Minister of Defence Industry the Hon Pat Conroy, MP

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The Hon Pat Conroy MP

Minister for Defence Industry

Minister for International Development and the Pacific

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(02) 6277 7840

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8 March 2024

I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land upon which we meet, the Whadjuk Noongar people and I pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging.

And as the Minister for Defence Industry, 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.

Ni sa bula vinaka Prime Minister, and to all our other guests from Fiji. The honourable Sitiveni Rabuka Prime Minster of the Republic of Fiji, Commodore Humphrey Tawake, Deputy Commander Of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces and Chiefs of the Republic of Fiji Navy.

I also acknowledge their Excellency’s, the Fijian High Commissioner to Australia, the Australian High Commissioner to Fiji and I also acknowledge the Fijian Permanent Secretaries to the Prime Minister's Office and Foreign Affairs.

To my State colleague, the Honourable Minister for Police and importantly Defence Industry, Paul Papalia, The Federal Member for Fremantle, Josh Wilson, to the Member for Rockingham, Magenta Marshall. To the Chief of Navy Vice-Admiral Mark Hammond, members of the Australian Defence Force, importantly the Captain and crew of the RFNS Puamau, friends, all.

Today is an important day for Fiji and for Australia. We come together to celebrate the handover of RFNS Puamau. This ceremony here marks a significant step forward in our Pacific Partnership as this vessel, designed and constructed by Austal Australia, formally comes under the control of the Republic of Fiji Navy to protect and patrol the waters of the Fijian archipelago.

And this boat is a fitting memorial to the service and sacrifice of Able Seaman Timo Puamau killed in action aboard HMNZ Leander in the Battle of Kolombangara during the Second World War and Australia and Fiji stand together today to honour his memory and all those who lost their lives in the war in the Pacific.

And to you, Prime Minister Rabuka, what struck me very deeply is whenever we've engaged, you've talked about our shared history in the Pacific, and I've always been so important to remind us, for example, of the Victoria Cross won by a proud Fijian fighting during World War Two and Guadalcanal and the contribution of the Fijian military, not just to that struggle, but to peacekeeping around the world today and every day.

Next month, this patrol boat will join RFNS Savenaca at their home port in Suva, at the Stanley Brown Wharf and these next generation vessels build on the enduring legacy of the Pacific Patrol by program. They will enable Fiji to continue to play a leading role in safeguarding maritime security in our region. 

2023 was a significant year for the Republic of Fiji Navy, with 266 sea going days and 158 boarding’s in cooperation with the Ministry of Fisheries and Fiji Revenue Customs Service. And these actions play a vital deterrent and play a key role in protecting the sustainability of the Pacific.

They have this patrol boat, the current one and the new one have been an essential element of this steady and vigilant presence at sea and is our hope that the patrol boats behind me will play an equally important role in supporting the Republic of Fiji Navy.

Today's handover ceremony marks another chapter in our Defence relationship, which is going from strength to strength. On the water Guardian Class Patrol Boats support the Republic of Fiji Navy, and on land in Army our partnership to construct the new Maritime Essential Services Centre is tracking towards the completion of the year. It will be home of the Republic of Fiji Navy Headquarters, along with the Rescue Coordination Centre, Suva Radio Coastal Radio station and the Fiji Hydrographic offices.

These partnerships exemplify the trust and deep understanding between our nations as we work towards a safer Pacific and was proud to be part of a handover ceremony with Prime Minister Rabuka last year in Brisbane for the Bush Masters, that not only will protect Fijian military personnel, they’ll allow them to help protect people throughout the world in their peacekeeping efforts.

Prime Minister Rabuka during your last official visit to Australia, you and Prime Minster Albanese signed a renewed and elevated Vuvale Partnership. The word vuvale embraces the respect and reciprocity that characterises the relationship between Australia and Fiji. It means that when one of our nations faces a crisis, we do not face it alone, we're always there for each other in times of greatest need. Australia will be forever grateful to the Bula Force that responded to the devastating Black Summer bushfires and the people of my home state, New South Wales will never forget seeing Fijian military engineers working shoulder to shoulder with Australian personnel helping communities to recover from flooding. It was vuvale in practice and we approach the handover of Puamau in the same spirit.

So too the patrol boats Commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Colati and crew we wish to fair winds and following seas as you sail RFNS Puamau home to Suva. And as you put the vessel to its best use in patrolling and protecting the waters off Fiji, vinaka and thank you.

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