FRAN KELLY: “As long as it takes”, that’s the pledge Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has made to the people of Vanuatu following a weekend visit to the Pacific Island nation which was battered by Cyclone Pam. The Minister has indicated that Australia will make a substantial contribution to the longer term rebuilding of Vanuatu’s destroyed infrastructure.
Julie Bishop joined me a short time ago in the Parliament House studios.
JULIE BISHOP: Pleased to be with you.
FRAN KELLY: Minister, you saw the damage first hand in Vanuatu - schools, hospitals, government buildings flattened. Was it worse than you expected?
JULIE BISHOP: The devastation was quite widespread. I was surprised at how much impact it had made on Port Vila, huge trees had been corkscrewed out of the ground, buildings flattened, roofs torn off and I don’t think anybody escaped, although every now and again you’d see one building that was still standing. But yes, it was very widespread. The people had obviously begun the clean-up because the roads were cleared but everywhere you looked there was debris from the storm, so it was quite a devastating scene and it did surprise me.
FRAN KELLY: Australia has already committed $10 million to the NGOs working in Vanuatu. We’ve got 600 personnel, or close to, helping with the clean-up including some of our Defence personnel, but longer term is going to be the issue for Vanuatu, that’s clear.
Australia in the past we’ve largely spared Pacific communities the cuts to the overseas aid budget, have you been able to, or will you give any guarantee that there will be no further money chopped from aid to the Pacific region countries in this year’s Budget?
JULIE BISHOP: I had a meeting with the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister yesterday and we discussed what they believed Vanuatu will need in the long term and I assured them that Australia would play its part. We provide about $60 million a year in aid to Vanuatu, that’s been the same for about the last four years and I’ll continue to provide support for them out of our humanitarian relief budget and the like.
But it is the longer term rebuild that they will need support for. Much of it will be rebuilding their agricultural sector, getting seeds into the ground, getting their crops planted again. But also the tourism sector and Australia will do what we can to boost their tourism industry. So in terms of our focus on Vanuatu, we will be spending more than we did last year supporting them because of course they have had this shocking natural disaster.
FRAN KELLY: In terms of tourism, boosting their tourism industry, how are we going to do that and are you going to be spruiking as Australia’s Foreign Minister for Australians to go on holiday in Vanuatu?
JULIE BISHOP: Yes, I’ve already started. About 200,000 Australians travel to Vanuatu as tourists every year and I am encouraging people to check with their accommodation providers to see if there is a time for them to travel later in the year. We have a Memorandum of Understanding with Carnival Cruises to ensure that when Carnival Cruises arrive at Vanuatu, they use local products and local suppliers, so this is the way that Australia can support tourism in the Pacific – it is part of our aid program.
FRAN KELLY: Talking of your aid program, The Australian newspaper reports this morning the aid budget is likely to suffer another small cut in the Budget. Are you fed up with aid being an easy money saver for the Government?
JULIE BISHOP: I’m not aware of that detail so I read that for the first time in Greg Sheridan’s column…
FRAN KELLY: [interrupt] Would you be aware if your Budget was going to be cut again?
JULIE BISHOP: Well you’d hope I would be, wouldn’t you, so I will certainly be taking it up with the Treasurer to find out the source of that story.
FRAN KELLY: You are announcing today another new initiative, it is called the innovationXchange project. What is that?
JULIE BISHOP: What we are seeking to do is bring together some of the best and brightest minds from around the world, people who are experienced in the delivery of aid in different ways. Instead of always doing the same thing and yet not getting a better outcome, I want to bring together the most creative, the most innovative thinkers in the delivery of aid and come up with some projects that we will support.
If they work, we will scale them up, we will incubate them and then we will scale them up. If they don’t work, well then, we will know that that’s not where our aid dollar should be spent. I’m very concerned about the amount of money that is spent on projects or initiatives that don’t deliver the outcomes that we want. I want to ensure that every dollar of Australian aid is spent in an effective, efficient way that delivers real outcomes.
FRAN KELLY: And Minister in a moment, we are talking about the Moss Review, which was released on Friday into allegations of abuse inside the Nauru processing centre. It found three instances of rape and sexual assault, including one against a minor. Now I know that you have visited Nauru in the past, I think in 2013 was your last visit I think, at that moment you were satisfied then that it was an appropriate place for women and children. Given the findings of the Moss Review, do you still think that?
JULIE BISHOP: Well it is obviously a deeply concerning report and I look forward to the Government’s detailed response. I visited Nauru a couple of years ago, at that time the buildings were new, it was just underway. But I haven’t been there since that time. But this is clearly a deeply concerning report that we take very seriously.
FRAN KELLY: And news just in this morning that Lee Kwan Yew – the founding father of Singapore – has died, an end of an era for Singapore. Do you have a reaction? I know that you have just heard the news.
JULIE BISHOP: It is very sad news for the people of Singapore. He was a towering figure in the development of Singapore. He was a huge figure on the world stage and I know he will be greatly missed. He had such a profound influence on Singapore, indeed, on the Asia-Pacific and a giant the likes of whom we probably won’t see again.
FRAN KELLY: Minister, just finally speaking of towering figures, Malcolm Fraser will be honoured in the Parliament today. In the days since his death, many have written a lot of things, from both sides of the political spectrum about Malcolm Fraser. But one thing, one comment that has been made is that he stayed the same, but the Liberal Party has moved further to the right or got more conservative. Do you think that Malcolm Fraser and his values are true Liberal values?
JULIE BISHOP: I think Malcolm Fraser made an extraordinary contribution to public life in Australia. Whether the party moved, or he moved, I don’t think is really the issue. It was the contribution that he made and I will be speaking today in the Parliament about that contribution, particularly in foreign policy. He was a very passionate advocate for Australia’s national interest in foreign policy, in the environmental sphere, in education. There are so many areas where Malcolm Fraser took a deep interest in public policy and I hope that we are able to explore some of those issues during the tributes that are paid to him today.
FRAN KELLY: And Liberals should honour him?
JULIE BISHOP: Indeed.
FRAN KELLY: Julie Bishop, thank you very much for joining us.
JULIE BISHOP: Thank you.
- Ends -
- Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555