The HON MATT KEOGH MP, MINISTER FOR VETERANS' AFFAIRS: I begin by acknowledging the traditional Custodians of the land on which we meet for this ceremony today, the Whadjuk people of the Noongar nation of South-Western Australia and pay my respects to their elders past and present.
I also pay my respects to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women who have served, and continue to serve, our nation with great distinction.
I welcome our distinguished guests from the Cook Islands:
First and foremost, Prime Minister Mark Brown…
The Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration, Tepaeru Herrmann…
The Secretary of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Management, Garth Henderson…
And Police Commissioner, James Keenan.
I also want to acknowledge representatives from the Australian Department of Defence and Australian Defence Force:
Rear Admiral Wendy Malcolm, Head of Maritime Systems…
Brigadier Nerolie McDonald, Director General for Pacific and Timor Leste…
And Colonel Neil Peake, Defence Adviser to New Zealand, Cook Islands and Chile.
Finally, can I welcome our industry partners from Australian shipbuilder, Austal, especially my friend Chief Executive Officer, Paddy Gregg.
Kia Orana Koutou Katoatoa.
Hello ladies and gentlemen. Welcome all.
Today is an important day.
On behalf of Australia, it is my honour to officially hand over a Guardian class patrol boat to our Pacific neighbour and friend, the Cook Islands.
This handover speaks to the deep and abiding friendship between our two nations.
And it demonstrates our shared commitment to a free and open Pacific region.
Today, we confront common threats to our collective security:
Of these, first and foremost, is climate change, the existential threat to our region.
We also confront Illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing…
Narcotics trafficking, people smuggling and transnational crime…
And the continuing impacts of COVID-19.
As a signatory to the Boe Declaration on Regional Security – and a strong supporter of the Framework for Pacific Regionalism – Australia believes that close and collaborative action is essential if we are to effectively counter our shared security challenges.
This Guardian class patrol boat will replace the Pacific class patrol boat Te Kukupa.
That vessel was gifted by Australia to the Cook Islands 33 years ago – under the leadership of Prime Minister Bob Hawke – as part of the Defence Cooperation Program.
I understand it served the Cook Islands well, as your sailors navigated your vast exclusive economic zone.
Vitally, they successfully delivered COVID-19 vaccines to remote islands in your north when your people needed them the most.
The crew of the Te Kukupa can be proud of their exemplary service to the people of the Cook Islands and the Pacific region.
That service is a wonderful legacy to Te Kukupa II.
The Guardian class are larger and faster ships, supporting more effective humanitarian and disaster relief operations…
They have a greater range and operational capability, enabling longer patrols…
They can carry more crew, with better accommodation …
And they are equipped with advanced satellite communications systems.
I have received many reports about the effectiveness of the Guardian Class in the Pacific.
For example, Tonga’s Armed Forces used their vessel to support rescue and evacuation operations in the wake of the devastating volcanic eruption and tsunami that affected our Pacific friend in January.
The enhanced capability of this boat will help protect the incredible marine biodiversity of Cook Islands waters – already vulnerable to climate change – from the damage inflicted by illegal fishers.
Australia accepts our responsibility to work in partnership with our Pacific family to combat climate change and protect the oceanscape for future generations.
I’m also proud to announce today, that Australia will fund upgrades to the Cook Islands’ Maritime Surveillance Centre in Rarotonga.
This investment of more than $1.6 million will help upgrade the centre’s electronic equipment and amenities, and better supporting the crew and operational activities of your new Guardian class patrol boat.
With today’s handover to the Cook Islands, Australia is proud to have now delivered fifteen Guardian Class vessels to our partners across the Pacific and Timor Leste.
The friendship between the people of Australia and the Cook Islands is as strong as the steel in this ship.
We share a commitment to safeguard our Blue Pacific home and take real action on climate change.
We share a determination to counter maritime threats.
And we share a desire to work together to protect our national sovereignty and promote the prosperity of the people who call our region home.
To the crew – I hope you have enjoyed your time training in the Indian Ocean off Perth, familiarising yourselves with the new vessel and its capabilities.
I wish the Te Kekupa II Fair Winds and Following Seas.
May this vessel serve the Cook Islands well.