SIAN ROLLS:

You’re listening to FemTALK89FM.  I’m SIAN Rolls and we’ve got a guest in the studio this afternoon. Minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells from Australia; she’s the Minister for International Development and the Pacific in the Australian Government, and Minister you travel, you’ve come to warmer areas, warmer oceans.

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Well it is! It’s much warmer here in Fiji than it is in Australia at the moment, … and I am very pleased to come here to FemLINKPACIFIC and we’re very pleased to support FemLINK and the work that you do here, so I’m really pleased that I’ve been able to, in my activities today, to be able to come join you and warm hello to all our listeners across Fiji.

SIAN ROLLS:

And so I’m sure a question that all listeners do have is, what is going on? So Minister what are you doing in Fiji? It’s your fourth visit!

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Yes and always lovely to visit. I’m here to attend a Climate Action Pacific Partnership meeting which is being held, as we know, Fiji has the Presidency of COP23 and as part of that, Australia has contributed to assisting Fiji as part of the COP23. And one of the things that we did, we gave $6 million to the Fiji Government to set up a trust of which $2 million was set aside for regional consultations. And we really wanted to make sure that stakeholders in the Pacific came together. It’s very important for the Pacific small island developing states to put forward their views, and many very strong views, in relation to global climate issues and so to exchange ideas, to talk to each other, and so that’s why I’m here. And I’m here leading the Australian delegation.

SIAN ROLLS:

How exciting. The Australian Government has supported FemLINKPACIFIC’s  work, which includes supporting FemTALK89FM, in particular Women’s Weather Watch program since 2016. And it’s about putting the gender and ... women, peace and security into humanitarian settings. Why is there a need for a gendered approach to addressing, for example, disaster risk reduction management, which comes up quite a lot cause it’s all components of resilience which is critical when addressing climate change?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Well it’s very critical and can I say spending a lot of time trekking across the Pacific, often you find   and we saw this in Winston in particular, at the village level, it’s the women, it’s the network of the women who get the message out on a particular issues. And so that’s why work that we do, particularly in relation to resilience building it has a very, very important gender focus. And of course the empowerment of women is very important right across our overseas development assistance program, but it’s very important especially in the risk reduction area, in preparing, in responding and in recovery of disaster. The Australian Government requires that 80 per cent of our aid investments address gender issues. And so therefore we have invested a lot of money, which includes our $320 million over 10 years Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development program, and of course this includes and applies in the humanitarian sphere. We have established a Fiji Women’s Fund, which provides dedicated resources to support the work of women’s groups and organisations including building disaster resilience and security and that fund commits just over $10 million until June 2022. And so we think that it’s very important for women to be involved. We know that there is a lot of gender based discrimination and although women make up around 43 per cent of the agriculture labour force in developing countries, due to gender discrimination they do not have the same access as men do and I know many of your listeners are in rural areas and would very much understand this point. And so when a disaster does strike, it places them at far greater risk and so part of the work that we want to do is to ensure that we address those barriers and to ensure that women, as much as possible, are well informed and to make them stronger, to make them more resilient so when the next disaster does strike, they’re in a far better position for themselves and for their families to deal with that.

SIAN ROLLS:

Yes very much reaffirming women as first responders and there’s a long way to go, particularly in terms of women’s recognition…

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Well SIAN, of course we have a long way to go because, and this is not to say that in Australia we don’t have this problem, but there are very high levels of domestic violence right across the Pacific. Of course this is an issue that’s endemic in countries not just in the Pacific, but in Australia and of course here. It just compounds, I think, the security of women and the barriers to gender equality in… and access that women can have to all sorts of things in the humanitarian space, and in the disaster space. And so therefore we try and do as much as we can.

SIAN ROLLS:

And so afterwards… Winston was a very interesting and terrible time. I mean it was category 5 and there was a lot of assistance that came forth, particularly to help the rebuilding and recovery efforts. Do you have an example of what the Australian Government had been doing to help address TC Winston recovery and response, and was there a gender component to the work that was being done - I mean clearly… 80%!

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Well we, obviously, Cyclone Winston was terrible and the Australian public really did rally and what was …actually one of the interesting conversations I had with various Ministers today was after Cyclone Winston, one of the things we actually did in Sydney through your High Commissioner, in Sydney, was to organise a breakfast for all the tourism operators who sold Fijian products, just to assure them that the resort areas were still intact and the clear message that we gave out was; please the best way that you can help the Fijian public to recover from Winston is to go to Fiji and continue to have your holidays and we’re very pleased that more Australians went… came to Fiji after Winston. So that was very good, but we knew of course and an important component of that were the women, of course, many many women were- are employed in the tourism sectors, so that was really important. But our package of assistance post- Winston focussed on ensuring those priorities, particularly with women. For example, some of the work that we did in the Rakiraki markets: we had this thing called UN Women’s Markets for Change program. And we provided Fiji dollars $3.2 million towards the reconstruction of the Rakiraki market, and I actually went up there because of course 80 per cent of the vendors in Fiji are actually women. And so therefore, by restoring that marketplace, not only did we restore the marketplace but we actually added an accommodation block next door, so when the women do come to sell their wares at the Rakiraki markets, they can actually stay overnight, particularly if they’ve got children. So that was really good, but we also did… we have partners, obviously, such as the Red Cross, Fiji Red Cross, CARE Australia, and other NGOs who actively worked during Winston and actively worked to ensure that women- and women, and people with disabilities were included as part of the decision making. Because I think that when we do look at disaster and preparedness for disaster, we do have to think about how women, particularly single women, and people with disabilities, how they will be catered to at that time. Cause often they have to rely on families to help them out. Of course we have committed, Australia as part of our obligation under the Paris Agreement, our Prime Minister committed Australia to spend $1 billion and that’s our contribution, and of course a lot of that will be spent… a good portion of that will be spent in the Pacific and indeed in the last meeting of the Pacific Island Forum Leaders, our Prime Minister said that we would spend $300 million over 4 years in terms of resilience building in the Pacific, and of course that includes resilience building for women.

