Interview with Ritika Pratap, FBC News, Fiji
Ritika Pratap, Host: Thank you for joining us this evening, Minister.
Penny Wong, Foreign Minister: It's really good to be with you, thank you.
Pratap: What is the biggest thing that you are looking at tomorrow?
Foreign Minister: I'm sorry?
Pratap: What areas are you looking at to discuss with the ministers?
Foreign Minister: Well, obviously climate change is such an important issue, an existential issue, a national security issue for the Pacific. So, I'm looking forward to listening, looking forward to working with my colleagues, and counterparts on the issues that matter to them. Obviously, this is ‑ we see the Pacific Islands Forum as being such an important organisation, such an important regional entity at this time.
Pratap: You've met our Prime Minister, how do you gauge your Vuvale partnership with our government now?
Foreign Minister: Oh, look, it's fantastic. We value the friendship, we value the openness of dialogue, we value the ways in which we can work together, and we value the regional leadership your country shows. Fiji is a regional leader and works with other parts, countries in the region on issues that matter to the region. That leadership role within the regional organisation is really important.
Pratap: Minister, what new areas of trade cooperation can you see with Australia?
Foreign Minister: Well, I hope that more Australians are coming back in terms of tourism, I think that's what I've seen, and that's a good thing. I know that's important for the economy, it's important for the links, and Fiji is a very special place, and the heart of many Australians, so I'm pleased to see that after COVID we're seeing airlines flying again and visitors coming again. But there's a lot of areas we will work on together. Climate is a very important area, and it's the big transition now for all of us over the years ahead.
Pratap: China's influence has increased in the region, but Australia remains our traditional partner. So how will you ensure that you maintain that relationship?
Foreign Minister: We want to focus on being a responsive, respectful and reliable partner, and we do that because it's the right thing to do. But we also do it because we share so much. We share an ocean, a continent, we share a future, and the way we look at it is that your stability and your security and your prosperity is also ours, and we all do better in a region which is peaceful, stable and secure. And that's what we want to work to.
Pratap: Can we look at new projects in terms of our defence area with Australia?
Foreign Minister: We have a relationship that covers so many areas. So, we work together in maritime, we work together in, you know, the Blackrock facility, humanitarian and peacekeeping work, we work together on climate, we work together on other development, in other development areas. So I think the ‑ my observation, or my feeling about our valued partnership is that we have so many areas where we are going great, and we want that to continue and to deepen.
Pratap: The PALM Scheme. I know Australia has to look at all the other Pacific island neighbours as well, and not just focus on Fiji. But is there any chance of increasing quota, or what are you looking at for Fiji?
Foreign Minister: I think the point on the PALM Scheme is that countries have a choice if and how they want to participate, and we want to work on how Fiji wants to participate together. We see it as important to make sure that that program works for both the participating country, in this case Fiji, as well as for the Australian economy. We want it to work for both partners.
Pratap: Fiji is losing a lot of skilled workers to Australia, in terms of medical nurses, teachers. Is there any way Australia will compensate us?
Foreign Minister: I think one of the things we can do is to make sure we invest in skills here and more pathways here, and, you know, with the PALM program to make sure we have the capacity to provide training, and hopefully people could come back with more skills. There is a shortage of skilled workers around the world, isn't there, and particularly in our region. So, the solution to that has to be more training, more opportunities, and that's how we try to approach it.
Pratap: In a recent report, Oil Change International has labelled Australia is as the top five list of planet-wrecking countries -
Foreign Minister: That's a neutral term, isn't it?
Foreign Minister: I think we all know Australia is a country that's got a lot of resources and has an economy that has been very emissions intensive, and we have to turn that around, we have to change, and we know that. We would have liked to have started earlier, but obviously the politics in Australia haven't enabled that. Now that we are in government, we have a government and a parliament that's committed to making that transition, and it's a big transition.
We have to get from just over 30 per cent renewables to 80 per cent in just a few years. But we should, and we're determined to do it. So what I'd say to you is, you know, we don't want ‑ we want our future to reflect the need to act on climate change and the need to be competitive in a net zero economy, and we know that means we have to transform our economy, just as other countries of the Pacific also will have to make that transition.
Pratap: But how fast would you do that knowing that time is running for all small island nations?
Foreign Minister: And I'm very conscious that climate change is the number one issue for peoples of the Pacific. I can, you know, we can transition as quickly as we can, but the challenge of climate change is not just about Australia or Fiji, it's about every country. It's about not just those who supply fossil fuels, but also those that use it, and we all have to make the transition, and we are prepared to do that and we are working very hard on that.
Pratap: And finally, the COP is coming and Australia is bidding to host it, what support are you getting from our government? The past government was very vocal in this.
Foreign Minister: Yes. Look, we're very pleased that Fiji and others have indicated support. We know that this is important to the Pacific, and we understand why we have a responsibility to work with Pacific island nations to ensure your perspective and your voice is as loud as it can be in the multilateral negotiations.
Pratap: Thank you so much for your time.
Foreign Minister: Great to be with you.
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