Journalist: We’re speaking to the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator the Honourable Concetta Fierravanti-Wells. Welcome to SBS Radio’s Hindi Program Minister.

Minister: Good afternoon, good to be with you.

Journalist: Thank you so much. Minister would you like to reflect on your thoughts about the people who have been affected by Cyclone Winston in Fiji?

Minister: Can I just first of all, Kumud, just talk and say to the families and friends of those who have died and family and friends of those who have suffered significant damage here in Australia that I know that there are so many people here who will be worried and concerned about their family and friends in Fiji. So our thoughts and prayers are with them.

Journalist: Thank you so much for your concern for the people of Fiji and for the relatives who live in Australia. So moving on Minister, I know Australia has offered a package to Fiji to help them out, so could you tell us a little more about this package offered to Fiji?

Minister: Our total government assistance at this point is $15 million. We’re just over a week into the response, which at its peak, will see about 1,500 Australian Government and Defence Force personnel in Fiji supporting relief efforts. We’ve had prepositioned stores with our partners in country and so we’ve seen additional supplies delivered this week and that’s given us the ability to support more than 60,000 people. We’ve also got a 21-member Australian Medical Assistance Team, which is helping the Fiji Government get health services back up and running. We’ve split this in teams that are working in three areas, Rakiraki, Tailevu, and Ovalau island. We’ve also had HMAS Canberra, which arrived yesterday in Suva carrying an additional 60 tonnes of relief supplies. And they’re also carrying very important additional helicopters and engineering capacity. What’s been really important has been the fact that we’ve had our Australian helicopters, and we now have a total of seven of them, and they are assisting the Fijian Government and working with the disaster management framework in Fiji, not only to assess the damage but also working with our humanitarian partners to deliver relief.

Journalist: So we are not only assessing the total worth of the damage, but we are also offering humanitarian kits and shelter kits and preparing schools and basic infrastructures?

Minister: We are doing that. There’s really two parts. There’s obviously the immediate assistance. For example, we’ve got additional ADF flights arriving today in Suva which are carrying more humanitarian supplies. We’ve had C17 ADF aircraft going in carrying shelter and hygiene supplies. We’ve had about five aircraft that have arrived in Fiji in the past three days. So whilst the immediate concern is on shelter and clean water, we do have to start looking at not just the immediate but also, for example, the schools. We know that the Fijian authorities will want to assist devastated communities to help the recovery process to repair the schools, the medical clinics, and basic infrastructure. We have about 900 schools in Fiji and the Fijian Government has reported that about 240 of them have been damaged or destroyed. So it’s really important that we assist that recovery process and that’s really where the schools, the medical clinics and that basic infrastructure needs to be repaired very very quickly.

Journalist: Considering the crisis that has hit Fiji, Minister, do you think there will be a lot of people, or at least some people from Fiji wanting to immigrate to Australia? Will we offer them any kind of help in that situation?

Minister: I think at this point of time the focus is very much on the immediate situation. This is the strongest ever recorded cyclone to make landfall in the Pacific and it’s causing significant damage. I think at this point in time we know that there’ve been about 350,000 people affected by the cyclone. We know that there have been 43 killed. I’m sure that regarding our assistance to the Fijian authorities, as time goes on, we will look at requests that the Fijian authorities may ask us. Ours has very much been a response to what the Fijian authorities have asked us. We have responded as best that we can. I’m sure that in the days to come there will be discussions about what other things may be necessary in the future.

Journalist: And what has the response from the Fijian Government been towards the aid that Australia has provided and how have the people of Fiji who have been affected responded to this aid?

Minister: There’s been a very quick response from the Fijian Government and can I particularly commend the Fijian people for their resilience. This is our neighbourhood. We have a long history of working with governments in the Pacific and therefore it’s important in times of need that the neighbourhood comes out to help and that’s what we are doing here. The neighbourhood is coming out to help and, as I said, we will respond to the Fijian authorities. This is being coordinated by the Fijian disaster management authorities and we are responding to their needs. Also His Excellency, the Fijian High Commissioner Yogesh Punja, I have met with him, and His Excellency I know is working very hard with the community here to also respond. Also can I take the opportunity to commend the community here in Australia on its response to the crisis in Fiji. Many would have family and friends, so it’s understandable that they now gather together to do what they can to assist. Can I also mention the travel advice for Fiji was updated on the 26th of February and the overall level of that advice for Fiji has been lowered to ‘exercise normal safety precautions’ and this was the level before Cyclone Winston hit. International and domestic flights have returned to normal operations. However, if travellers would like to get further information they should obviously contact their airline or if they are concerned they should visit the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Smartraveller website

Journalist: Thank you so much for your time Minister today and our prayers go along with the people of Fiji.

Minister: Thank you very much.

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