partnership which was signed by Prime Ministers of Australia and Fiji last year, and this is yet another demonstration that the Vuvale Partnership is not just a piece of paper – it is very real and very appreciated.
It does embody Australia and Fiji’s commitment to elevate our cooperation, our friendship and our partnership between our two nations to a different level.
It is well and truly in the spirit of Vuvale that we hand over RFNS Savenaca today.
The Savenaca is not just a vessel. It is a capability.
It will enhance Fiji’s sovereign capability:
- to enforce its sovereignty;
- to protect its valuable maritime resources; and
- to combat illegal activities that undermine economic prosperity.
It will further strengthen ties that will build even greater trust and respect between our two nations, between our Navies and also between our Defence organisations. And that warmth and respect was very evident here today and earlier on this morning.
But it is also a capability platform that will enable us to work together to address common challenges in the Pacific, and it delivers on our shared commitment to build a Pacific region that is strategically secure, that is economically stable and also politically sovereign.
Put simply, it is a symbol of our commitment to sovereignty, to freedom and also our shared values as nations. And as Matt has said, it’s named for a Fijian sailor and a war hero – Ordinary Seaman Savenaca Naulatuma.
He was one of thousands of Fijians who served with great distinction in the Fiji Naval Volunteer Force in World War Two.
At a time when anti-democratic forces sought to violently impose their will on Pacific nations, Ordinary Seaman Savenaca stood up.
He joined the fight in defence of freedom and shared values.
He served with distinction on New Zealand light cruiser HMNZS Leander as part of the allied war effort.
His final fight came on 12 July 1943, during the Battle of Kolombangara.
In the early hours of that morning a flotilla of Allied ships made contact with the enemy in Solomon Islands’ waters.
In the confusion of battle, a Japanese torpedo struck the Leander, killing Ordinary Seaman Savenaca and 28 of his shipmates.
He died in the defence of sovereignty and freedom in our region.
A service that subsequent generations of Fijians have repeatedly undertaken in the Pacific and around the world, and who are proudly here today.
I know that this vessel, the RFNS Savenaca will continue this long and proud tradition.
But supporting a secure, free and open Pacific is not just a responsibility for Fiji or any other single nation to carry alone.
For 30 years, Australia has worked side-by-side with Fiji through the Pacific Patrol Boat Program.
Gifted by Australia in 1994, Fiji’s current Patrol Boat, the RFNS Kula has protected Fiji’s maritime boundaries – again, with great distinction and service…
It’s patrolled its Exclusive Economic Zone. It’s assisted law enforcement. And it’s also conducted many search and rescue operations.
I’m very proud of the close cooperation, the friendship and institutional links that our ADF has with the RFMF and that has been built over these many decades.
The follow-on Pacific Maritime Security Program is providing Fiji with an enhanced operational capability.
The new Guardian-class provides greater range and endurance than its predecessor.
Under the new program, Australia is providing additional region-wide aerial surveillance and also assistance to regional coordination centres in the Pacific.
This will ensure that maritime patrols are targeted and intelligence-driven surveillance will enable Fiji to respond faster and more targeted to threats.
And we’re also very proud, Prime Minister, to support upgrades to Stanley Brown Wharf to ensure the Savenaca is safely and securely berthed.
In closing, Prime Minister, the relationship between our nations is one that is longstanding and genuine.
The most heartfelt thank you – thank you is a very inadequate word, but that’s all I have, Prime Minister. On January 18 – at the height of one of Australia’s darkest moments – a detachment of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces, who were engineers, arrived to extend the warmest possible hand of Vuvale to Australians during the bushfire emergency.
For over six weeks, 54 dedicated and highly skilled engineering personnel spent their days and many long nights working alongside our ADF in Victoria, clearing access routes and establishing firebreaks.
These long and hard days were followed by nights spent in prayer and solidarity with their ADF colleagues and a very grateful community of Orbost.
Fiji’s Bula Force left a profound impact on Australia’s communities.
Prime Minister, on behalf of myself and the Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison and all Australians, can I express our most sincere gratitude for that hand of friendship and compassion that your people showed ours in our time of our most darkest need.
This is truly the embodiment of our Vuvale partnership.
Finally, I congratulate the outstanding crew of the Savenaca who I know have been training extremely hard over the past months in preparation for this day.
I know you will continue to live up to the motto of RFNS Kula: “Semper Primus” – Always First.
Fair winds and following seas to you all.
Bula Vinaka. Thank you.