Doorstop at Lakapi Samoa Headquarters
Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Pat Conroy:
Well, first off, can I say I’m sorry that we didn’t get to answer some questions yesterday. Unfortunately, Minister Mulipola had to catch a flight to American Samoa, and that’s why we only had time for the statements yesterday.
But can I say it’s a real pleasure to be in Samoa for my first visit as the Minister for the Pacific. It was great yesterday to make announcements around disbursement of the $20 million in budget support to support particularly elderly Samoans and Samoans with a disability, but also to sign the arrangements for the Tautai and the Tautua that really do cement in Australia’s relationship with Samoa as friends and partners and equals. That funding will give certainty and give discretion to the Government of Samoa to apply those funds in ways that advance the welfare of the people of Samoa.
Today has been an equally joyful day getting to be briefed on the Samoan Police’s Maritime Wing and to help open the interim training academy and launch the Police Handbook. It just demonstrates the cooperation between our two great nations.
But I’ve got to say the most enjoyable thing that I’ve done is the announcement today of the $220,000 sponsorship of Manu Samoa for the upcoming Rugby World Cup campaign. As I said out there, I started watching and playing rugby in 1991, and the highlight of that for me was Peter “Fats” (Fatialofa’s) great team beating Wales and holding Australia to a 9-3 record, and having the iconic furniture removalist really just battle the millionaires from England and France was great to see.
So our support for Samoan rugby is part of our people-to-people links that unite our two great countries. Whether it’s sports like rugby union, netball or rugby league, we’re two countries that are united in our love of those pastimes. We’re also united in our love of the Pacific and our commitment to a peaceful and prosperous Pacific where everyone can live and prosper together.
So I’ll leave my remarks there and happy to answer questions anyone might have.
First off, my name is Francis from TV1 Samoa. It’s a pleasure to have you. Welcome to Samoa.
Thank you, Francis.
My question is on the AUKUS agreement. There are concerns from Samoa and other countries about the lack of consultation and the potential conflict with the Rarotonga agreement. Should Australia have done more to consult with foreign-minded countries given their stance against nuclear ships in the region?
Thank you, Francis, and thank you for the welcome. And I can say that when the AUKUS announcement was originally made by the last government there was insufficient consultation. And that was disrespectful to nations around the world by Australia. The Australian Government at the time did not consult enough.
But I can say that that lesson was learned, and the new Australian Government, when we made the announcement of the acquisition of nuclear-propelled but conventionally armed submarines, we consulted with over - and briefed 60 nations around the world, principally in the Pacific and the Indian Ocean areas. That consultation was led by the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and myself. And, as I said, we spoke to leaders of 60 nations, and I know that Prime Minister Fiamē received a briefing from our Foreign Minister, and I know our excellent High Commissioner briefed the Deputy Prime Minister.
That consultation is really important, and that allowed us to ensure leaders of the Pacific that what we were doing is consistent with the Treaty of Rarotonga. We’re a proud signatory of the Treaty of Rarotonga, and signatories to that treaty commit to a South Pacific free of nuclear weapons. And that’s completely consistent with our announcement.
As I said, again, our submarines will be nuclear-propelled but they will be conventionally armed. We’re proud to be members of the treaty and we will uphold all our commitments to that. And I think in our consultations we’ve been able to allay a lot of concerns around that issue.
My name is Niall from BluWave TV. My question is, Samoa has some world-class sporting facilities and many talented athletes and also we seem to require more research in sporting development, nutrition and endurance-building. Will the funding cover these areas?
The announcement we made today for the $220,000 partnership doesn’t just go to supporting Manu Samoa’s Rugby world campaign – World Cup campaign; it supports greater female participation, as we heard about, supporting more female participation and female coaches. I agree with you; Samoa is the home of world-class athletes and I’ll be going across to the weightlifting centre to meet some of your medal winners.
And if I reflect on, for example, the Rugby League World Cup last year and your tremendous performance, I’m proud that there’s almost 100,000 Australians of Samoan heritage in Australia. The largest Pacific diaspora in Australia are Samoans, and I can say every one of them was out on the streets the week before that World Cup final. And I can also say that every Kangaroo player of Samoan heritage, if they played for the Samoan team, I think you would have won.
