HMAS Gascoyne has farewelled Tonga and Tuvalu after a month-long deployment to the south-west Pacific region as part of Australia’s renewed ‘Pacific step-up’ program.
More than 60 Australian Defence Force personnel travelled to the island nations between 8 April and 4 May 2019, conducting activities to support peace, security and the sovereignty, of these countries.
Commander of Task Group 637.1, Lieutenant Colonel Will Harvey said the visits built on recent regional engagement activities and decades of co-operation between Australia and Pacific Island nations.
"The visits to Tonga and Tuvalu strengthen our links with regional security forces in the short term and reinforce our relationships in the long term, through providing opportunities to explore options for future co-operation," LTCOL Harvey said.
During the port visits, Navy clearance divers were able to demonstrate their skills and specialist equipment, offering interactive presentations, ranging from ship’s hull searches to a simulated rescue of an unconscious diver.
"We were particularly honoured to participate in Anzac Day commemorations in Tonga that were attended by His Majesty, King Tupou VI and Her Majesty, Queen Nanasipau’u. The commemorations were an important reminder of the long and meaningful shared history between the Australian and Tongan military forces," LTCOL Harvey added.
Musicians from the Australian Army Band strengthened links to local communities through providing music to patients and staff at hospitals, and students at schools across Tonga and Tuvalu.
This latest phase in the Pacific 'step-up' engagement program announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison at that APEC CEO summit in late-2018, "I have already made it clear as Prime Minister that Australia is stepping up. We will step up as part of our ‘step-up’ initiative in Pacific. We are taking and will take our engagement in the Pacific to a new level."
The Prime Minister identified two interconnected key areas for Australian focus, namely:
- Enhanced regional economic collaboration and integration through investment in key infrastructure and economic drivers, like communications networks; and
- Regional strategic partnerships and alliances to promote transparent dialogue and amicable strategic relations.
As part of Australia stepping up it’s commitment and presence in the Pacific, the government announced a $2 billion Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific, which was created with the view of supporting partners within the Pacific. However, Vanuatu is concerned about their lack of inclusion in the PNG-Solomon Islands underwater cable initiative.