4 October 2023
I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land, the Whadjuk Noongar people, and pay my respects to their Elders, past and present.
As the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel, I also pay my respects to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women who have served our nation in the past and continue to do so today.
Thank you Matthew McGuire for the Acknowledgement of Country.
I’m proud to be part of a Government that will give all Australians the opportunity to vote in a referendum to recognise first nations Australians in our constitution very soon.
I warmly welcome the Honourable Win Bakri Daki MP, Papua New Guinea Minister for Defence, to my home state, Western Australia.
Rear Admiral Wendy Malcolm;
Chief Executive Officer of Austal, Paddy Gregg;
Australian Defence Force personnel;
Members of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is wonderful to be back here at HMAS Stirling as we take another step in strengthening the friendship and cooperation between Papua New Guinea and Australia.
Our nations are the closest of neighbours and the dearest of friends.
Today we celebrate the official handover of this Guardian-class Patrol Boat, NUSHIP Gilbert Toropo.
This vessel is the fourth in Papua New Guinea’s Guardian-class fleet, joining the Ted Diro, Rochus Lokinap and Francis Agwi already in service.
PNG’s Guardian-class Patrol Boats are already playing an important role defending the maritime security interests of the people of Papua New Guinea…
And the maritime security interests they share with the people of Australia.
We are both island nations.
We both have vast coastlines, which presents its own set of challenges.
We have communities who rely on the sea for food and work, tourism and trade.
And we share a vision of a stable, prosperous, and environmentally sustainable Pacific.
This vessel and its namesake, Major General Toropo CBE, who was the twelfth Commander of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force, tells the story of how our friendship has been built over the decades.
In 1993, the-then Captain Toropo served as an instructor, sharing his skills with trainees at the Royal Military College – Duntroon .
Three decades later, in this spirit of friendship, Australian Defence Force personnel have shared their expertise with sailors from the Papua New Guinea Defence Force, who will now crew this vessel.
This is the latest milestone in our relationship, which stretches back to sailors serving together in the Second World War, PNG personnel crewing Australian Navy Attack Class patrol boats in the 1970s, and PNG maritime officers serving on HMAS Adelaide in 2017.
As we celebrate 48 years since PNG’s independence - and look towards your golden jubilee - Australia will always look to strengthen our friendship, especially through cooperation on maritime security and peace in our region.
The Guardian-class fleet has already proved its worth to the people of Papua New Guinea.
These vessels have played an important role in curbing transnational crime and illegal fishing in the region.
And the need for this support is only going to continue, with growing maritime security threats in the Indo-Pacific.
Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is an ongoing threat to marine life - and to livelihoods.
I’m told in one typical coastal village, on any ordinary day it is estimated that about eight out of ten families eat a meal sourced from the sea.
Protecting fish stocks from those who would pillage them to extinction is not just about guarding sovereign waters…
It is about keeping food on the table and defending our increasingly fragile environment.
The Guardian-class fleet has a critical role to play here.
Recently the Francis Agwi detected and apprehended a large illegal fishing vessel in PNG waters.
At the request of the Papua New Guinean government, Gilbert Toropo will join the Rochus Lokinap as the second Guardian-class Patrol Boat in the PNG fleet to be armed through the Pacific Maritime Security Program.
This will help Papua New Guinea better defend its territorial waters, and protect the ocean we share.
There is a grand seagoing tradition of wishing a vessel ‘fair winds and following seas’.
While this doesn’t quite translate into Tok Pisan, I wish Lieutenant Nathan Tai Tombe and his crew lukautim yu yet na behinim wind I go bek lo ples belong yu
I know your crew will serve with distinction as you protect Papua New Guinea’s maritime security, and preserve the peace and prosperity of the region.