PETER STEFANOVIC: There are growing calls for the Pacific Islands to be included in Australia's and New Zealand's plans to set up a Trans-Tasman travel bubble. But New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says they are focussing on Australia first despite a number of Pacific nations remaining free of COVID-19. Well joining me now is Alex Hawke, the Minister for International Development and the Pacific. Minister good morning to you. Thanks so much for joining us. Do you support a Pacific travel bubble?
ALEX HAWKE: Good morning Peter. We absolutely support the concept of a Pacific travel bubble and working out arrangements with various Pacific countries to enable the resumption of travel for tourism and other purposes, business purposes, in reasonable time. Of course, Prime Minister Morrison and Prime Minister Ardern have said in their statement that we have to get the Trans-Tasman bubble up and running first and we are already doing the policy work to be ready to open up to Pacific countries after the success of the Trans-Tasman bubble. There are good reasons for that. I mean it relies on both countries' jurisdictions – many places in the Pacific, remember right now Peter, are still in lockdown. Even in Fiji schools are closed. There are 28-day quarantine periods in many Pacific countries - 28-day quarantine periods. And those countries have done an absolutely fantastic job in limiting the spread of COVID-19 in the Pacific. It has been a regional success story. Australia and New Zealand have played their part and we are very concerned at the restart of any travel bubble to make sure the arrangements are properly thought out so that we won't actually spread COVID-19 into the Pacific.
PETER STEFANOVIC: There are fifteen Pacific nations that are at the moment coronavirus free basically. Which ones have expressed interest to get a Pacific travel bubble going?
ALEX HAWKE: Yes, well notably Fiji at the moment and look, about 350,000 Australians travel to Fiji every year for tourism. It is a huge part of their economy. There are things we can do in between. Mind you, we want to work very closely with the government of Fiji and we will, to make sure that we can re-establish those relations and it is something I think both of us look forward to. But in the meantime we are also working on enabling more Pacific workers to be able to come here and do the seasonal work that they do. We have got about 10,000 here in Australia. We will have some shortfalls now in agricultural sectors out there doing seasonal work and we think Pacific Islanders can come here and work and have remittances go back to their countries in the middle of this pandemic. We know those revenue streams are really important for Pacific countries and the families and the people of the Pacific. So we will be doing that as well. We are working very closely with our counterparts and Fiji as a good example.
PETER STEFANOVIC: So Fiji is interested, Tahiti, Solomon Islands are a couple that may have expressed interest as well. What are your concerns if the travel bubble opened up? What are your concerns particularly in these nations where conditions are a lot poorer I suppose?
ALEX HAWKE: Our number one concern is both the health and economic impacts of this pandemic and the health impacts primarily. We don't want to, and no Australian wants to, be responsible for an outbreak in the Pacific. We work very closely with the governments there to build their health system to ensure that they are ready and there have been great leaps and bounds in that space. But you know you raise some good examples there Peter and Tahiti for example is a very different example to the Solomon Islands or Fiji. Direct flights from France have implications for a travel bubble with Australia and New Zealand. All these sorts of issues have to be ironed out and well thought through. One of the cases in Tahiti was a policeman from France coming to Tahiti. All of these things have to be ironed out for the safety of everybody involved and we will iron them out. We will get there I think, Peter, but obviously starting a Trans-Tasman bubble makes sense first.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Sure. Last night, Minister, the OECD issued a report. It said that if there is a second wave it could affect our economy to the tune of $25 billion. It's a significant amount. How much does something like that affect your thinking at the moment?
ALEX HAWKE: We want to avoid second waves. We want to wait out for a vaccine. Prime Minister Morrison has announced a lot of money invested in international vaccines. We have just done a $300 million commitment to the Gavi Institute to make sure we can vaccinate children. We are working on the international health response so that we can be ready to take advantage of that, like other countries, and so avoiding a second wave is very important. For the Pacific still, we need to make sure that health systems are ready to go in case there is a second wave.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Just a couple of quick ones Minister before you go. China has warned its students against coming to Australia because of coronavirus and because of racism as well. What are your thoughts on that?
