VIJAY NARAYAN, LEGEND FM NEWS Hi Minister, this is Vijay Narayan from legend FM News. You’ve had some meetings already with the Fijian Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister. Of course as you’ve said this is the first Minister, overseas Minister to visit Fiji. As Australian Foreign Minister, of course, Prime Minister says things are upbeat now after the elections so what are your comments on that?
JULIE BISHOP I’m delighted to be here to underscore the commitment that Australia has to ensure that our relationship with Fiji is as strong and enduring as it can be. We were delighted with the conduct of the elections and we look forward to working very closely with the new Fijian government. So the purpose of my visit was to confirm the strength and depth of the relationship and then discuss ways that we can work together in partnership in defence, in security, economic and investment areas, education and also support for trade and investment. So many areas of common interest and its reassuring to know that there exists a deep well of respect and affection between the people of Fiji and the people of Australia.
VIJAY NARAYAN Some of the members of the Fijian opposition have not accepted the election results. Of course, Australia led the electoral monitoring process. Your comments as an Australian rep?
JULIE BISHOP Australia co-led a Multinational Observer Group with representatives from Indonesia and India and I understand that the Multinational Observer Group found that the election reflected the will of the Fijian people. If there are complaints about the way the election was conducted then I’m sure they will be dealt with by the authorities. I understand that the Multinational Observer Group was satisfied with the conduct of the election and they will be publishing their final report shortly.
SHANAL SIVAN, FBC NEWS Ma’am, you have lifted all sanctions again Fiji, what will this now mean for Fiji?
JULIE BISHOP That’s right, earlier this year we lifted the travel sanctions that had existed since 2006 against Fiji as part of the normalisation of the relationship between our two countries. I confirmed to Prime Minister Bainimarama today that the last legal hurdles had been removed and now all of the defence sanctions have gone and therefore there can be full defence cooperation and I think we will shortly be seeing senior defence personnel from Australia visiting Fiji and senior people from the defence force in Fiji vising Australia.
NASIK SWAMI, FIJI TIMES In terms of seasonal workers, how many workers are you looking at?
JULIE BISHOP Well so far the program is very much demand-driven. We will assess the number of Fijians who want to come under the Seasonal Workers Program. We have to work out how many Australian employers want Fijian seasonal workers. Currently it’s in the areas of accommodation and agriculture and we’re hoping that we might be able to even expand it in due course. So we’re looking forward very much to having Fijian workers as part of our Seasonal Workers Program. We’re working through the details in a Memorandum of Understanding that I’m hoping we’ll be able to sign shortly.
VIJAY NARAYAN Is there confirmation on the new Australian High Commissioner?
JULIE BISHOP Yes the new Australian High Commissioner will be Margaret Twomey. We had nominated her some time ago and she’s very much looking forward to coming to Fiji. She has family connections with Fiji that go back generations so she’s very keen to be the High Commissioner and very proud to undertake that role.
NASIK SWAMI In terms of the lifting of the full sanctions, how much Australian aid in total are we looking at?
JULIE BISHOP Oh in terms of the sanctions, the sanctions were apart from the aid. The sanctions were on travel, there were travel restrictions and there were defence restrictions, an arms embargo and the like. But now all sanctions have been lifted and there will be a high level of cooperation between Australia and Fiji. Our overseas development assistance will continue and it will be aligned to Fiji’s interests. I know that Fiji Prime Minister Bainimarama is very keen to promote education, health care. We’re also very keen to support education amongst young people of Fiji. That’s why we’re so pleased to be part of the Pacific Fusion Restaurant and Training Kitchen today and also through our New Colombo Plan in partnership with University of South Pacific seeing young Australian’s studying here. So we’ll have Fijians coming to Australia under the Seasonal Workers Program, under the Work Holiday Program and young Australian’s coming to Fiji under the New Colombo Plan.
VIJAY NARAYAN Just on the SPARTECA-TCF program, it comes to an end on the 31st of this year. The Prime Minister has made a call for an extension because about $100m in income comes to Fiji. What are the plans for SPARTECA going forward?
JULIE BISHOP The PM and I did have a very positive discussion about SPARTECA. We do recognise the importance to Fiji of the TCF industry and the relevant Minister back in Australia, the Minister for Industry is currently reviewing it. I will most certainly put forward Prime Minister Bainimarama’s views when I return to Australia and I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to come to an appropriate arrangement. Of course we also welcome Fiji’s involvement in the PACER Plus trade negotiations and over time we hope that those trade negotiations will lead to the PACER Plus being finalised that will take over from SPARTECA. So whatever extension we’re able to negotiate would only be temporary until PACER Plus came into place anyway.
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