Today I arrived in the Kingdom of Tonga in advance of the inaugural South Pacific Defence Ministers’ Meeting on Thursday 2 May.
My visit to Tonga is the first by an Australian Minister for Defence.
I had an audience with His Majesty King Tupou VI and held discussions with Tonga’s Prime Minister, Lord Tu’ivakano, who is also the Minister for Defence and for Foreign Affairs.
The Parliamentary Secretary for Defence, Senator David Feeney, accompanied me during the audience with King Tupou VI. We were joined by Australia’s Chief of the Defence Force, General David Hurley, during our meeting with Lord Tu’ivakano.
During our audience with King Tupou VI, Senator Feeney and I relayed Australia’s appreciation for Tonga’s strong contributions to regional and global security operations, including in Solomon Islands and Afghanistan.
We also outlined Australia’s commitment to continuing to assist the development of Tonga’s Defence forces.
Australia’s bilateral Defence relationship with Tonga has grown in recent years. In recognition of this, Australia established a dedicated Defence Adviser in Nuku’alofa last year.
During the audience with King Tupou VI and our meeting with Lord Tu’ivakano, I was pleased to confirm further initiatives to support the development of the Tonga Defence Services (TDS).
I confirmed that Australia would support the reinvigoration of Tonga’s dedicated sealift capability through the provision of a new Landing Craft.
This Landing Craft will enable Tonga to transfer stores, people, and equipment to its outer islands, and will be essential in helping the TDS provide rapid relief in the event of natural disasters.
The Landing Craft will be delivered to Tonga by the middle of next year.
I also outlined the defence assistance projects that Australia will provide to Tonga over the coming 12 months.
This includes a range of infrastructure development, such as the continued refurbishment of the TDS Naval Base at Masefield, and the reconstruction of TDS Headquarters facilities on the islands of Ha’apai and Vava'u.
These facilities play an important role in coordinating local relief activities in the event of natural disasters. Ha’apai was close to the epicentre of the 2006 Tongan earthquake.
I also reaffirmed Australia’s continued comprehensive support to Tonga’s maritime security through the Pacific Patrol Boat Program.
The Tongan Navy’s three patrol boats will receive ongoing advisory, training, maintenance, and operational support from Australia.
I confirmed that Australia will maintain its extensive program of training and education support, including through continued officer training at the Australian Defence College and Australian Defence Force Academy, scholarships, single-service courses, and joint training.
I took the opportunity to express my appreciation to both King Tupou VI and Lord Tu’ivakano for Tonga’s leadership in coordinating and hosting tomorrow’s inaugural South Pacific Defence Ministers’ Meeting.
Minister Smith’s office: Andrew Porter (02) 6277 7800 or 0419 474 392
Defence Media Operations (02) 6127 1999