Journalist: Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells is Australia’s Minister for International Development and the Pacific. Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells good morning to you.
Minister: Good morning Steve.
Journalist: Can you describe to me the very latest you have about what Australia’s doing for the people of Fiji please?
Minister: Well our response has been coordinated and comprehensive. Can I just start by saying we are responding to the needs of the Fijian Government. The Fijian Government was very quick to respond and can I commend the resilience of the Fijian people. Our total government funding assistance at the moment stands at $15 million and this includes an additional $10 million that we announced on Monday, basically for food, shelter, clean water and hygiene for people who have lost their homes and had their communities destroyed. In the two weeks since the disaster struck, we’ve provided humanitarian supplies for more than 100,000 people. This has included releasing prepositioned supplies that we have in Fiji and this happened immediately after the cyclone.
Journalist: So you already have emergency supplies there as a permanent fixture?
Minister: Yes, we preposition supplies in different parts of the south Pacific.
Journalist: Smart thinking.
Minister: Well certainly I have to say we’ve learnt from past experiences so that means that we can immediately release supplies to our partner agencies and that includes shelter kits, access to safe water, hygiene for those worst affected areas. We’ve got about 1,500 Australian Government and Defence personnel in Fiji supporting relief efforts. And it’s not just the immediate response. We know that HMAS Canberra arrived in Suva on the 1st of March. She was carrying an additional 60 tonnes of emergency supplies, such as water purification equipment, shelter, medical and humanitarian supplies. What’s been really important for the Fijian Government and the Fijian disaster management authorities has been our helicopters. Those helicopters have made a huge difference in terms of accessing those outlying islands. HMAS Canberra has sailed to Koro Island, which bore the brunt of the cyclone, and so it’s really acting there as sort of a mother ship and begun humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations from that island. Our Australian Defence aircraft are providing supplies. We’ve already had our seven helicopters deliver more than 13 tonnes of supplies to outlying islands and communities. Our C17 and C130 flights, we’ve already had about 26 of those flights Steve delivering about 340 tonnes of humanitarian supplies.
Journalist: I think a fair few of those are coming out of Amberley in Queensland aren’t they I assume?
Minister: Yes, they’re coming out of Amberley. Can I commend the ABC for this initiative. Fiji is in our neighbourhood and so we are helping our neighbours. This is the strongest ever recorded cyclone to make landfall in the Pacific and so it has caused significant damage. We think that the Fijian Government estimates we have about 350,000 people and that is more than one third of Fiji’s population affected by the cyclone. We’ve seen 43 deaths. At the peak of the response efforts we’ve had about 55,000 people in evacuation centres and we have a community here in Australia Steve. So what you do is really important, not just for the people of Fiji, but also for the Fijian Australian community who have friends, who have loved ones, who are suffering. So it’s really good that we are opening up our hearts to Fiji, but at the same time we are supporting the efforts of the community here in Australia. And I also wanted to commend the work that that community is doing under the direction of their High Commissioner, His Excellency Punja who’s been basically coordinating these efforts. So we’ve done certainly as much as we can. We have responded, but it’s also the challenge of returning back to normal. So if I can take this opportunity to also say that the travel advice for Fiji has now been updated and the level of advice has returned to the pre-Winston level, which is ‘exercise normal safety precautions.’ International and domestic flights have returned to normal. Obviously travellers, if they want to know what is happening, should go to our Smartraveller website. But as the High Commissioner has impressed upon me is that we need to help the Fijian people return life back to normal and part of that is to resume as quickly as possible to normal tourism operations. So that’s really what I wanted to sort of say.
Journalist: The normal tourism journeys there are quite okay because Suva apparently was not at all badly hit like the remote parts or some of the islands around Fiji. It was spared the brunt of the eye of the cyclone.
Minister: Yes, the eye of the cyclone basically hit the islands like Rakiraki. We’ve sent medical teams out, Australian Medical Assessment Teams. One team has gone to Rakiraki, another one’s gone to Ovalau Island and the third team has gone to Korovou. And also from the work that we’re sending in engineering assistance etcetera because we need the schools, the medical centres and the basic infrastructure to get back to normal. And that’s why if I can also comment – Australian Red Cross, other aid agencies are really asking for donations, because it helps them to help people more in Fiji through donations. So again, congratulations to the ABC for what you’re doing this morning.
Journalist: Sounds like the Australian Government is putting a fair bit of effort into it. I really do appreciate your time this morning. Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, thank you very much for your time.
Minister: Thank you Steve. Thanks very much.
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