Interview with Lice Monovo, Today Media

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Fiji tourism; COP26; Fiji health support.

Lice Movono: Thank you so much for agreeing to talk to me. I am interested in three things: the first one is what do you think will be the most pressing concerns of Australian tourists that get on a plane on 1 December to come here?

Zed Seselja: Well, I think they’re just going to have to, I guess, have confidence in the systems, you know. I think there’s great excitement but, of course, there will be a little bit of trepidation as people are travelling overseas for the first time in a while. So, what we’re seeking to do and what we announced last night with the Care Fiji [Commitment] is about building some of that confidence, having systems in place that will give people confidence.

I think there will be a lot of demand, but I think these first couple of months will be important. So it’s just important we work hard to maintain that confidence so that it’s a sustainable opening and so that people aren’t just coming in December and January but right throughout next year and beyond.

Lice Movono: Wonderful. The 35,000 visitor arrival per month that Tourism Fiji is expecting over the next two months, it seems like a really big number, we’re very excited, that’s not normal for this time of the year.

Zed Seselja: Yeah.

Lice Movono: What do you think accounts for this travel trend of Australia?

Zed Seselja: I think there’s a lot of pent-up demand. I mean, I think Australians, obviously like a lot of other parts of the world, have been very restricted in their ability to travel. There are still some border restrictions in Australia, so that would be contributing. I think also Fiji has a bit of a first-mover advantage at the moment. You know, the fact that really it’s the only destination or one of the only destinations in the Pacific that’s fully open, and a lot of other traditional destinations in the region are not available either. So there’s always a great love and a great desire to go to Fiji, but I think there are certain things in Fiji’s favour right now.

Lice Movono: The Australian Government has run parallel to Fiji in terms of, you know, reopening and adjusting the strategy to suit the reality of Covid. Those countries, New Zealand, for example, and maybe the other countries that have not yet opened up to the idea of coming here but are looking to you for that. What do you say to these people?

Zed Seselja: We’re very happy to lead the way for our Kiwi brothers and sisters. But, look, we would say obviously they will make their own decisions as to when they reopen, we respect that. They’re a sovereign nation and they’ll make judgments as to what’s best for them. We’ve obviously – it’s been a cautious reopening. It’s been done in conjunction with the states, and obviously different states have different approaches, but the Australian Government’s view is that we do need to move to a position of living with Covid. It will be with us.

I don’t think anyone is suggesting that next year there won’t be cases of Covid. It’s going to be about how we manage that, how we learn to live with it. Obviously, you know, vaccinations will continue to be important in that, there’s some encouraging therapeutics which could help change the situation in time, but let’s see how it goes. But I think it’s just a matter of working out how you actually live with it, keep people save but allow people to, you know, have the sort of freedoms that we’ve always taken for granted.

Lice Movono: Minister, in the Pacific on the back of COP26 there’s a lot of unhappiness or maybe disappointment on the parts of especially the civil society with regards to the Australian Government’s commitments or what they see as a lack of it with regards to goals for 2030 and 2050. What does the Australian government have to say through its Pacific Minister to the people of the Pacific who are trying to get you to commit on?

Zed Seselja: Well, I’d make a couple of points. Obviously for 2050 we’ve committed to net zero. That’s a big deal for the world’s fourth largest energy producer. Obviously we have particular challenges in Australia that are different from some other smaller nations. But also if we look at what we’ve achieved to 2020, what we’re on track to achieve for 2030, it is world leading. I know that there are some big commitments that some countries have made, but many of those countries – and if we look at the average of wealthy nations, Australia is reducing our emissions much faster. And at the same time we’re also stepping up to support our Pacific family with additional climate finance which we know is very important. We’ve signed high-quality offsets agreement with Fiji. That, I think, should give confidence that we’re not just going to talk about climate change, we’re going to actually act, as we are and we’ll continue to do it.

Lice Movono: From the civil society as well but also from some of the leaders there’s talk about a need for better approach to climate financing, a better approach in terms of building the capacity of Pacific peoples to know how to use the climate finance as opposed to bringing more Australians, New Zealanders into Pacific countries to lead the climate adaptation work. What is your response to that?

Zed Seselja: Yeah, look, I think it’s both. I think you need a mix of both. I mean, if you look at some of the work we’ve done in adaptation and resilience, I mean, there’s some really important work already going on. So you can approach it from the energy production point of view, and we’re investing in solar and in hydro in the region, which is very, very important to have those technologies not just available in Australia but available here in the Pacific and beyond. But also if you look at some of the adaptation work and resilience work, I mean, that is important. And we’re investing a lot of in infrastructure at the moment.

So, yes, some of that will be Australian expertise, but I think it’s important – and, you know, our Prime Minister has said very clearly when it comes to our approach to climate change that we’ll do it in a way – that the world won’t get to serious emissions reduction until the developing world is in a position to be able to have technologies that are good for their economies and good for the environment, and that’s what we’re working on.

Lice Movono: A final question: with regards to the PPE, particularly your help and support with the health sector with Ba and Lautoka, people are seeing this as a big answer with regards to ongoing problems to build world-class health services in an area where we get a lot of our tourists. What makes you think this will work, this new initiative?

Zed Seselja: Well, look, I think Aspen Medical is a great Australian company. I think they’ve had a great record of success around the world in dealing with all sorts of health challenges, whether that’s dealing with Ebola in Africa, whether that’s in the Middle East, whether that’s in Australia we’ve seen some good work. So I think it’s an exciting partnership. I was excited to see the detail of some of those plans, and I’m hopeful that if I have the opportunity to visit in two or three years’ time what we’ll see is a significantly upgraded health system here in Fiji.

Lice Movono: Thank you very much.

Media enquiries

Cassandra Choake | 0427 839 164 |