Subjects: Blackrock Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Camp.
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I would like to welcome you all to this afternoon’s press conference between the Australian Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Hon Zed Seselja, and our Fijian Minister for Defence, Hon Inia Seruiratu. Before we begin with our question-and-answer session, I would like to invite the honourable ministers to make their opening remarks. I call upon the Hon Seruiratu to give his opening remarks, then we’ll give the floor to the honourable Minister from Australia. Naka.
Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the Prime Minister of Fiji, I wish to take this opportunity to thank the Government of Australia for their support for the development of the Blackrock Camp here in Nadi. It is a great honour to be here with the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator the Honourable Zed Seselja, for this momentous event. This is really a testament of our vuvale partnership. As a family, we share a lot in common and this has seen a deeper cooperation between Australia and Fiji.
This partnership also solidifies our people-to-people links and our economic development. This cooperation has benefited the Republic of Fiji Military Forces immensely. Once again, we wish to offer our gratitude to the Australian Government for funding the RFMF peacekeeping school and the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief centre, which is a world‑class facility enhancing interoperability and Fiji’s ability to respond to humanitarian crises in the region.
This project will also include access to a level 1 hospital facility and a refuge in times of natural disasters to name a few. Additionally, it will also be a bastion of security to the community due to its proximity to the nearest police station. [Indistinct] and ensure that we will prepare our soldiers to international standards and the level of professionalism that is required by international peacekeeping missions. We see a very bright future for our service men and women through the state‑of‑the‑art centre, and we thank the Australian Government once again for the opportunity in providing this platform.
Again, the partnership between our two governments and the partnership between our defence forces is grounded in a common history of service and sacrifice. I share the sentiment by the Honourable Prime Minister Scott Morrison earlier today that we have been on each other’s back and this project is indeed a godsend, as it has also brought about opportunities for the community here in Votualevu with a [FJ$35 million] injection into the local economy, and also offering employment to locals.
The project is not just about solidifying our defence partnership and relationship, but celebrating the growing personal relationship behind the vuvale partnership. Vinaka vaka levu. Thank you.
Thank you very much and thank you, Minister Seruiratu, for your words, and for your welcome; to your Prime Minister Bainimarama, and to the people of Fiji for hosting us today on this really momentous day. Blackrock is about a significant partnership, and it reflects, I think, the significant partnership between Australia and Fiji that we are seeing in a range of ways. We are together in the Solomons. We are together in Tonga. We are together in the region. We have the Fijian Military who are assisting with Operation Flood Assist in Australia, and we thank the Fijian Government and the Fijian people for that.
The Blackrock facility is an outstanding facility. I had the opportunity to visit in November when it was nearing completion. So, to see this opening today, I want to thank the Fijian Government, but I also want to thank all those who put on what was an extraordinary ceremony, a beautiful ceremony, a reflection of the beauty of Fijian culture. We were honoured in many, many ways, and I want to thank all those who put it together. But it is an important partnership in our region, and this Blackrock facility will be an important facility where Fiji will continue to play a significant leadership role in our region, particularly in the realm of peacekeeping, but also humanitarian assistance. It is something that we want to build on.
As our Prime Minister has said, we see Fijians as vuvale, as family. That family partnership, that very, very close relationship, is one we want to build on and strengthen, and today is a great day to do that. But I think we’re very happy to take your questions.
Thank you, honourable Ministers. We will now take three questions from the members of the media. Please introduce yourself, your names and the media organisation you’re from.
I’m Samantha Magick from Islands Business regional magazine. I’m interested in the regional aspect of this. You made many references to the fact that it’s not just about Fiji but our neighbours as well. What specifically would that look like? What requests have we had from our neighbours? And is there any time frame around that? Perhaps the Minister [indistinct].
I’ll take the question first and then I’ll ask Hon Zed Seselja.
We have so much in common in the region and, of course, with that comes responsibilities as well. We are not only bounded by what our leaders have agreed to, particularly under the Boe Declaration, which covers so many aspects in which this facility will be really utilised for as well. [Indistinct] and, of course, humanitarian assistance as well. As I’ve stated, we have a role to play, and we need each other in the region based on the challenges and the fast‑changing environment that we are in. So, this partnership again becomes increasingly important and, of course, given the role that Australia has in the region and, of course, Fiji as well, we will continue to build and strengthen this relationship because the region needs us so that we can be able to be in a better position to help on the issues.
I don’t think there’s much I can add to the Minister’s answer. Obviously, this is a Fijian facility supported by Australia, so those judgements ultimately will be made by the Government of Fiji, but I think we’re already seeing the levels of cooperation that are occurring, as I mentioned, in a number of spaces that we are seeing in Tonga and the Solomon Islands at the moment and indeed back into Australia right now. So, I’m sure there will be many opportunities for that regional cooperation. When you’ve got a facility that is as outstanding as this, I think there will be great interest in the region, and I’m sure those discussions will be had amongst governments in months to come.
[Indistinct] from The Fiji Times. My question is to Minister Seruiratu. In regards to this handover, now that Australia was fully funding the facility, is Fiji going to take over funding of maintenance and general upkeep of the facility or is regional participants contributing in helping of funding of maintenance work, labour costs or anything that the facility might need?
Like all other projects that we have been provided with in the past, we hope that the partnership will continue. Of course, that is a huge responsibility now for Fiji. And we have the committee that looks after the project, and they will be concluding their final meeting today, and probably some of the aspects of how it is [indistinct] being maintained in the future will be discussed and, of course, taken into consideration as well. But that does not take away the fact that the handing over has been completed, of course, Fiji has a responsibility and, of course, as we’ve stated earlier, while answering this question, this is not only about Fiji. This is for the region. And, of course, we hope that the regional partners and all the key stakeholders will play a role as well in looking after this facility for the benefit of the people of the region.
We’ll take the last question now.
[Indistinct] from the Fiji Sun. I understand that FJ$35 million was provided for local labour, materials and [indistinct] during the construction works together with creating some jobs. However, do you have the total funding from when the project began to today?
I don’t have the exact number, but it is significantly more than that FJ$35 million figure, I think. I think it’s probably closer to a AU$100 million investment, but I could get you an exact figure on that and that will be published in the usual way. But it is a significant investment and it’s one we are very, very proud of. You point to the FJ$35 million figure in relation to local labour and the like. I mean, that’s something we’re very proud of because it’s a genuine partnership. I was speaking with the contractors, CC Pines out of Australia, and they were talking about their experience in pushing through COVID. And I know that when I visited here and met with some of the local workers when, you know, the economy – like many parts of the world the economy was doing it very, very tough as a result of COVID lockdowns and border closures, but these jobs were an absolute lifeline. So, to be able to continue with this type of work through difficult times, I think was particularly important. So, it’s an important flow‑on of the investment. It’s not the main reason; of course, this facility is about peacekeeping, it is about humanitarian response, but there is a significant local economic benefit, and we see that in Australia when we invest in defence facilities, when we invest in the defence industry.
We’ve committed to a large increase in our defence forces over the coming years and that will have obviously a security benefit, number one, but also an economic benefit and we trust that there’s been significant economic benefit here as a result of Blackrock and I’m sure part of that economic benefit will continue.
Vinaka vaka levu, honourable ministers, ladies and gentlemen.
SENATOR THE HON ZED SESELJA
Minister for International Development and the Pacific
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