Bruce Hill: Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Steve Ciobo, has just returned from making the first high-level visit from Canberra to Solomon Islands since the elections last November. At the centerpiece of the visit was talks with Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare and members of his new government. Mr Ciobo recently replaced the former Parliamentary Secretary, Queensland Senator Brett Mason in a reshuffle, and he joins us now.
Mr Ciobo, how was your trip to Honiara, a bit of a baptism of fire?
Steven Ciobo: It was a very good trip, actually, Bruce, I've got to say. I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to meet with the Prime Minister, to meet with other ministers whilst I was in Solomon Islands. Also took the opportunity to open the refurbishment of the Post Natal Hospital, or I should say, the Post Natal Ward at the National Referral Hospital, and, of course, the opportunity to open the new Cocoa Testing Laboratory. Many of these projects, of course, are projects that the Australian government is very involved with.
Bruce Hill: Now, this has got to be a bit of a rough first assignment. Mr Sogavare has been known in the past for being a bit suspicious of Australia, and you're just freshly into the position as Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs. How was it?
Steven Ciobo: Warm and cordial. We had a very good meeting. We had a very friendly conversation, a chance to talk about all the reasons why Solomon Islands and Australia are not only neighbors, but also friends, to speak about the progress that Solomon Islands has been achieving in relation to their economy and their objectives for growth. Recently, the Prime Minister outlined, I should say, Prime Minister Sogavare outlined his plans for continued the economic growth in Solomon Islands, so we had a chance to review that as well.
Bruce Hill: Tell us a bit about yourself. You're fresh into this role. Tell us a bit about your background.
Steven Ciobo: Well, I'm a Queensland member of the House of Representatives based on the Gold Coast. I was first elected in November 2001, so I've been in and around Parliament now for a little over a decade, and over that time served in a variety of capacities, both as a member of the Opposition where I was a Shadow Minister and member of Shadow Cabinet. Now in government, I was previously the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer and now serve as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Trade and Investment. It's a good role, and it's one that I fine challenging and intensely rewarding.
On a personal level, Bruce, I'm married with two wonderful boys aged six and three.
Bruce Hill: Oh, wow. I don't know where you get the time to be Parliamentary Secretary with two boys that age. Do you have any experience in the Pacific at all?
Steven Ciobo: I've had the opportunity to go through the Pacific on a number of occasions. I've had policy involvement in terms of economic and finance policy frameworks, but also through work that, obviously, in Opposition that's curtailed severely, but in government when Alexander Downer was Foreign Minister and a number of delegations through the Pacific, including to a number of forum island countries. This is really an extension upon some of that work, and, of course, the government's commitment to aid trade, to innovation in the aid space, as well as to an improvement in trade prospects throughout the region, as well as to our north.
Bruce Hill: Let me ask you a simple, basic question, a bit of a test for the young players here. There's a large Pacific country, island country, low-lying atoll country in the north Pacific, and its name starts with kiri. Can you complete that? What is the name of the country?
Steven Ciobo: Kiribati? I'm not...
Bruce Hill: I'm sorry. Thanks for playing. It's actually Kiribati, and that's the first test, and you didn't quite get it. It's actually Kiribati. A lot of people make that mistake.
Steven Ciobo: I apologise. But look, these sorts of details, I’m about six weeks into the role are things that will get across in terms of those sorts of issues. I mean, look, I think as fun as those sorts of things are, and I recognise the significance of it, but I also don't think it detracts from the important work and the relationship that Australia has in the region.
From my perspective, while it's fun and games to sometimes do those things for a host such as yourself Bruce, I think they're far more sending important message is to recognize that Australia wants to continue building a strong relationships throughout the Pacific region. We've been a long-standing friend of many countries throughout the region. We intend to continue to stand with, not just good words, but good deeds as well.
Bruce Hill: Is there any one thing that you'd particularly like to achieve while you're in this role?
Steven Ciobo: Well, I think there are several things that I would like to achieve. I would like to make sure that we are able to, through PACER Plus, to continue to build the joint prospects of the region through better trade relations. Clearly, if we do that, that's going to make a big difference. If I look at it purely from an Australian perspective in the short term, it's going to help ease pressure in terms of our aid program, but it's also going to mean that there are, of course, enhanced prospects for Australian businesses involved in trade.
If I look at it from the perspective of those that would be part of such an agreement, then, clearly, that means that we've got better opportunity. I think it's a better future for those member countries to be able to look at expanding their own growth, to broaden and diversify their economies, and to make sure that they're in a stronger position in future years and not so reliant on aid.
Bruce Hill: Thanks very much, indeed, for joining us. Look forward to, perhaps, just going with you on your next trip to Kiribati.
Steven Ciobo: A pleasure, Bruce. Thank you.
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