GREG JENNETT:

Concetta Fierravanti-Wells has spent the best part of the entire week there, clearing the way for new agreements committing Australia to deeper engagement in the South-West Pacific's security. Well, she's now back in Canberra and we spoke to her before Question Time.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells, you're back from a week in Samoa at the Pacific Forum, where a number of agreements were signed. We had reporting on labour mobility last week, but less well covered is the enhanced security role that Australia's now going to play. What do you think this is going to look like? Are we going to have more of an Australian protectorate in the Pacific?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Well, Greg, security of course is very important in the Pacific and when we talk about security in the Pacific, I call it small 's' security and it covers a whole range of different issues. Security in the Pacific is, today, old challenges but also new challenges. Transnational crime, also illegal unreported and unregulated fishing, we also have health risks, we have climate related disaster issues, all of this compounding to be the challenges that the Pacific now face. As we know, following on from the success of the RAMSI intervention in the Solomon Islands – after RAMSI, we have seen a call by the Pacific Island Forum countries for a post-RAMSI security framework.

GREG JENNETT:

What would that define? What would it allow Australia, for instance, to do?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Well, the original basis for going into the Solomon Islands was what's called the Biketawa Declaration, Declaration 2000 in Kiribati. We're now talking about a Biketawa Plus Declaration, which gives a framework for Pacific Island Countries coming to the assistance of their neighbours in the event of a whole range of different circumstances.

GREG JENNETT:

So, it's basically interventions?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

It's basically neighbours coming in to help their neighbours. That was really the success of RAMSI. Yes, Australia was the primary financial contributor. Yes, we contributed a lot of personnel, but the success of RAMSI, Greg, was because all the countries in the Pacific were involved and all contributed, from the smallest to the biggest, and together we stood as neighbours to help a neighbour.

GREG JENNETT:

Do you really think that would be repeated in any and all cases though? Unrest or trouble in Fiji or in Papua New Guinea, would all necessarily be as open to an Australian role such as we saw in Solomon?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Greg, I think that given the challenges that the Pacific faces, they're very diverse, as I have just outlined to you. Therefore, my sense is that the Biketawa Plus Declaration in whatever format it takes will take into account responses that don't just deal with unrest. In fact, it may act as a very good deterrent to any unrest in the Pacific. I see it more, as I said, small 's' security dealing with these other issues. One of the other things that we announced was added surveillance. Of course, many of our Pacific neighbours have very, very large economic exclusion zones, very large areas to patrol against illegal fishing…

GREG JENNETT:

In fact, we're funding an extra surveillance flight operating under command from an office in Solomon Islands. Is that a RAAF plane or what's that going to be?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Well, we're looking at how that's going to be. We're looking at the contractual arrangements in relation to that. Surveillance, of course, is vitally important. It's, as I said, especially in relation to the fishing, because fishing is so vitally important. Of course, the Blue Pacific was the theme of this meeting in Samoa, which really focussed on the oceans and fisheries component of the Pacific and those very key security components.

GREG JENNETT:

So should Australians generally, looking at this, expect the pendulum to tip more towards security work now and away from aid in forms of cooperation that we…

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:
Well, our cooperation in aid is – we are the largest donor in the Pacific. Greg, just so that Australians do understand that our Defence White Paper was very clear: after the defence of Australia, the stability and security of our region is second only to the defence of Australia. For Australia, our primary concern is the stability, security and prosperity of our region. That means a stable, secure and prosperous Pacific. The work that we do with our Pacific Patrol Boats – of course, we're replacing those patrol boats – the work we do in surveillance, the work we do in security, the work we do in disaster resilience-building; all of those things all go towards that stability, security and prosperity in the Pacific.

GREG JENNETT:

Alright, plenty to get on with on that front. Let's go to domestic issues. We do have the forms going out for the same-sex marriage postal survey from today and all politicians will be asked over the next four or five weeks, if not for the first time, firstly, how will you be voting in the postal survey, just to put it on the record?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Well, I think I've been very consistent. I'll be voting no.

GREG JENNETT:

And how would you vote if and when a bill came to the Parliament?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Well, I think we will obviously respect the views of the Australian public. I've been consistently on the record as somebody who comes from a culturally diverse background. I think that in a culturally diverse, religiously diverse, ageing Australia, I think that there's probably a portion of the population whose views have not been captured by a lot of the polling. Indeed, you would remember that in June 2015 some of the leading faith leaders in Australia did write to then Prime Minister Abbott expressing their views. The important thing though, Greg, is that the Australian public have their say. It's not the ideal situation; of course I would have preferred a plebiscite.

GREG JENNETT:

But even under that scenario, you would still go and vote according to your own conscience?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:  

Of course, of course, but I would have liked to have seen a plebiscite. I'm surprised as to why the Labor Party would not want the Australian public to have their view, but in any case I'm very pleased that at least under this scenario the Australian public will have their view.

GREG JENNETT:

Alright. Senator Fierravanti-Wells, thanks for your time.

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Thanks, Greg. Thanks.

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