Press conference – Rarotonga, Cook Islands
KAUSEA NATANO, PRIME MINISTER OF TUVALU: Thank you, Mr Prime Minister, the Honourable Anthony Albanese, and your Government for your tremendous work that has put in to finalise this first step of our Falepili Union.
My duty now, on behalf of the Government and people of Tuvalu, is to convey our gratefulness to you, Mr Prime Minister, your Government and your people. I wish to express my heartfelt appreciation for the unwavering commitment that our friends from Australia have demonstrated towards the Australia-Tuvalu Falepili Union. This partnership stands as a beacon of hope, signifying not just a milestone, but a giant leap forward in our joint mission to ensure regional stability, sustainability and prosperity. The dedication of Australia to supporting the people of Tuvalu goes beyond words and it has touched our hearts profoundly.
The Falepili Union represents a new, exciting chapter in our bilateral collaboration, one that promises to be transformative. Tuvalu initiated and submitted a request to your Government to establish the Australia-Tuvalu Falepili Union, following a considered process led by an eminent persons group. This special arrangement, the Australia-Tuval Falepili Union, is framed around the local concept of Falepili, which describes our Pacific and traditional values of good neighbourliness, care and mutual respect. It is within this Falepili concept, in the face of climate change and its unique geography and economy, that the Government of Tuvalu initiated and submitted a request to the Government of Australia for a more elevated bilateral partnership. This means that we would enter a Treaty that guide us to respect each other’s sovereignty, commit us to safeguard and support each other as we face the existence of threat of climate change and geostrategic challenges. To commit Australia to establish a special visa arrangement to allow Tuvaluans to work, study and live in Australia and, of course, other provisions.
This is the beginning of a longer process as we need further works to ensure that the Treaty serves its purposes. Of course, we will work together to ensure the special mobility pathway that does not cause brain drain, including through annual limits.
In conclusion, it is with great anticipation and hope, Mr Prime Minister, that I look forward to the remarkable achievements that this union will undoubtedly bring. Our cooperation is not merely about ink on paper. It is about building enduring bridges of friendship, solitarity and cooperation that will stand the test of time. The Falepili Union is a testament to the spirit of international partnership and together we shall write a story of progress, resilience and shared prosperity. I thank you, Mr Prime Minister.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER OF AUSTRALIA: Well, thank you so much, Prime Minister Natano. And thank you for your leadership in approaching Australia with this request. A request that has led to what is without doubt the most significant agreement between Australia and a Pacific island nation ever.
Quite clearly, this is a groundbreaking agreement and the Australia-Tuvalu Falepili Union will be regarded as a significant day in which Australia acknowledged that we are part of the Pacific family, that with that comes responsibility to act to a gracious request from our friends in Tuvalu and step up the relationship between our two nations. This comprises a bilateral Treaty between Tuvalu and Australia, as well as a commitment in a joint leaders’ statement to uplift our broader bilateral partnership.
Falepilii is a Tuvalian word for the traditional values of good neighbourliness, care and mutual respect, something that Australia wants with all of our neighbours. The Treaty covers three main areas of cooperation, climate change, human mobility and security. Australia commits to provide assistance to Tuvalu in response to a major natural disaster, to a health pandemic or to military aggression. To allow for effective operation of Australia’s security guarantee, both countries commit to mutually agree any partnership, arrangement or engagement with any other state or entity on security and defence related matters in Tuvalu and Australia will establish a dedicated intake of up to 280 people annually, known as a special mobility pathway, to allow people from Tuvalu to come to Australia to live, to work and to study. As part of the uplift in our broader bilateral relationship, Australia will support Tuvalu’s climate adaptation interests, including an additional $16.9 million for the Tuvalu Coastal adaptation project to expand the main island’s, Funafuti’s, land by around six per cent. The Treaty will enter into force following respective domestic processes and we will introduce action through our Treaties Committee, through our parliamentary processes. The Treaty is, as of today, a public document.
I want to pay tribute to the people who’ve assisted in negotiating this, particularly Minister Patrick Conroy for the role that he has played. Tuvalu is extremely vulnerable to the impact of climate change, especially rising sea levels, and is trying to preserve its culture, traditions and land. I believe that developed nations have a responsibility to provide assistance and that is precisely what we are doing through this Falepili Agreement we have signed here today.
Can I also say that it’s been an extremely successful meeting of the Pacific Island Forum. I’m very pleased to have the engagement with our friends from throughout the Pacific, including how we shape a peaceful, stable and secure Pacific region, how we act together on the challenge of climate change, but also taking up the opportunities that action presents. And we, of course, will continue to provide support, including, I’ve announced, $350 million in climate infrastructure for the region, including $75 million for a program for off grid and community scale renewable energy in remote and rural parts of the Pacific. I’ve also indicated to my colleagues, the Pacific leaders, that Australia will contribute to the new Pacific Resilience Facility, a Pacific built trust fund that will be established to invest in small scale climate and disaster resilient projects just for the Pacific, as well as make a contribution to the Green Climate Fund. It has been a successful meeting where we’ve had a real collegiate atmosphere today. And I thank the Cook Islands for hosting us, including Prime Minister Brown for his leadership in what has been a very successful meeting. We’re happy to take a couple of questions.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, would you consider doing a treaty like this with other Pacific nations? In your mind could this be the first of other treaties? And just on the contribution to the Climate Fund, are you announcing the amount today?
