JIM MIDDLETON:  Thailand is in the midst of a protracted period of deep mourning following the death earlier this week of King Bhuibol Adulyadej.  There’s been an outpouring of emotion and respect, particularly in the Thai Capital Bangkok. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is asking Australian tourists to demonstrate respect.   Concetta Fierravanti-Wells is Minister for International Development and the Pacific.   I spoke to her, fresh from attending celebrations within Sydney’s Fijian community for Fiji’s Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama.

Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, thank you for your time.  Thailand in a moment, but first this visit by Frank Bainimarama, Fijian Prime Minister; you’ve been attending a ceremony to mark Fiji’s National Day.

Is this part of the movement towards normalisation of relations between Australia and Fiji?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Relations between Australia and Fiji have been close, particularly because of the family ties, the business connections and let’s not forget there are thousands of people who are Fijian-Australians who live here in Australia, so not withstanding there have been differences between Australia and Fiji, those ties, those connections, those family connections have ensured that we haven’t grown too far apart.  But it’s very good.  I am very pleased that the Prime Minister has come to Australia.  He’s had quite a full programme while he’s been here and that included a trade symposium he opened yesterday and of course Fiji national day – Fijian celebrations out at Liverpool this morning.

JIM MIDDLETON:  Prime Minister Turnbull, I think I’m right, has already met Binimarama; I think it occurred in New York. It did come on with a bit of a rush.  Are there plans for the two Prime Ministers to come together?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well I think that there will be discussions between the two Prime Ministers.  There are other things happening.  This is largely a visit for the trade symposium, and the Fiji Day celebrations.  I had attended that this morning with the trade minister, Minister Koya. We had some, what we called ‘Gum Tree Diplomacy”.  We sat under a gum tree and had some discussions, particularly in relation to PACER Plus which we’re hoping to finalise soon. So there are a number of things happening; to-ing and fro-ing between our countries which I think is very good for the strengthening of the relationship between Australia and Fiji right across different fronts.  I’m not sure if you have become aware that yesterday there was an announcement by the Australian Rugby Union that there will be a Fijian Rugby Union team and they will be Fiji’s Second 15, called Fiji’s Warriors which will participate in the Australian Rugby tournament which I sure will add even more ‘grunt’, if I can put it that way, to our very strong sporting ties. We know how strongly Pacific Island nations have contributed to sport in Australia and this is coming off the back of the very successful win that Fiji had over Great Britain at the Rugby Seven’s to win the gold medal.  I think this augurs very well for increasing the level of sports participation between our two countries.

JIM MIDDLETON:  I was aware of that announcement and it’s always bemused me that Fiji which is such a strong Rugby nation is not in the Super 15 competition but that am another story.

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well I think they are going to be a very strong contributor, may I say.

JIM MIDDLETON:  Let’s turn now to Thailand. The country is in deep mourning after the death of their very long-serving King.  Australia, around a million visitors every year, contributing hundreds of millions of dollars to the Thai economy.  The Department of Foreign Affairs is asking Australians in Thailand to demonstrate respect. You’re not saying, are you, that Australians should cease their plans to visit?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:  No we’re not saying that. We are asking Australians to go on the Smart Traveller website, have a look at the advice that’s been provided there by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, register your travel plans and follow the advice on that travel website. Of course Australian authorities are in constant contact with the Thai authorities and that travel site will be updated regularly. What we are really asking Australians to do is to be very respectful.  I believe there will be an official year-long period of mourning.  The first 30 days will see flags flying at half-mast.  The domestic and international airports will be open but there may be some disruption to business activities therefore we are asking Australians intending to travel to Thailand, be cognisant of these things, be understanding but above all, be respectful.  That may mean not engaging in festive behaviour that may be seen as disrespectful to the memory of His Majesty.  So again, I would ask Australians again to consult the Smart Traveller website, be cognisant of what is happening in Thailand and think ahead in terms of making those plans because that advice on the Smart Traveller website will help inform Australians as to what’s happening on the ground there.

JIM MIDDLETON:  Australians can be exuberant when they’re overseas. Only a week or so ago we saw what happened at the Malaysian Grand Prix.   It’s that sort of thing that you would be seeking Australians not to do.  I understand bars and restaurants are open and the resorts too, so it’s a matter of calming down and being respectful.

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: That’s the basic message Jim. Be respectful, follow the local laws, be understanding that this is a time of deep mourning for the Thai people and it’s not just the Thai people in Thailand.  We have quite a large Thai-Australian community and they too would be feeling the loss of their King.  He was a revered figure who had been on the throne for decades and understandably the Thai people are feeling his loss greatly and so therefore we ask all Australians travelling to Thailand, and also engagement with the Thai community here in Australia to be respectful.

JIM MIDDLETON:  We might just turn to one domestic issue; your branch of the Liberal Party. 400 members met today to discuss the possibility of democratisation, of reforms.  There is a general meeting in a week’s time.  Do you think that meeting will bring the party back into the hands of the membership?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:  Look Jim I’ve been a supporter of democratisation in the Liberal Party going back to the 1990’s.  I firmly believe that plebiscites should be implemented in NSW.  Indeed I strongly believe that the reforms proposed by former Prime Minister Howard following his review of the NSW division should be adopted.  And they should be adopted in full. This now has the support of the Prime Minister, the Premier, former Prime Ministers and I think it’s time for the NSW division to join the rest of Australia and get in line with other Liberal Party divisions around Australia.

It’s time for us to have one member and one vote. Particularly at a time when, as a party, and as a coalition we are advocating for a plebiscite for changes to the marriage law then it would be only fitting that in our own division, in our own liberal party in the biggest division in the country, that we also afford our membership the right to have one member one vote and to participate fully through plebiscites.

JIM MIDDLETON:  What would it say about the authority of Malcolm Turnbull, Mike Baird and others like Tony Abbott as well if these reforms were knocked back,  given that the people attending next week’s meeting are there at the courtesy of the powerbrokers and the branch- stackers?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS:  Well Jim there is a momentum which I believe is building and has been building in relation to reform of the NSW Division and I would ask the powerbrokers in NSW to respect the views of what is now the majority view of the grassroots of this division, respect the desires of a Prime Minister, a Premier, of former Prime Ministers but more importantly, the work has been done by Prime Minister Howard.  He advocated a series of reforms to the NSW division based on the premise of plebiscites and which I think should be implemented.  It is not only going to empower the membership in NSW, but I think it’s actually going to open up the opportunities for many people – not just to participate in the day to day activities of the liberal party, but as far as preselections are concerned I think it’s really going to open up the NSW Division.

Can I say as a senator for NSW I have absolutely no objection whatsoever to having everybody, every member of the Liberal Party being one of my pre-selectors.  I do represent the whole state, and therefore I have no issue with opening up a plebiscite, say for the Senate, for every member of the NSW division.

JIM MIDDLETON: Well we shall see. Appreciate your time.

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