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MIL OSI – Source: Tonga Government – Tonga and Australia cement bilateral development partnership Tonga and Australia today agreed to continue working together on a number of development programs, including more support for women in Tonga. The Prime Minister, Hon Samiuela ‘Akilisi Pohiva, who is also the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, joined his counterpart, Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop in announcing that in a joint press conference at the Fa’onelua Convention Centre in Fasi. The programs cover the different sectors of governance, education, health, defense and security, humanitarian assistance and resilience and the empowerment of women in the economic life of Tonga. In addressing the joint press conference, Hon Pohiva said Australia’s development assistance has always been responsive to Tonga’s priorities in the economic  and public sector governance, education, health, defense and security, humanitarian assistance and resilience, which have been of great benefit to all development. “Australia and Tonga also continue to work together on the regional and international platforms to achieve neutral goals and to tackle common challenges,” he said. “In the past Australia has always been a avid friend and supporter of Tonga and the Pacific and truly a regional architecture, that remains relevant to our culture, political, economic and social needs. “Today with your visit Foreign Minister it recognizes a new era for partnership and prosperity between Tonga and Australia.” Hon Pohiva said he wanted to reaffirm the commitment of his Government to the further building of partnerships that will advance economic development in Tonga. “My government looks forward to working together with the Australian government to achieve these goals and to uphold the principles of democracy,” he added. Hon Bishop said her visit was designed to emphasise “the close and deep relationship that exists between our two countries.” She said that Tonga and Australia are friends and partners – with a long-standing history. During the press conference Hon Bishop announced that her government was spending more money on a number of projects “to improve the lives of people here and economic development of the country”. She announced that 54 local women will benefit from a Horticulture project that is being funded by Australia. She also announced that Australia will continue with a $450,000 funding for the Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs) program run by the Tonga Ministry of Health. On Education she announced that 16 young Australians will be here this year to study the different sectors of health and education. That will include 10 working with the Helth Sector and six in Education. For locals, Australia is putting aside 34 study scholarships this year. “Australia is Tonga’s major development partner and a major economic and security partner,” she said. Hon Bishop announced that her government will continue to expand the Seasonal Work Program, where a lot of Tongans are now being employed. She said they are working on expanding the program gradually and are looking at also opening opportunities in other sectors apart from horticulture. Meanwhile, both Hon Pohiva and Hon Bishop agreed that dialogue with Fiji was important for the Pacific Island Forum, especially after Fiji started the Pacific Islands Development Fund. Hon Pohiva said Tonga will remain neutral on the issue. Hon Bishop said she has been in constant contact and dialogue with Fijian leaders. The Australian Foreign Affairs Minister was in the Kingdom for meetings with Hon Pohiva and his Cabinet as part of her South Pacific visit. She also visited some of the Australia Government funded projects while here in Nuku’alofa. —  ]]>