JULIE BISHOP: Minister, distinguished guests, community members, all. With my colleague, Senator Fierravanti-Wells and Australia’s High Commissioner Andy Ford, we are delighted to be here today, and we thank you for your very warm welcome.

Australia and Tonga are close friends. Our relationship goes back many years and we support each other in times of need but also it’s a friendship that will endure long-term.

We were deeply concerned to hear about the impact of Tropical Cyclone Gita. The Australian people wanted us to respond as quickly as we could to support those who had been affected by this significant cyclone. We were able to release some prepositioned humanitarian supplies but we also sent members of our Defence Force in a transport plane, a C17, and personnel and supplies. One of the first priorities was to restore power because that had an impact on the water supply as well. I am pleased that we were able to provide five generators to re-establish the electricity supply more quickly than would otherwise have been the case.

We also sent over 20 technicians, linesmen, who were able to work hard with the local communities to restore power. I know that that made a significant difference in the lives of many.

We were also able to provide some cash assistance to particularly elderly people and people with disabilities who were vulnerable to the impact of this cyclone.

All up our initial response package was around $3.5million.

Today we met with the Prime Minister and members of the Cabinet, and we talked about the reconstruction effort that will be required to rebuild those communities that have been devastated by this cyclone.

I promised the Prime Minister that Australia would increase our assistance by a further $10.5 million, bringing to a total of $14 million our contribution to your recovery effort.

The priorities of the Government are of course paramount and whether it be rebuilding schools and ensuring that health services continue to flow, or whether it be rebuilding livelihoods, we want to ensure we can continue to partner with the Tongan Government.

Of course, at a national level, His Majesty’s Armed Forces, the police force and the Government were able to work with NGOs and volunteers but it is what happens on the ground at the local level that really impacts on peoples’ lives.

I want to thank every community organisation, every volunteer, every person who gave their energy and efforts to helping out those in need for the amazing recovery work that has been undertaken.

While it won’t be life as normal for some time yet, with your support, and assistance, and energy, and love for your people, Tonga will be back to where it was - a vibrant, dynamic, exciting Pacific nation. Australia stands with you to ensure that the people of Tonga receive the support they deserve.

We are looking forward to seeing more of the important projects where we partner with Tonga, and I am also looking forward very much to speaking with each of the NGOs and community organisations represented here today who have done so much in response to this natural disaster.

May the friendship of the people of Tonga and the people of Australia continue forevermore.

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