Press conference, Tuvalu

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australia-Tuvalu relationship; Falepili Union.

Penny Wong, Foreign Minister: Thank you very much Talofa. It's wonderful to be back here in Tuvalu, and this visit, accompanied by Senator Birmingham, demonstrates Australia's unwavering commitment, bipartisan commitment to your beautiful country. I thank the Prime Minister for both being here with us, for his warm hospitality, his generous words and his wisdom in the leadership of your country.

Together we are taking forward Australia and Tuvalu's commitment to each other under the Falepili Union, and we have just signed a joint statement and last night issued an explanatory memorandum which made out what this relationship means, what this Union means.

As I said to the people of Tuvalu, to the Prime Minister, to the Cabinet last night and today, we are making commitments as Australia in response to Tuvalu's requests that we have made for no other country previously. Most principally, a very clear security guarantee as well as a mobility pathway and the recognition of the continuation of sovereignty in the face of sea level rise.

This agreement that we have worked on together is about Tuvalu's sovereignty. It is about safeguarding our collective future, and it is about supporting the people of Tuvalu to stay and thrive here on islands, or if they choose, if they choose, to live, work and study in Australia, and the Falepili Union is underpinned by the values of Falepili, a commitment to care for, share with and protect each other.

I welcome Tuvalu's announcement around consultation and education in relation to Falepili, and we are very pleased to participate in that.

But of course our partnership is more than the pieces of paper. It is about real changes, real partnership to face the challenges that Tuvalu faces. So last night, I was pleased to announce an additional funding of the Tuvalu Coastal Adaptation Project, which you can see behind us, and Australia has now announced support also for Stage 3, bringing our total support to $38 million.

This is about helping to safeguard the future of Tuvaluans. We know Tuvalu didn't cause the climate crisis, but you are on the front lines of its devastating impact.

We are also providing $50 million to support Tuvalu to secure the first under‑sea telecommunications cable to improve connectivity, this is an enabler of development and economic growth.

At the Prime Minister and the Cabinet's request we are also providing $10 million in budget support over two years to support the delivery of critical services, and we are enhancing our disaster response and security cooperation through support for a new National Security Coordination Centre worth around $15 million.

What this means is since Falepili has been announced we have made announcements totalling some $110 million.

What this means is that since the last budget and next week's budget in Australia is a four‑fold increase in development assistance to Tuvalu.

We will also fast track the replacement of the Guardian‑class patrol boat. We know how important this is, not just to maritime security but to your economic security. The ocean, fish stocks these are enablers of your economic resilience.

When I went to the UN for the very first time as Australia’s Foreign Minister I spoke about what it means to be part of the Pacific family, and I said this - Australia's a part of the Pacific family, families are about care, love and forgiveness, but they are also about duty, loyalty, looking out for each other and listening to each other.

I said that the Australian people want to be better, more involved and more helpful members of the Pacific family. We know we are counting on each other to remain safe, to ensure our region remains safe and secure. We are committed to supporting your leadership and your efforts as a Prime Minister to protect the future of Tuvalu's people, culture and identity. Thank you so much for having us.

Feleti Teo, Tuvalu Prime Minister: Thank you, Minister Penny Wong, Australian Foreign Minister. Thank you also for bringing Senator Simon Birmingham. I think the presence of Australian political parties from Australia does demonstrate your whole‑of‑government commitment and whole of country commitment to this landmark and milestone Treaty that we signed last year.

Last night we witnessed the signing of the Explanatory Memorandum. As you explained, Minister Wong, the Explanatory Memorandum is playing a very critical role in terms of explaining to your public and the Tuvalu public, our joint understanding of what the Treaty is, what it entails, and opportunities that it will present to the people of Tuvalu.

I just want to reiterate a couple of key points on the treaty. This treaty came about because Tuvalu Government requested Australia, not the other way around, as some critics of the treaty attempt to misinform the public. It was entirely an initiative of the Tuvalu Government.

I was fortunate enough to be one of the many Tuvaluans that were engaged by the previous administration to build the groundwork of the Treaty. So at that time I didn't quite expect that I would be standing here as the Prime Minister of Tuvalu witnessing the signature of the Explanatory Memorandum.

