Tongan Prime Minister's First Official visit to Australia

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23 August, 2011. The Tongan Prime Minister, Lord Tu'ivakano, returned home yesterday after a successful two week visit to Australia, during which he met his counterpart the Australian Prime Minister, Honourable Julia Gillard and members of her government.

Upon his arrival on Sunday 14th August Lord Tu'ivakano attended a church service at the Pulela'a Free Wesleyan Church in Sydney followed by a luncheon hosted by the congregation.

Later that evening, the Prime Minister was hosted to a dinner by the President of the World Bank, Mr Robert Zoellick. During the dinner Mr Zoellick praised the forward looking approach that the Tonga Government has adopted towards greater accountability and transparency.

The following day, the Prime Minister met with Mr Zoellick and senior members of the World Bank at their Sydney office. The World Bank has pledged budgetary support of USD 5 million to Tonga for the current financial year, as well as Mr Zoellick personally assuring Lord Tu'ivakano that he would write directly to the UAE Government, supporting the cross border relationship being a part of the World Bank's initiatives of supporting the global development of renewable energy and energy efficiency partnership between the UAE and Tonga.

Mr Zoellick was further impressed with the proposed implementation of a solar power energy station in Tonga by Meridian Energy, funded by the New Zealand government, and further pledged to provide grant assistance of approximately Euro 4.5 million towards the project. The grant assistance will ensure that Tonga achieves its target of reducing fossil fuel-generated electricity, including the high tariffs born by consumers, by 50% by the end of 2012.

On Tuesday August 16th, Lord Tu'ivakano participated in a talkback radio show hosted by a Tongan Community Radio Station in Sydney. This was the first time for a Tongan Prime Minister to address the Tongan Community in Sydney on the radio and was accepted by acclamation, with the number of people acknowledging their appreciation for such a kind and honourable gesture by the Prime Minister and was a historical moment for all Tongans in Australia.

The Prime Minister was interviewed by the Sydney Morning Herald which has been published widely in Australia and the internet attracting further publicity and interest in Tonga from the global community.
On Wednesday August 17th, the Prime Minister met with the President of the Asian Development Bank, Mr. Kuroda and senior members of the ADB at their Sydney office. Lord Tu'ivakano acknowledged and thanked President Kuroda for the road development programme in Tonga supported by the ADB through grant assistance. Lord Tu'ivakano also highlighted a series of historical developments in Tonga that has been supported with assistance from the ADB, especially in infrastructure development.

In reply, President Kuroda, emphasized further assistance towards technical support and infrastructure which the ADB is very much willing to assist Tonga with. Of importance, President Kuroda highlighted the need for better and improved infrastructure to support the tourism industry in Tonga. The President touched on the tourism model in the Maldives and stressed the need for a structured and concrete action plan. A similar action plan, would very much reflect on the same principles adopted under the Tonga Energy Road Map or TERM, and suggested that a similar exercise to be known as the Tonga Tourism Road Map be implemented to lay out the way forward towards tourism development in Tonga.

Lord Tu'ivakano was very much impressed with such a suggestion, and as such, has made initial plans for the implementation of such a program in the very near future in Tonga. The bilateral meeting with President Kuroda concluded on a positive note with a view of a better and improved structuring of Tonga's development plan with special emphasis on infrastructure development to supporting the tourism industry in Tonga.

The Prime Minister, Lord Tu'ivakano then traveled to Canberra to meet with the Australian Prime Minister, Honourable Julia Gillard, on Thursday August 18th. Prime Minister Gillard welcomed the Tongan Prime Minister and to Parliament House, and congratulated Lord Tu'ivakano as the first elected Prime Minister of Tonga under the new political system, in which the Australian Government was instrumental in providing grant assistance for its progress and implementation.

Both Prime Ministers highlighted the assistance which the Australian Government has provided to date for Tonga especially in the fields of education, technical and vocational training. Of special significance, Prime Minister Gillard was interested to learn of the current reform process in the Tonga Government which AusAID would be willing to be of further assistance. Also of significance was the support towards continuing the Seasonal Fruit Pickers Scheme where about 800 fruit pickers from Tonga would benefit over the next two years. There were concerns for its improvement and to remedy the problems of absconders.

Despite the challenges both Prime Ministers agreed that the exercise was of immense benefit to both the people of Tonga and Australia and that the opportunity for its continuation would be given serious consideration once the current scheme concludes in late 2012. Prime Minister Gillard wished Lord Tu'ivakano the very best in his endeavours towards building a united Tonga under the new political system, noting that the global community was eager to learn of its outcome to date. She also invited Lord Tu'ivakano to attend the Question and Answer session of Parliament so that he could learn firsthand about the procedures adopted by the Australian Parliament.

The Prime Minister spent the afternoon observing the Question and Answer in Parliament, in which the Speaker of the House, duly acknowledged his presence and was marked with an applause and ovation by the House in recognition of the first democratically elected Prime Minister of Tonga.

The Prime Minister then met with the Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Honourable Richard Marles, where they were able to discuss in detail how to improve on the Seasonal Workers Scheme of Tongan fruit pickers to Australia. Hon. Marles also initiated discussions on the proposed establishment of a solar power station in Tonga by Meridian Energy and the positive impact it would have on the general public. Hon. Marles further stressed his willingness for Australia to provide similar support in energy efficiency as well as tourism development for Tonga.

The Prime Minister concludes his first official visit to Australia with distinction having met the key players in the Australian Government and successful bilateral meetings with the Presidents of two of the major financial institutions in the world, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

END.

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Issued by: Prime Minister's Office, P.O. Box 62, Nuku'alofa, Tonga.

Telephone: (676) 24 644 Fax: (676) 23 888 Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

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