SIAN ROLLS:

Great, and just to mention the Pacific Islands Forum, it’s a very interesting space. You know regional inter-governmental organisation, it’s a place where New Zealand and Australia also have seats among the other Pacific Island Countries, and I guess one question is, you know, if one billion dollars is coming towards the Pacific, why is Australia so interested in the Pacific- is it because we’re neighbours?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Well we are neighbours, and neighbours help each other. And like any good neighbour, we are committed to working in the Pacific to assist this area. I mean 7 out of the 10 most disaster prone countries are in the… in our region, and so for Australia, recently our Defence Paper was released, and the Defence Paper said that of course the security of Australia is our paramount priority, but second only to that is the stability and security of our region. So for Australia, it’s really important. We want a safe, secure, and prosperous Pacific region. And so everything that we do in the region is all with that objective- safety, security, and prosperity. And so therefore, as part of that we know how important empowerment of women is. You empower a woman, you empower her family, you empower her community, and in turn you empower her nation. And so therefore, we are very, very committed to this, and whether it’s health, whether it’s disaster, whether it’s education, whatever the area, Australia looks at the Pacific with this optic of safety, security, and prosperity.

SIAN ROLLS:

So, you mentioned earlier in the interview that, you know, you’re here for one of the, you know, pretty advanced to COP23 with some of the Pacific island other states. But how in particular, has the Australian Government been engaging with civil society and state machineries ahead of COP23? This is one example, what else has been going on?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Well it’s very important that Fiji’s Presidency of COP23 is successful, not just for Fiji, but I think what it means for the Pacific. And this is the first time in the 20 year history of this convention that a small island developing state will preside over a COP. Now, we’ve been involved with different stakeholders and different actors. We’ve participated in regional consultation in the lead up to the Oceans Conference, and we’ve made it very, very clear that we wanted a region-wide position. And it’s vitally important that we do speak as one voice in the Pacific, and that we contribute to the process and to ensure that the Pacific views are heard and understood by the rest of the world. And as I indicated, we were very, very happy to contribute and most importantly to ensure that this meeting did occur so that we could have regional consultation. And it’s good to see that as part of this process, we not only have leaders, delegations from different Pacific Island Forum countries, but we do have civil society, we have UN, we have inter-governmental agencies that are present as part of this process.

SIAN ROLLS:

So you have a… and lastly you have a wide variety of experience from law to working as a Senator, to even being - what is it- the…one of the youngest founding board of directors…?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Of a nursing home.

SIAN ROLLS:

Of a nursing home!

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Well I take… ageing of course is… I like to think I’m not that old! But yes, I’ve done a lot in my life, and I do come to this job having spent about… oh gosh… almost 35 years - 35 years involved in the broader multicultural space in Australia. Australia is one of the most multicultural countries in the world. We are one of the culturally diverse yet socially cohesive nations on earth. And we are a country of migrants and we’ve welcomed, since World War II, 7.5 million migrants to Australia including about 825, 000 under our humanitarian programs. So, I have lived my life across the diversity that is today contemporary Australia. And recently we released a census which showed that about half of Australians are either born overseas of have at least one parent born overseas. So, I do bring different perspectives and different… different involvement, particularly in civil society. I’m a strong supporter of the voluntary sector. I think that volunteering and the voluntary sector are vitally important in any society. And I myself am a staunch advocate of that, so yes I do bring a lot of experience and certainly it’s brought … that experience in diversity has really been of great benefit to me and the work that I’ve done particularly in the international development and the Pacific role.

SIAN ROLLS:

So how do you apply that to this particular inter-governmental process? This lead up to COP23, working with different Pacific island civil society, government representatives… what’s the best thing?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Well I think… I think when you… having had the opportunity over many, many years to be with and work alongside or volunteer with or be involved in different areas where people are from different backgrounds, people bring different thoughts, different ideas. I think the most important thing that my many years of experience in this space has taught me, is about respect. It’s about recognising and respecting the different points of view. People may not always agree with you, they will respect you if you stand up for what you believe in. But what is very important in achieving consensus is to respect diversity of views. And of course for Australia, in a country such as ours, built on diversity, that has been one of the fundamental building blocks of Australia’s success as a society. And so therefore, I think that that’s really… my many years of experience in this space, it teaches you to respect, to listen, to understand, and then find that commonality because in the end the things that unites us are more important than the things that divide us.

SIAN ROLLS:

Thank you so much, Minister, for spending some time with us here on FemTALK89FM, and we hope that you also have some time to rest before you have to go home again.

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Thank you, and can I just take the opportunity to wish you very, very well. I think the work that you do on radio, particularly for our rural women… and can I particularly say a strong hello to all our ladies out there listening to us. We’re very pleased to support you and to ensure that you are well equipped, well informed, and I wish you all the very, very best in whatever your endeavours are.

SIAN ROLLS:

Thank you so much, and thank you again listeners. Whether it is on air or online, stay tuned to FemTALK89FM.

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