ALEX HAWKE: Well this goes in the face of everything we know about Australia's international student sector. Just this week, ironically, Australian universities came out as third overall in the world as best to study at and you have had hundreds of thousands of Chinese students coming to Australia studying in safety, peace and happiness, having a fantastic experience and you have got hundreds of thousands over the last decade, of people coming from other countries – India, Nepal, the Philippines – every one of these countries records a great experience in Australia. There are isolated incidents, like there are in any country, of bad behaviour. We reject those, but the reputation and the brand of Australia and the friendliness and the welcoming nature of our country is well known to all and the sector has thrived. We have been booming with people wanting to come here and study. That flies in the face of this misinformation that suggests that there is something untoward going on. Students want to come here. We would say to the Chinese government, like we would to all of our partner countries, let your students come here. They have a great study experience and it is a great connector between us as peoples.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Concetta Fierravanti-Wells crossed the floor last night when it came to Australia's relationship with China. What did you think of that move?
ALEX HAWKE: Well that is a matter for her. She can answer for herself. The government is eyes wide open about the situation in the world today and the geostrategic competition between America and China. We understand the implications of it. We have to carefully negotiate the balance between geostrategic competitions and make sure Australia is as well placed as we can be.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Minister there is another Black Lives Matter protest planned in Sydney tomorrow night. What are your thoughts on that? Should it go ahead?
ALEX HAWKE: Well I am disappointed to hear this and I think I would say to those people that are trying to organise mass protests at the moment, think about the sacrifice that all Australians have made at this time. There is a reason to it. There is a serious pandemic, the pandemic threatens vulnerable populations like Indigenous communities, it threatens the Pacific community. It is okay to sacrifice your right to protest just at the moment to enable health security for all Australians. That is what everyone else has done. People haven't gone to funerals, businesses are closed, unions haven't protested in support of their rights. There are lots of worthy causes, this is a worthy cause for them and I understand that but it is not the time. Respect the sacrifice of Australians, respect Indigenous and vulnerable populations and the health advice of officials.
PETER STEFANOVIC: There is an interesting debate, just finally here Minister, an interesting debate that is taking place at the moment regarding statues – colonial figures. This follows what has happened in the UK where some statues of some notables have been taken down. Now there is a push over here to take statues down. James Cook is amongst them. What is your position on that and this also follows the argument that culturally sensitive movies and TV shows have been taken of streaming services at the moment.
ALEX HAWKE: Peter, for a lot of people this is a very uncomfortable issue for a number of reasons and there is a couple of issues underneath what you ask. Firstly, to statues of slavers, I don't know why there is a statue of slavers – I mean people reject slavery. Our cultures have said slavery is wrong, we have overturned it and made sure people can't do it. We passed a Modern Slavery Act in Australia just a year or two ago to work on supply chains, to ensure that there is no slavery within supply chains, so it is inconsistent with values that people hold and I think there is a way that people can raise that with their authorities and have those statues removed. When you are talking about art or literature and culture, you have to be very careful of what you censor and what you prevent in terms of thinking because art relies on abstraction. Gone with the Wind is a fantastic move, my dad, bringing us up, would make us watch all the old black and white movies, and it is a great era of cinematography, and Vivien Leigh happened to be my favourite actress when growing up, but I never took out of Gone with the Wind that the south was something great. It was just a great movie and it is an abstract about the period in time so, we have to be very careful about the thought police coming in and saying this is no good and that's no good. People are capable of thinking about an era, about the wrongs and the rights of it, and making their own independent judgments, and that is what art enables us to do in a way that is entertaining.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Minister just on those statues, do you think a James Cook statue should be placed, in say, a museum?
ALEX HAWKE: Well no I don't, personally. I think the story of Australia is actually overwhelmingly a positive one. The explorers and the settlers that got sent by the British government here, including Arthur Phillip, were enlightened people for their time. Arthur Phillip was part of the anti-slavery movement and these things are lost. Now you can't say that he is the perfect person but none of us are perfect people, Peter. There were standards at the time that he was involved in like anyone else, but he was on balance a decent guy and I would encourage anyone to look him up and learn a little bit about him. If you see some of these things and you look into what actually went on, there are reasons why we have statues of founders here and I think there is some respect there. What happened is our history, it is our shared history between Indigenous Australians and non-indigenous Australians, but we are all in this together now. It is all our history and we should remember it – the good bits and the bad bits.
PETER STEFANOVIC: Okay, Alex Hawke, Minister for International Development and the Pacific appreciate your time this morning thank you so much for joining us
ALEX HAWKE: Thanks so much Peter.
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