The ship was welcomed on 11 March 2019 with a guard of honour from the Vanuatu Mobile Force and the music of the Vanuatu Police Force Band. Traditional Futuna Tribesmen also performed a customary welcome and escorted the Commander Task Group 637, Commander Phillipa Hay and Commanding Officer HMAS Choules, Commander Scott Houlihan to a formal welcome ceremony.
"Our personnel conducted a comprehensive program of training and engagement specifically designed to support the needs of the Vanuatu Police Force and Vanuatu Mobile Force, along with the Police Maritime Wing," CMDR Hay said.
The Australian team was also busy engaging with the people of Vanuatu through community working groups, Australian Army Band concerts, women’s development programs, sporting events and key leadership engagements.
CMDR Houlihan said the Joint Task Force was honoured to participate in the commemoration ceremony for Tropical Cyclone Pam, which devastated many of the Vanuatu provinces in 2015.
"This week was an opportunity to pause and reflect on the devastating effects of Cyclone Pam and remember our combined efforts in its wake to assist our neighbours in their recovery," CMDR Houlihan said.
HMAS Choules tour of Australia's south Pacific island neighbours is part of the the government's 'Pacific Step Up' strategy, which incorporates a number of different focuses, ranging from economic and infrastructure development, combined with a renewed Australian strategic and defence commitment to the broader Pacific region, which were outlined by Prime Minister Scott Morrison as part of the 2018 APEC leadership conference in Port Moresby.
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.
"The program of training will be complemented by our sailors’ community outreach and padres’ church engagement," the PM said.
Defence will play a critical role in implementing the Pacific Step Up program through training, support and officer development, providing people-to-people connections and the introduction of specialised, large-hulled, multi-purpose amphibious ships to support increased engagement in the Pacific region.