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Reception recognising people-to-people links between Australia and Tonga

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  • Your Royal Highness, Crown Prince Tupouto’a ‘Ulukalala
  • and Your Royal Highness Crown Princess Sinatakala Tuku’aho
  • Lord Speaker of Parliament
  • Distinguished colleagues

I am delighted to be visiting Tonga, with Linda, for the first time in many years.

It was an honour to meet earlier today with His Majesty King Tupou VI, Prime Minister Hu’akavameiliku  and honourable members of the Cabinet.

It was important to Linda and me that we meet you today — to recognise what you do and celebrate the enduring ties between our two nations.

Our people-to-people links were never more clear or valuable as during our joint response to the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcanic eruption and tsunami early last year.

Australia was proud to stand alongside Tonga during the disaster response and we continue to stand with you during the recovery.

I recognise that it was a challenging time for each of you, noting that you also faced the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I commend the efforts of the Tongan Government and the resilience of the Tongan people.

I also want to commend Her Royal Highness Princess High Commissioner Angelika Tuku’aho’s [An-gel-ee-ka Too-koo-ah-ho] work with local communities in Australia to collect donations for Tonga, including the NRL’s Tonga Relief Appeal and through local schools and clubs.

Australia and Tonga have long shared a deep partnership, covering economic development, health, climate change, defence, policing and infrastructure.

This year, we celebrate 53 years of diplomatic relations.

But the true strength of our partnership is our people, our shared values and our longstanding ties.

We share decades of close cooperation between the Australian Defence Force and His Majesty’s Armed Forces, working together to strengthen our region. We served together in RAMSI, Afghanistan and Iraq. I also acknowledge Tongan soldiers who served with the Anzacs.

More than 43,000 people in Australia identify as having Tongan heritage. Many Australians live and working in Tonga.

The Tongan community in Australia has made a significant contribution to our multicultural society including in academia and the arts.

I understand that the tapa mat, gifted by Tonga to Australia for the opening of the Opera House by the late Queen Elizabeth II in 1973, was unfurled in Sydney earlier this month and will be digitised for display in the Australia Museum’s new Pasifika Gallery opening in October.

The tapa mat, which is 29 metres by 15 metres wide, is one of the largest in the world and testament to our historic connections.

Our academic and cultural exchanges have now resumed post-volcanic disaster and post-COVID-19.

I am delighted to learn that the Australian Volunteers Program recommenced in December last year, as well as the New Colombo Plan earlier this month.

Indeed, I was delighted to host His Royal Highness, as well as Lord Speaker Fakafanua [Fah-kah-fah-nu-ah] and distinguished members of the Prime Minister’s Office and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at Admiralty House as part of the Canberra Fellowships Program in February.

It was an honour to host His Royal Highness in Australia for this visit, who lived in Canberra for almost six years while studying at ANU and the Defence College.

The visit presented an opportunity to discuss the partnership between our two nations and build understanding of our shared vision for the Pacific family.

This builds on the great work of our many Australia Awards recipients, who are sharing knowledge across Australia and Tonga for the betterment of both nations.

Shortly, Linda and I will visit Tupou College, which has a longstanding exchange program with Newington College in Sydney.

I recognise Tonga’s partnership in the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility Scheme, with more than 6,000 Tongans in Australia currently, supporting both our economies. For Tongan participants when they return, the skills gained help support Tonga’s economic recovery and future growth.

And, of course, we also share a passion for sports. We are proud to partner with Tonga to deliver outcomes for rugby league, netball, football, rugby union and table tennis.

Congratulations to the Tonga Talas on qualifying for the Netball World Cup for the first time, and the forthcoming match between Australia A and Ikale Tahi next month.

All of these examples — across defence, education, culture and sport — go to my most important point.

Australia and Tonga are there for each other, we know each other, and we care for each other.

That relationship is to be treasured and is worth nurturing.

Again, it is a great delight for Linda and me to be with you all today and to celebrate what you do for our two nations.

We look forward to spending time with you.

Malo ‘aupito. [Thank you very much].



[1] Blacktown Leisure Centre

[2] The relationship between Newington and Tupou began in the mid-1800s when Newington’s first Headmaster, Rev Dr James Egan Moulton, left Australia for Tonga as a schoolmaster missionary to establish Tupou College. A longstanding exchange program exists between the schools.