So you’ve got a world-class performance, and we stand ready through the PacificAus [Sports] partnership to support greater sports participation and elite participation by Samoan players.
Your views so far – since you’ve been here in Samoa, what is your views so far on Australia helping Samoans financially throughout the years?
Well, I think that Samoa for a nation that’s celebrating its 60 years of independence is tremendously impressive. When I visited the police training centre I remarked upon the strength of your institutions. For a country that’s comparatively young you’ve got such strong institutions and you seem to have – this is as an outsider, so I’m always very careful to comment on things that I’m not an expert on – but I think I look at your institutions, for example, how you meld policing and a criminal justice system with your chiefly system and having villages where chiefs really help provide guidance is something that’s really instructive.
So the lessons I’ve taken here is Samoa has a disproportionate voice in the Pacific. You really are great, strong voices for Pacific regionalism and the strength of regional institutions. And that’s to your credit. And we are equal partners. Just as we provided assistance to you, you provided assistance to us during our recent bushfire emergency. And that partnership has to go on and on and on.
And as a proud member of the Pacific family, our commitment to the people of Samoa is that we will turn up, we will listen and we’ll respect your priorities. And that’s what I’m doing today. That’s what I’ll do when I come back. And that’s what we do in every forum.
Gutu Faasau from Samoa Observer. Last month, the Samoa Observer wrote a story on Nafanua, the new patrol boat. We just wanted to hear any updates on its arrival to Samoa?
Thank you very much. That boat will be launched in the Henderson shipyard in, I think it’s the middle of November, November 17. So we’ll be launching it on November 17, and the intention is to sail it over in January by your crew. And I was talking to the Commissioner of the Police this morning and he said he’s already identified the crew and they will be heading over to Australia around September for more training and then they’ll bring the patrol boat over.
So we’re really proud and privileged to be supporting your maritime security. We’re proud that we could fill in the capability temporarily through the leased boat while the patrol boat was being built. I’ve inspected the construction yards in Henderson and I’m really confident that when that patrol boat comes over here you’ll have a world-class capability.
Last question, on the agreement of the new government coming in was the seasonal work; is there more opportunities for Samoan people overseas in the coming years?
Well, there are great opportunities, but I should stress we work hand in hand with the Samoan government and ultimately the Government of Samoa controls how many Samoans come to Australia to work and who comes. And that’s really important. You are a proud sovereign nation and you have that right to decide how many come to Australia.
But the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility Scheme – PALM – I think is a great example of a win-win for Australia and Samoa. It helps fill temporary labour shortages we have in Australia. It helps give Samoan workers skills that they then come back to Samoa with, and it helps provide remittance income. We did a study and it found that the average long-term worker sends home $15,000 Australian a year. So that’s lifting individuals, families, villages out of poverty and helping them give a great start.
And I had the privilege – I was in Tasmania in February and I got to visit a strawberry farm, and I met 80 Samoans who were working there. And I was asking them how they went with the cold weather. And given it was an Aussie rules state were they able to watch the rugby league and rugby world games, and they said they had TVs. But that’s an example of them getting skills, sending home money to their family and helping us with a labour shortage.
We’re increasing the protections so that workers get better protection, and we’re also making announcements around increased training, because the idea is that workers come home not only with money in their pocket but greater skills to build the Samoan economy. So we’re proud to lift the number of Pacific workers from 24,000 to 35,000 in only seven months. We want to lift it more, but ultimately the governments of the Pacific decide how many they send.
But I think it’s a great scheme. It’s a win for Australian employers, it’s a win for Samoan workers, it’s a win for the Samoan community, and it’s a win for the Samoan government, if we do it properly. And that’s what we’re committed to doing.
Another question, Minister. Just following on seasonal work. I know it’s easier for seasonal work to get people to come over to Australia but would you consider making it easier for visas for those visiting Australia?
It’s a really legitimate concern. And we’re really committed to working on that, both for visits and to stay permanently. We announced a Pacific Engagement Visa, which is about giving opportunities for more Pacific people to attain permanent residence in Australia. We announced 3,000 per year, and that will be allocated to each country in consultation with the governments of those countries.
