Interview with Kieran Gilbert - Sky News

  • Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Pacific Islands Forum; COVID support in the Pacific; Pacific travel bubble; Climate change.
03 February 2021

Kieran Gilbert: The Prime Minister today met with Pacific leaders over Zoom for a virtual Pacific Islands Forum. The event has been running for 50 years now. It's been forced online, of course, by the pandemic. Let's bring in the minister responsible for our government in this area, the Minister for the Pacific and International Development, Zed Seselja. Thanks for your time, Minister.

Minister Seselja: Hi Kieran.

Kieran Gilbert: Let's start with what our government is offering our Pacific neighbours when it comes to the COVID response, particularly the provision of vaccines. Have we got or have we said we will give them the vaccines necessary for their populations?

Minister Seselja: Yes. There's two key aspects to our COVID response in the region. So, first, economic and other health support of $304 million for the Pacific and Timor-Leste, and then what's been announced today, $200 million for the vaccine roll out in the Pacific in Timor-Leste. And that's over and above our $80 million commitment to the COVAX facility, which, of course, will also be going to some of those Pacific nations. That $200 million dollar commitment that we've announced today on top of COVAX, we believe, in conjunction with our partners like New Zealand and the US and France, will see a full rollout of the vaccine in the region. Very, very important that we do that because, of course, our focus is in Australia and on rolling out the vaccine here. But un- we, of course, with our family, the Pacific family, we want to see them do well, but it's also important for us because we do want to see trade, you know, strong. We want to see travel between our nations resuming as soon it is safe to do so. And obviously, the vaccine rollout will be critical and as well as other things like Pacific workers coming to Australia.

Kieran Gilbert: And in terms of the vaccines, so that's the Pacific. The Prime Minister the other day suggested in the region more broadly as well, South East Asia, Indonesia is a big one. Do we have the capacity to be providing support in terms of Indonesia as well?

Minister Seselja: Well, we do, but not for full coverage. So it's got to be said that in the Pacific and Timor-Leste, along with those partners, we will deliver full coverage and we're making a very substantial contribution. $300 million or so to South East Asia will go, of course, some of the way. But of course, South East Asia being a much bigger in terms of population, we will make a contribution, and of course, Indonesia will be important in that and a number of other countries in the region. But of course, a number of other countries have to come on board in order for South East Asian nations to get that vaccine rolled out.

Kieran Gilbert: I spoke to the Fijian treasurer a couple of months ago. He was really keen to get what he called the Bula bubble, a travel bubble, Bula bubble with Fiji and New Zealand and Australia. Their economy has been smashed by COVID. No tourism. Is that something that's on the agenda? Are you looking at that?

Minister Seselja: It's very high on the agenda. And obviously, the New Zealand- getting the New Zealand two-way travel would be the first priority, and we've seen, of course, quarantine, free travel one way out of New Zealand. And then, we would want to go to places like Fiji and other parts of the Pacific. There's no doubt that we've seen- the COVID response in the Pacific has been very good. So very low rates. Some Pacific nations, in fact, have had no COVID at all. In places like Fiji, I think there's been none since about May. So they've had a really good record on it. And so what we're working towards is to make sure that we can see some of those Pacific workers coming and that program has restarted. Obviously, we'd like to see that at some point, when it's safe to do so, potentially without quarantine, but only when it's safe to do so. And then subsequently to that, we could move towards that two-way travel bubble.

Kieran Gilbert: On one other issue of great sensitivity in the Pacific is climate change. Has there been a warm welcoming of the fact that the Prime Minister is saying now that there'll be a net zero emissions by 2050, or at least that's his preference? It's more and more likely that that's where the Government will land.

Minister Seselja: Well, look, obviously, the PM's had a lot to say. And what he's also been talking about is just what we're achieving when it comes to our emissions reductions right now, almost 17 per cent. We're going to meet and beat our 2020, our 2030 targets. Record uptake of renewables — that's a very strong story for the region. But in addition to that, Kieran, we're also delivering record support for climate resilience programs in the Pacific. And when we do see cyclones, as we saw recently with Cyclone Yasa, Australia is the first to help, and we saw that in Fiji with our military personnel, in particular, HMAS Adelaide, now RAAF giving amazing support. So we're going to do our bit. We are doing our bit. We'll continue to do that, and I hope that will be well received in the region.

Kieran Gilbert: Minister, we'll stay in touch. Appreciate it.

Minister Seselja: Thanks very much.

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