Blackrock peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief camp, Nadi, Fiji

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australia-Fiji Vuvale partnership.

Fiji Minister for Home Affairs, Pio Tikoduadua: Thank you. It’s a pleasure for me today to host Minister Pat Conroy from Australia, responsible for the Pacific. And he is here to strengthen our Vuvale partnership. Yesterday he was with the Prime Minister to sign on this new development for our wharves, and today I’m very happy to show him around this great facility at Blackrock, which the Australians have constructed for Fiji – not only for Fiji but the region.

And let me just say this is, you know, a strengthening of our relationship going to the future. And we are very happy to be hosting him here, Honourable Minister Pat Conroy but also the team from the Australian High Commission, led by Commissioner Ewen. Thank you.

Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Pat Conroy: Well, thank you, Minister Tikoduadua for your hospitality. And it’s great to return a favour; the minister did me the honour of meeting with me in Canberra when he came to visit and meet with senior Australian leadership to talk about how we can work together. And I think there’s no greater symbol of that cooperation than this building. Blackrock camp, firmly sovereign Fijian operations, but not just supporting the needs of Fiji, supporting the needs of the region and the world through the peacekeeping preparation and training that goes on here and the humanitarian and disaster relief supplies where we’ve made a contribution. And you can see the Australian aid kangaroo behind us.

I think we share the vision of the Rabuka Fijian government that Fiji is a regional hub. You’re at the heart of the region physically. One just has to look at the map and you’re at the heart of the region politically and security-wise. And so we are very keen to work together. That’s one reason why I signed a cyber MOU with Prime Minister Rabuka yesterday as well as a ports MOU. This is about developing your economy in partnership as part of the elevated and renewed Vuvale arrangement, but also using Fiji – the Fijian commitment to the region.

And I can’t think of a more symbolic manifestation of that than the work that is going on right now in the Solomon Islands where over 100 Fijian police and military are co-deployed with Australian Defence Force, Australian Federal Police, Papua New Guinean police and New Zealand military supporting security for the recent Solomon Islands elections.

I think this is a template that we’re keen to expand through the Pacific Response Force and the Pacific Policing Initiative, and I think there’s so much we can do together to advance not just a peaceful and prosperous Fiji and Australia but a peaceful and prosperous region as a whole. So thank you, Minister, for your hospitality as well.

Pio Tikoduadua: Thank you.

Speaker: Vinaka. Honourable Ministers, we have members of the media with us who have a couple of questions before we wrap this up.

Pio Tikoduadua: Sure.

Speaker: If you could state your name and organisation when asking a question.

Journalist: [Indistinct].

Pio Tikoduadua: Sorry, can you direct the question to the minister you want to answer your question, please, Sir. A question to whom?

Journalist: Can you just give more into the [indistinct]?

Minister Conroy: Yeah, well, and Minister Pio might want to comment as well about it, but we’ve got a good, strong relationship between our two countries and the bilateral was all about how we enhance our security relationship as part of the Vuvale agreement. And you saw an example of that with the recent deployment of a C-27J Spartan to not just support the requirements of the Fiji military but the Fijian Health Department, also working around patrolling for illegal fishing. So our conversations went to how we can work together more to enhance the security not just of our two countries but our region, and how do we operationalise Prime Minister Rabuka’s ocean of peace or zones of peace concept at a regional level. So that’s the tenor of the conversation.

Pio Tikoduadua: I think one of the issues we discussed today is how well we work together, on missions like the Solomon Islands. We’ve been doing that together, and under the, you know, Vuvale platform. And I think at the human level it’s one of the best ways that we demonstrate this, our commitment to work together to help the Pacific, you know, as a region of peace. We’re very happy that the Minister is here. I know he’s here for other works as well, but particularly for Blackrock, this facility which is not only for Fijians.

We would like to, you know, work a whole lot more, particularly in the area of security, developing our police forces in particular is something that we talked about today, how we handle our narcotics and our drug issues. So some of the things that Australia can help us in a big way. So that is a part of the things. But I think it’s the people-to-people relationship thanks are most important, and we thank the Australian government for standing with us.

And, yes, Fiji is the hub, it’s the hub of the Pacific. We’re not here for ourselves but also for the region. That’s why we have such a magnificent facility that we have here today. Thank you.

Journalist: [Indistinct]

Minister Conroy: Well, you’re actually right – the announcement we did yesterday was a quadrupling of the Australia Award specific component for Fiji where we provide both scholarships to study at the Fiji National University. Importantly, I also announced the $100 million Australia-Pacific aviation program, again, another one that benefits the whole region but is centred in Fiji as the regional hub, particularly for aviation. That involved funding scholarships to develop aviation engineers and mechanics. And that would involve those students working – studying both at Fiji National University but Griffith University in Brisbane in Queensland. So that’s an example of Australian-based study.

But one of the key parts of our development policy is to respond to the priorities of our partners. And the Fijian government under Prime Minister Rabuka has been very clear that education is a critical priority. And if there’s a desire for more scholarships to study in Australian universities, we’re obviously open to how we engage in that as well as more scholarships at the excellent Fijian National University.

Speaker: Any further questions?

Journalist: Just one more question: [indistinct]

Minister Conroy: I don’t have the funding figure on me. This is part of - we’re supporting over 200 Pacific athletes to compete at the Paris ’24 Olympics, and over 50 will come from Fiji, demonstrating your sporting prowess, including beating us, yet again, in the Sevens Rugby. But that funding is flexible because it depends on where people are up to in their sports. So some of the assistance will be to get athletes to their competitions to qualify for the Olympics. There are a number of athletes – I met a couple of your taekwondo athletes who still need to do another round of qualification. And then some of them will be funding them to actually participate in the Olympics.

So the reason I can’t be definitive on the funding is it’s going to be flexible based on the needs of the athlete. But we’re going to new sports – taekwondo, archery. I met a sailor with an inspirational life story, Willy. But that’s great. And then obviously the centrepiece of the Fijian Olympic efforts being Rugby Sevens, which we’ll be supporting as well obviously. And I met last night with the coach of the Fijian Flying Fijians. And besides begging him not to beat the Wallabies again, they are obviously working on how we can cooperate further as well.

Speaker: No further questions. Thank you Honourable Ministers.

Pio Tikoduadua: Thank you.

Minister Conroy: Thank you.

Pio Tikoduadua: Thanks.

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