PRIME MINISTER ALBANESE: On the latter, we think this is a big enough announcement today. We’ll make further announcements at an appropriate time with regard to this Falepili Union. This was a result of an approach from Tuvalu to Australia. What I say is that we will always act appropriately according to the circumstances and this reflects Tuvalu’s special circumstances as a low lying nation that’s particularly impacted, its very existence, by the threat of climate change. And that’s why we’re assisting on adaptation, but we’re also providing the security that these guarantees represent for the people of Tuvalu who want to preserve their culture, want to preserve their very nation going forward as well. So, we’re open to approaches from other countries on how we can enhance our partnerships, but it’s got to be one in which we listen to proposals that are brought forward, that are purpose built, if you like, for the circumstances of particular nations. We’re engaged across the board with our Pacific friends. We’ve done, I think, a significant job in the last two years in repairing relationships and building a positive, constructive relationship with the Pacific, that is so important.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask, in terms of resettlement from Tuvalu over time, is it your understanding or will the Treaty allow anyone in Tuvalu to apply for that quota every year, will it be reserved for those who face particularly acute challenges from climate change? How will it be determined each year who will come in? And can I ask sir, is it your assessment that over time that perhaps a few thousands, perhaps more, of Tuvalu’s residents will more to Australia as a result of this as climate change continues to escalate?
PRIME MINISTER ALBANESE: Just on some of the detail, Tuvalu citizens will continue to have to apply for a visa, but there will be a special visa category of up to 280 citizens each year and they will have special rights to work, to study, to participate in Australian society. And we think that is entirely appropriate. What this does, really. today, is formalise Australia as Tuvalu’s partner of choice going forward, and that is, I think, a significant honour for us, quite frankly. We have had a good relationship with Prime Minister Natano and with the people of Tuvalu. There are a range of people from Tuvalu in Australia now participating, there has been historic links, just as there are with other Pacific nations.
PRIME MINISTER NATANO: Yes, Tuvalu will certainly consider and scrutinise all people who are interested to apply so that we don’t want any Tuvaluans to visit Australia under this arrangement and take advantage and abuse the relationship that we are going to build in the future.
JOURNLIAST: Prime Minister Natano, your country will be having elections very soon. How confident are you that across the board politically and across society that Tuvaluans will agree with long-term?
PRIME MINISTER NATANO: Thank you for the question. Yes, all the people of Tuvalu are looking forward to this Treaty and also looking forward to working together with Australia.
JOURNALIST: So, just to follow up, you eminent persons group, did they conduct consultations across Tuvaluan society with elders and the business community?
PRIME MINISTER NATANO: Yes, our eminent persons group did really good research and consultation with our people to come up with a strong message and also arguments that Australia can consider from their end. And definitely the eminent group did a really good job that the Cabinet endorsed before we propose an approach to the Government of Australia.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, Tuvalu is one of those nations that does recognise Taiwan. You mentioned military aggression and protection from that. Can you expand what Australia would be willing do practically about this and tell us about how this feels to have that assurity from Australia given that you recognise Taiwan.
PRIME MINISTER ALBANESE: Well, this is a security agreement between Australia and Tuvalu. Its diplomatic relations are a matter for them and we don’t seek to interfere in a sovereign nation’s diplomatic relations.
PRIME MINISTER NATANO: Our diplomatic relations with Taiwan is intact and we want to continue to endorse that agreement with Taiwan. China came also to ask for our diplomatic ties and we said, yes, we agree, but because of their One China policy, they didn’t allow us to have two diplomatic ties with Taiwan and them.
JOURNALIST: Just to expand on that question, can you explain the defence rights? Will Australia have rights to military presence in Tuvalu base? Passing through territory?
PRIME MINISTER ALBANESE: Well, we will engage in a constructive way. What it is, is a guarantee that upon a request from Tuvalu for any military assistance based upon security issues, Australia will be there. So, it’s a clear guarantee that that will be the case and we think that is appropriate. It’s also an agreement that there will need to be a two-party agreement, if you like, from Australia and Tuvalu, if any arrangement or engagement with any other state or entity on security and defence related matters is going to be advanced in Tuvalu. Last one. Thank you.
JOURNALIST: For Prime Minister Natano first. Was this agreement, were Pacific island leaders informed of this agreement before it was announced here today? And just for Prime Minister Albanese on the Pacific Island Leaders’ Forum meeting that just finished. We heard Fijian Prime Minister, Rabuka, say that there was an agreement to review the Treaty of Rarotonga. Was that your understanding from what the meeting decided?
PRIME MINISTER NATANO: If I may start. Yes. We started off by informing our colleagues from the northern Pacific. And I’m glad to also say that during our retreat, we both announced it to all the leaders.
PRIME MINISTER ALBANESE: Yes, we consulted today so that the Pacific leaders were fully informed. And we consulted collectively today as part of the Pacific Islands Forum meeting. But in addition to that, there have been discussions one-on-one, so that people were informed in the lead-up to today’s meeting. This has been an approach has been worked on for some time. This isn’t something that was done over dinner last night and you’ll see in the details of the Treaty. This is a very comprehensive agreement/ And on the Treaty of Ratotonga, there was no agreement to reopen the Treaty of Rarotonga. There was discussion about it and certainly it was acknowledged. You’ll see in the communique itself, that, to quote the communique, because it mightn’t have been released yet, for example, with regard to Australia’s interests, ‘Leaders noted the update provided by Australia in relation to the trilateral security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, and welcomed the transparency of Australia’s efforts and commitment to compliance with international law, in particular the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear weapons, NPT, the Rarotonga Treaty and the IAEA safeguard arrangements’. Thank you very much.