12 September 2023

The Australian High Commission Redevelopment: delivering positive impact in the Pacific

TSA’s Bruce Henry and Marko Osti are helping to deliver the Australian High Commission redevelopment in the Pacific Island nation of Kiribati (pronounced ki-ree-bas). Since 2018, TSA has worked with the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) to plan and deliver a new chancery and residential buildings. The project includes a staged approach to demolishing and replacing dated facilities and presents a formidable logistical challenge for the project management team. A narrow strip of remote coral atolls spanning 2,900km, Kiribati has limited resources and is far from Australian shores.

Marko explained that demolition was due to begin just as the world ground to a halt, ‘In early 2020, we shipped all this equipment to Tarawa – the capital of Kiribati and the project’s location – when COVID struck and international borders closed’. Sitting idle in humidity, salt and sun for close to 2 years, most of the equipment became unsalvageable. Following Kiribati and DFAT advice that entry restrictions would start easing from May 2022, the TSA project team was given an 8-week window to mobilise and transport all necessary building materials and equipment to Kiribati. ‘We’re using modular construction to help with cost, speed and efficiency, but you still need a lot of equipment for demolition and assembly. And this equipment had a long way to travel within a tight timeframe’.

So, how did Marko and the TSA team tackle this? With foresight, preparation and resourcefulness. Throughout the pandemic, they stored around 120 40-foot containers of building materials in Fiji – close to mid-way between Australia and Kiribati. As soon as the 8-week mobilisation window opened, these containers steadily began their journey north, across the Pacific. Marko laughed at his newfound knowledge of Pacific shipping charts as he described the lengths of the team to prevent further project delays. This logistical effort was greatly supported by Australia’s largest freight plane, a RAAF-operated C-17A Globemaster. Scheduled to fly to Kiribati in July 2022, DFAT quickly liaised with RAAF and secured approval to use excess fuselage space to transport a much-needed Bobcat to the project site.

Marko views the DFAT project as a strengthening of bilateral ties and an opportunity to positively impact the lives of the Kiribati people. The Australian High Commission in Kiribati is a tangible diplomatic link between nations and a crucial strategic presence – its redevelopment reinforces the value Australia places on its connection with Kiribati and the Pacific Islands generally. Working with DFAT and Reeves International, an Australian Melbourne-based builder, Marko and his team have arranged for materials from demolished buildings to be given to the local people, who Marko greatly admires for their resilience and resourcefulness. He clarified that unsafe materials will be removed from the island, but items in good condition, such as windows, skylights and doors, will be repurposed by the locals to build or improve their dwellings.

The project is also generating economic benefits by minimising the use of fly-in-fly-out workers and creating over 50 full-time and subcontracting local employment opportunities over the construction period. In 2020, Reeves signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the Australia Pacific Training Coalition (an Australian Government initiative funded through DFAT and managed by TAFE Queensland), which sets out joint objectives for developing the local workforce’s skills. The Australian High Commission redevelopment honours this arrangement, giving the people of Kiribati practical skills, knowledge and experience which will continue to improve their lives long after project completion.

Originally from Serbia, Marko moved to Australia in 2013 and joined Xact (later TSA) in 2017. Becoming an Australian citizen in 2022, Marko is incredibly proud to work with the Australian government on the Australian High Commission Kiribati redevelopment. ‘If you look at how involved the Australian and New Zealand governments are with these Pacific Island nations, they do a lot to assist and support them, and I’m hopeful that this will continue to grow in the future. These new facilities will attract Australia’s best diplomats and really build upon that connection’. Visiting Tarawa several times since 2022, Marko is thrilled to see firsthand the positive impact the project is having. ‘As a new Australian, I’ve really loved meeting the people who are working on and learning from this project. And I’m so pleased with the scheme to recycle and repurpose those building materials locally – I think it’s a simple yet incredibly effective way to improve lives within the Tarawa community’.

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