5 Jun 2019

Australia announces plan to strengthen relationship with Fiji

6:13 pm on 5 June 2019

Australia's foreign minister Marise Payne has announced plans to strengthen the relationship with Fiji in defence, trade, education and sports.

Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne in Suva

Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne in Suva Photo: RNZ/Lice Movono

The former defence minister is on a three day visit to Fiji, her first overseas trip since the national elections earlier this month

In a speech to the Press Club in Suva she said both countries were on track to finalise a new agreement to be signed when the prime minister Frank Bainimarama visits Canberra later this year.

She said Australia would soon establish the infrastructure financing facility to fund climate change resilient developments, announced in November last year.

Ms Payne said the Australian government would continue its climate change work by "supporting our Pacific families' own efforts".

She said the government had given out two thirds of its $AU300m climate change assistance package.

The minister acknowledged Fijian government leadership in climate change diplomacy calling the issue a "potential disruptor of political and economic security" in the region.

Ms Payne visited the Fiji military's Black Rock camp in Nadi, which Australia is helping to fund.

She said the "state of the art, world class place of learning for peacekeepers" was being steadily redeveloped.

The minister also revealed a programme to host elite Fijian athletes in sporting institutions in Australia ahead of world sporting events.

She said the Fijian 7s team could be a beneficiary of the programme ahead of its defence of the Rugby 7s gold at the next Olympics in Japan in 2020.

During her visit, Ms Payne also met new participants of Australia's Pacific Labour Scheme, referring to it as an attempt to address uncertainty in the global economy.

More Fijians will soon join the scheme to address labour shortages especially in rural and regional Australia.

Touching on trade, Ms Payne said the $A2 billion exchange between Fiji and Australia will soon be stepped up pending the results of a fact finding mission to Fiji to be conducted by an independent team this year.

The Australian government will step up its commitment to border security by way of training, Ms Payne said.

She said the construction of two new Guardian-Class patrol boats for Fiji was on course as part of the Australia's Pacific maritime security programme.

In defence, business, schools or sports, the minister said there was a lot for Fijians and Australians to look forward to as the Australian government's 'Pacific step up' programme grew.

Ms Payne said Fiji remained the most popular Pacific destination for Australians looking for work studying placements.

Ms Payne's visit to Fiji follows that of Prime Minister Scott Morrison in January when the two countries announced their vuvale, or family, partnership.

The Morrison government last year committed to strengthening its engagement in the region with its 'Pacific step-up'.