Importantly, you would have a random ballot style similar to the US green card so that there wasn’t a brain drain. And that’s something we’re really committed to. But ultimately I think that the Pacific having greater people-to-people linkages, whether it’s people visiting for holidays to see their family, to work temporarily or to migrate permanently, can only deepen our relationships.
And I reflect on the fact that, as I said at the start, the biggest Pacific diaspora in Australia are Samoans. I represent a community around Newcastle that’s got huge numbers of Pasifika. I play footy with them – well, normally they beat me at footy. They’re part of our community and they make Australia a better place to live. And when some of them return to Samoa they enrich your community as well. So those people-to-people linkages are vital.
Just on the APTC yesterday, I know that Australia and Samoa have an ongoing commitment to education, so can you provide any details on the future the APTC, and the courses offered for the future?
Well, we’re proud of the impact APTC has had in Samoa around the Pacific, and we’ve expanded courses into construction, for example. And I know that’s including women in construction, and that’s really, really vital. We’re looking at how we can support more funding for the APTC to do its great work. And, importantly, the APTC responds to the skills priorities set by Pacific governments. So if the government of Samoa says we need more construction workers but less of another course, we will adjust that to respond to your priorities.
Ultimately the new Australian Government’s key message is we listen to your priorities. We make our investments based on what you want, not what a government in Australia says. So if the APTC should be concentrating on something else, we’ll do that.
But it’s not just the APTC; we’re proud to support the Australia Awards, and I met some incredibly impressive young Samoans who had done university courses in Australia in things like engineering, in cyber security. And they come back to Samoa and were making a contribution to Samoa. So they work hand in glove. We also support the University of the South Pacific, that obviously helps train Samoans as well. So we’re very keen to keep expanding the APTC where it makes sense.
Any other questions?
We’ll have our last two questions.
Okay, my last question, as I mentioned for Samoa, some world-class sporting facilities. So, however, many of this remains unused or under-used. Having hosted Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games and also other major events, my question is to you, Minister, are there any lessons Australia can pass on to us for more efficient use of these resources?
Well, I think I’m always reluctant to tell other countries how to operate. I think our relationships are founded in respect – respect for your sovereignty. But I think one of the lessons I’ve seen as someone in Australia is when you have world-class facilities that might be developed for an Olympics in our case or a Pacific Games – and I’ve seen some of your infrastructure that was driven by the Pacific Games – finding creative ways to use them is great, and not just for elite. I think meeting school kids out there is a great way of seeing infrastructure still used as a grounding place. So I just encourage use of those facilities, particularly by school kids. It’s not just great for them to enjoy sports, but it’s great lessons about life and discipline.
That’s why one of the great programs PacificAus Sports produces is things like Team Up, which is about grassroots sport. So I think our support through PacificAus Sports and your infrastructure is a marriage made in heaven.
I wanted to ask will you be watching the game tomorrow?
Unfortunately, I have to return home before the game. We had to change the schedule, otherwise I was intent on staying and watching the game. I’m hesitant to make a prediction because politicians making sports predictions generally get it wrong, but I’m hoping Moana Pasifika will get their first win for the season. I’ll make the point, they were very smart – they’ve come in early. The Queensland Reds only arrived today. So I’m hoping the home field advantageous really get you over the line.
And I note that you’ve come close in a lot of matches, and it’s that 5 or 15 minutes [indistinct], that maybe might have let you down. So hopefully home field advantage gets you there tomorrow. And that goes on – the Super Pacific competition is richer for having Moana Pasifika and Fijian Drua teams in their competition. And we need to make sure that those teams succeed, because you’re the birthplace and heart of Pacific rugby. And, quite frankly, I want Samoan players to be playing for Manu Samoa as much as they then get poached and play for the Wallabies or the All Blacks. We want strong Samoan rugby teams so that, quite frankly, you’re beating the Wallabies again and beating the All Blacks and showing the pride of the Pacific.
Excellent, thank you very much for your questions. We had one more?
Yes, sorry. Can you confirm how much for the new partnership you announced yesterday; the Tautua and the Tautai?
Yes, it’s about 85 million over eight years. So it’s broadly 45 million for the Tautai and 40 million for the Tautua. And importantly with that funding, particularly the Tautai, that will go – most of it will go directly into Samoa’s budget. And then the government of Samoa can allocate that money in a way that supports the economic development of Samoa. Thank you.
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