This explanatory memorandum we witnessed and signed last night, Minister Wong and Minister Paulson, will be critical in terms of our respective consultations. As I've committed to the Parliament and to the people of Tuvalu that before we formally ratify the treaty that we will undertake public consultation and public education and socialisation of the Treaty itself so that people fully understand the treaty before we formally commence ratification.

Our ratification processes are not as elaborate and complex as yours, but it still needs to undertake consultation. As I listened to you during our formal dialogue, this treaty is quite significant, the security guarantee that the treaty provides is something that is quite unique.

As I mentioned, for the first time under this Falepili Union treaty there will be one country, Australia, that will be legally obligated to come to the aid of Tuvalu and provide security guarantee. As we speak right now, although there are regional frameworks that provide the political platform for such assistance, there is no one country that is constitutionally or legally obligated to come to the aid of Tuvalu.

So the significance of this union is quite remarkable. I hope that through the public consultations that my government will undertake, I hope to make it quite clear as to what this treaty entails.

The other thing that I also wish to make clear is that the whole migration pathway that the treaty provides is entirely voluntary, there is no compulsion of any Tuvaluan to go through this migration pathway. It's for those that do opt and decide for whatever reason and that they are fortunate to be selected. There is an orderly way to migrate to Australia, and all the assistance that the Australian Government has committed to facilitate the migration of Tuvaluans to Australia are very much appreciated.

So I am very grateful as the Prime Minister and I'd like to thank you for your visit, and the significance of two major political parties in Australia visiting. It demonstrates a long‑term commitment of Australia, and this is of course not a one‑way relationship, it's a two‑way relationship, and as I mentioned this morning, my government has committed to set up the Tuvaluan High Commission in Australia, hopefully that will further strengthen and support our relationship and the Falepili Union. Thank you once again.

Simon Birmingham, Shadow Foreign Minister: Thank you very much, Prime Minister, Minister. It really is a pleasure to have been here in Tuvalu these last couple of days, and to have the opportunity to engage right across the Tuvalu Government and of course with many other leaders and people in Tuvalu.

Tuvalu is a proud, independent, democratic and sovereign nation with a rich history and a strong culture. I'm pleased to be here as an Australian representative from a proud, independent, democratic, sovereign nation also with strong also with proud cultures, traditions, and history in our nation.

And it's that shared independence, the shared democratic values and the sovereignty capabilities of our nations that Falepili Union and our long‑standing partnership seeks to really underpin and secure.

I'm struck by how long the partnership between Australia and Tuvalu is, but also by the great strides we have made in recent years. We were proud to be previously in government and to open Australia's first High Commission in Tuvalu, and we welcome reciprocity of your Government extending that to Tuvalu having a High Commission in Australia, and stepping up investment in the Pacific, we are thrilled to see that continue.

I welcome the Falepili Union and the commitments made by Minister Wong on behalf of the current Australian Government to provide for ongoing and additional critical support capability here in Tuvalu, big enabling projects that will ensure that in terms of land security, in terms of communication connectivity, in terms of security coordination, that there are many steps taken to help us secure those democratic values that sovereignty, and ultimately the culture of Tuvalu for the long‑term.

Australia is, like all nations, at its strongest when we can speak with one voice, and through this bipartisan initiative we are demonstrating our commitment as one to the Pacific Island family of nations and Tuvalu in particular. I thank very much the Government for the opportunity to continue the history of these bipartisan initiatives. Thank you very much.

Journalist: For Penny Wong. What are your primary steps or timeline for the implementation of the Falepili Union agreement?

Foreign Minister: Well, as I understand the Prime Minister has outlined and the Cabinet have outlined your process of consultation and engagement to ensure that the people of Tuvalu will understand very clearly the choices that the Falepili enables, and on that being finalised, the Prime Minister said it has a ratification process, which he describes as simpler than the one we have. We certainly will proceed with a process in Australia for ratification, but obviously we're conscious of this process of consultation.

Journalist: What key message do you have for the residents of Tuvalu following the signing of this agreement?

Foreign Minister: My first message is one of gratitude for being so warmly welcomed here, and I appreciate it, but my message is we have listened to what the people and Government of Tuvalu have said. We respect your sovereignty, your independence, your culture, and we want to work with you in the spirit of Falepili, not just now but for the next generation.

Thank you very much.

Media enquiries

  • Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555