By Second Secretary Curtis Tuihalangingie, High Commission of the Kingdom of Tonga in the Commonwealth of Australia.
To mark the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations with the Commonwealth of Australia,
Her Royal Highness Princess Angelika Lātūfuipeka Tuku’aho, High Commissioner of the Kingdom of Tonga in Australia and His Excellency General The Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Retd), Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia exchanged congratulatory messages on Saturday, 3 December 2020 celebrating the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
The event started with a video message of the Governor-General on behalf of the Government and the People of Australia to His Majesty King Tupou VI, the Government and the People of Tonga, conveying his warmest wishes on the occasion of the 50th years of formal Australian and Tongan ties.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, safety measures were taken to ensure this milestone occasion was commemorated with a restricted number of guests from the Australian Government, the Diplomatic Corps, the Tongan Community as well as the private sector.
Interventions from both countries highlighted the enduring partnership founded on shared democratic values, their commitment to a secure, stable and sovereign Pacific and a shared Pacific culture.
Tonga’s relations with Australia go back to the beginning of the 19th century with the arrival of explorers, whalers, traders and Australian missionaries. Tonga participated alongside Australia and New Zealand during both World Wars, which is commemorated each year at ANZAC Day.
In 1980, Australia opened its High Commission in Nuku’alofa; 28 years later, the opening of Tonga’s High Commission in Canberra in 2008 further enhanced the need of both countries to strengthen their ties through various partnership programmes; education, sports, health, defence, maritime security, climate change, economics and trade.
Senator The Honorable Marise Payne, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Australia noted that today, there are more than 35,000 people of Tongan descent living in Australia, contributing to the country’s economy, the community, church, sport and in many other aspects of Australian life.
Recently, Tonga received its second Guardian class Patrol boat from Australia, a result of long defence cooperation towards shared goals for sovereignty, security and prosperity in the Pacific.
HRH Princess Angelika LātūfuipekaTuku’aho acknowledged the ties between Australia and Tonga have developed strongly in the last couple of decades: “Both Australia and Tonga have made big progress in developing our relations, not only in diplomatic affairs, defence cooperation and capacity building among others, but also in terms of playing a vital role in each other’s economy”.
Of particular interest is Australia’s Pacific Seasonal Worker Programme, which became fully operational in 2012. The hugely successful Seasonal Worker Scheme for Pacific Islands, as read in a new report by the World Bank Maximizing the Development Impacts from Temporary Migration: Recommendations for Australia’s Seasonal Worker Programme , provides encouraging recommendations to the Australian Government in areas to grow the benefits of the programme.
Tonga was one of the first Pacific Island States to take part in this Seasonal Worker Programme, which now sees thousands of Tongans travelling each year to work in Australian farms. For the year 2019-2020, the seasonal workers brought home A$36M, on average 5.6 times the local income according to the World Bank report.
With harsher restrictions being imposed, and the fruit industry in Australia in danger of collapsing, Australian farmers and the Tonga High Commission arranged the secure flights of 300 seasonal workers from Nuku’alofa to Brisbane and Tasmania.
Her Royal Highness The High Commissioner adds; “We have made the most of the Seasonal Worker Programme since its inception. This is so important to us, it is a national priority; especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have to keep our economies afloat. Our workers return home satisfied with hard-earned wages, at the same time we are satisfied in knowing Tonga contributes strongly to the economy of a partner and major power in the region. It’s a testament to the excellent relations Tonga and Australia have”.
For further information
Reception hosted in Canberra to celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uVS-p9-8Kz8
High Commission of the Kingdom of Tonga in the Commonwealth of Australia, non-resident Embassy to the Kingdom of Thailand, the State of Brunei Darussalam: http://www.tongahighcom.com.au
About the Kingdom of Tonga: https://www.dfat.gov.au/geo/tonga/Pages/tonga