Defence breaks silence on Fiji mission

Sixteen days after Tropical Cyclone Winston departed Fiji, the ADF released it’s first official information on its Operation Fiji Assist, with an on-line story and a press release (below).

Up to now, the only information on Australian’s contribution to post-Cyclone-Winston recovery efforts has come from Defence Minister Marise Payne, who put out two media releases back in February – several informal and too-brief social-media posts and tweets – and a range of quality photos that were not supported by stories.

All of which meant that this is only the second CONTACT report on Australian activities in Fiji.

By contrast, CONTACT readers will have noticed that the New Zealand Defence Force has put out no fewer than seven substantial media updates in the past 10 days.

Editor’s bleat aside, here’s what Defence eventually released…


7 March 2016

Op Fiji Assist 2016 begins major amphibious move

Commander Amphibious Task Group Captain Brett Sonter addresses ship's company and embarked forces on the flight deck of HMAS Canberra. All photos by Leading Seaman Helen Frank
Commander Amphibious Task Group Captain Brett Sonter addresses ship’s company and embarked forces on the flight deck of HMAS Canberra. All photos by Leading Seaman Helen Frank

Personnel, plant equipment, tools, heavy vehicles and aid were just some of the material either flown off by Army and Navy MRH-90 helicopters, or by sea on landing Ccraft, as Australia’s humanitarian assistance and disaster relief mission gathered significant momentum.

HMAS Canberra, stationed off the Coast of Fiji’s Koro Island, began amphibious operations in earnest, with a major muscle move of material and personnel on the 2nd of March [but not reported until the 7th] to help those affected by tropical Cyclone Winston, which struck on the 20th of February.

Commander Joint Task Force 635 Captain Brett Sonter said the level of devastation on Koro Island would provide a challenge for all personnel involved in the operation.

“Koro Island was directly in the path of Cyclone Winston so subsequently there is very little on the island that hasn’t been damaged in some way,” Captain Sonter said.

“Elements of the landing force proceeding ashore will contain two sections of engineers from the Republic of Fiji Military Force which we have transported from Suva at the request of the Government of Fiji.

“I am confident that the support provided to both the people of the island, and the Republic of Fiji Military Forces will assist in the alleviation of suffering on the island and subsequently foster recovery.”

Beach clearance was conducted prior to landing by soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, ensuring the chosen landing sites were clear for craft.

The landing points became hives of activity as all manner of breathing and mechanised capabilities came ashore.

Commander of the Land Force, Lieutenant Colonel Michael Bassingthwaighte, said the force disembarking HMAS Canberra was united in its resolve to help the people of Koro Island.

“We have an incredible depth of talented of dedicated men and women involved in this operation,” Lieutenant Colonel Bassingthwaighte said.

“A significant challenge lies ahead for those on the ground, but we know we will make a difference over the coming days.”


8 March 2016

Chief of the Defence Force visits Operation Fiji Assist

Dignitaries, female guests, Ship's Company and personnel from Joint Task Force 635 at the International Women's Day 2016 celebration onboard HMAS Canberra in Fiji. Photos by Leading Seman Helen Frank
Dignitaries, female guests, Ship’s Company and personnel from Joint Task Force 635 at the International Women’s Day 2016 celebration onboard HMAS Canberra in Fiji. Photos by Leading Seman Helen Frank

The Chief of the Defence Force Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin has completed a two day visit to Australian Defence Force personnel currently helping the people of Fiji recover after Tropical Cyclone Winston.

Air Chief Marshal Binskin thanked the Australians for their efforts.

“You are doing an outstanding job and the Fijian people are extremely grateful. They will not forget how you helped them and the community or the compassion you showed as they started to rebuild their lives.”

Around 900 ADF personnel are currently deployed on Operation Fiji Assist as part of the Australian Government contribution.

“We are working closely alongside the Fiji’s National Disaster Management Office, Republic of Fijian Military Forces, Australia’s Department and Foreign Affairs and Trade and other non-government organisations to deliver help and aid where it’s needed.  It’s a real team effort.”

Today, Air Chief Marshal Binskin visited HMAS Canberra and Koro Island.

He was accompanied by Fijian Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama and Rear Admiral Viliame Naupoto, Commander of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces, along with Australia’s Head of Mission, Margaret Twomey, and Fiji Minister for Immigration, National Security and Defence, Timoci Natuva.

There was a brief operational pause to mark International Women’s Day before the ship’s company got back to business.

Canberra has delivered approximately 90 tonnes of emergency relief supplies, including water purification equipment, humanitarian supplies and three of the seven MRH-90 helicopters now operating in Fiji,” Air Chief Marshal Binskin said.

On Monday, Joint Task Force 635 briefed the Chief of Defence on Operation Fiji Assist.

To date, the ADF has transported more than 480 tonnes of humanitarian supplies and equipment on 28 flights from Australia to Fiji.

“From the RAAF C-17 and C130 crews to the Army engineers on the ground and the crew aboard Navy’s HMAS Canberra, we are doing what we can to help our neighbours in their time of need,” Air Chief Marshal Binskin said.


And, while I’m in a bleating mood, can I just point out that the press release above is ‘about’ the CDF – not ‘about’ Operation Fiji Assist.

If you share my disappointment – or if you’d rather I’d just shut up – please let me know by commenting below, on Facebook or via



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Posted by Brian Hartigan

Managing Editor Contact Publishing Pty Ltd PO Box 3091 Minnamurra NSW 2533 AUSTRALIA

One thought on “Defence breaks silence on Fiji mission

  • 22/03/2016 at 7:32 am

    As long you Aussies are there, that’s all that matters..Good on Ya Mates.. Real ANZAC SPIRIT.
    Nice to see NZ and Australian Amphibious elements being just the ticket for such scenarios.


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