E&OE …

BEVERLEY O’CONNOR:

Well Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells is the Minister for International Development and the Pacific. We spoke earlier about whether the Government took this decision in the national interest.

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Well, Bev, two issues - both Papua New Guinea, of course, has a submarine cable and it’s coming to the end of its life, also the Solomon Islands doesn’t have a cable and does need one. So, we have been talking to both Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands and looking at a way that we can assist both our neighbours in terms of enhancing their cable arrangements.

BEVERLEY O’CONNOR:

This is going to be expensive though for Australia. Solomon Islands was talking to China, why not let China build them?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Well, we believe that this is a very cost effective way of doing it. We think that this will incur less debt. We will be doing a scoping study, and that scoping study and the financing for that scoping study will come out of our overseas development assistance. We’re starting to talk to an Australian company to do that work for us, clearly on a confidential basis, but whatever arrangement is entered into will be done according to commonwealth procurement rules.

BEVERLEY O’CONNOR:

And how much of the project is going to be funded from the current aid budget to PNG and Solomon Islands?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Well, as I’ve indicated, the scoping study will come out of our ODA budget, but of course both countries will incur a debt for the laying of the cable. Whilst Australia will certainly make a contribution, and that contribution will be a component of our ODA, nevertheless we also have an eye on ensuring that we reduce the debt as much as possible.

BEVERLEY O’CONNOR:

Surely in your thinking though, it was important to ensure that China had no part in such an important regional communications pathway.

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Well, Bev, of course any application for an infrastructure of this nature would have been made. Can I stress that no application, certainly from the Solomon Islands, was received. Any application to land a submarine cable in Australia would have been considered, would have been considered on its merits. Of course, one of the criteria for consideration is a national security one. As I said, the Solomon Islands submarine cable company did not lodge an application to Australia and so accordingly we have not had to make that consideration.

BEVERLEY O’CONNOR:

So, let’s just be clear here. You’re saying if there had been an application from Huawei you would have assessed that application and that national interest would have been a consideration.

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Yes, that’s the process, Bev. There would have needed to be an application and that application would have been duly considered and considered by the Attorney General’s Department and of course taking into account a whole range of factors including national security.

BEVERLEY O’CONNOR:

Nevertheless though, in terms of China’s growing influence in the region- in the Pacific- this does take back some of the momentum.

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Look, Australia is committed to stability, security and prosperity in the Pacific. For us this is vitally important and indeed is second only to the defence of Australia. One of the important things for the Pacific, for economic growth and viability, is to enhance information technology. To enhance information technology, The World Bank has done some work in relation to this and has clearly found that increasing information technology infrastructure will not only result in economic growth, but will result in jobs.

BEVERLEY O’CONNOR:

But, is it perhaps again recognition that we haven’t been sufficiently alert to China’s growing influence in the region?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Look, we work with China and we work with China on different levels. For us, it’s vitally important that infrastructure spending be such that it contributes to economic growth. Quite frankly there’s no point building something unless there’s going to be at least some economic value, or some health value, or some education value, or a tangible advantage to the population. What we would do is encourage all partners, all development partners and anybody who wants to contribute to the development of the Pacific to ensure that the infrastructure investment that they do make into the Pacific is a productive one.

BEVERLEY O’CONNOR:

How concerned are you about the current instability within Solomon Islands?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Well we worked with the Government of Prime Minister Sogavare and of course we will work with the next government of the Solomon Islands. Australia, of course, has had a long standing involvement the in Solomon Islands. The Regional Assistance Mission for the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) which was a combined effort by the Pacific Island Forum countries brought stability in governance, better infrastructure, better policing to the Solomon Islands. So, we are keen to work with the incoming Solomon Islands government to ensure that the gains that were made as a consequence of our investment in RAMSI- which were not insubstantial, Australia contributed about $2.8 billion over the period of time- are not lost and those gains are built on by the incoming government.

BEVERLEY O’CONNOR:

Just finally, we all know the results of the same-sex marriage postal vote tomorrow; you have in the past opposed the idea of same-sex marriage. If the country has voted yes, will you go along with that decision?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Well, I think that at this stage, I think it’s important to await the result. I believe that it will be much closer than a lot of the polls have indicated. Clearly, as I have previously said in an ageing, culturally diverse and religiously diverse Australia, I do not believe that the polls were accurately reflecting that. But, of course, like other members of Parliament, I will respect the wishes of the people. I have said that before, but I think it’s important to await the result. I do believe it’ll be much closer than everybody is predicting.

BEVERLY O’CONNOR:

Great to talk to you, thanks so much for your time.

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:

Thanks very much, Bev.

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