20 May 2020

Australia backs inclusion of Fiji in trans-tasman bubble

6:43 am on 20 May 2020

Australia says it supports Fiji's bid to join a potential trans-Tasman travel bubble amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

From left, Fiji Health Minister Ifereimi Waqainabete, Australian High Commissioner John Feakes and Fiji's Attorney-General Aiyaz Saiyed-Khaiyum.

From left, Fiji Health Minister Ifereimi Waqainabete, Australian High Commissioner John Feakes and Fiji's Attorney-General Aiyaz Saiyed-Khaiyum. Photo: Facebook/Fiji govt

Australia's High Commissioner to Fiji, John Feakes, said no timeline had been set as Canberra and Wellington had yet to finalise a bilateral agreement.

But he said Australia wanted Fiji in its bubble alongside New Zealand.

"We are still working with New Zealand to put in place the trans-Tasman bubble," Mr Feakes said.

"As you're probably aware, there are active Coronavirus cases in Australia but once the work is done to open up the Trans-Tasman bubble, we will look very quickly at including Fiji in that as well."

Mr Feakes said the Australia and Fiji governments were also in talks over Fiji's economic situation.

Fiji closed its borders to all international passenger flights in March and last week extended the closure until the end of June.

Minister for the Economy, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, said while talks were ongoing with other countries, Fiji was not resting on its laurels in its plan to join the trans-Tasman bubble.

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said the government would ensure it had the necessary measures in place to safely open up Fiji's borders.

"We want to know what we can do in the meantime to prepare in the event or when it does actually open up so we need to be all geared up for that, whether you know it's regulatory frameworks in respect of medical protocols etcetera that may need to be developed and we can start those conversations now."

John Feakes said ensuring public health was paramount to any travel bubble deal.

He said before any borders could reopen, measures needed to be in place to ensure the coronavirus was contained and not allowed to spread to uninfected populations.

"Our public health people will have to establish the protocols and procedures to allow travel to take place, but I think the hard work would take place between Australia and New Zealand," he said.

"And once that work is done, it will be very easily applied to Fiji."

Attention turns to economic aid

Meanwhile, New Zealand and Australia were turning to economic aid to help Fiji recover from the financial fallout due to the coronavirus crisis.

Last week, Australia announced a $US7.5 million in direct budget support and High Commissioner John Feakes said the assistance was expected to open up similar development cooperation with other countries.

Mr Feakes said the European Union and New Zealand had taken the lead in providing direct budget support to Fiji and it was Australia's turn.

"Now, of course, we're on board and this is a reflection of our complete confidence in the Fijian systems and particularly the Ministry of Economy."

This week, the Fiji government allocated $US440,000 to support the state's private sector growth programme.

Aiyaz Saiyed-Khaiyum, said the direct grant from Australia would help Fiji's efforts in "other ongoing measures nationwide".

Direct budget support is when donor funds are channelled into government budgets through the normal budgeting and financial management process.

"This is one of the better ways of utilization of funds because as the central agency that disburses the funds and assesses the national priorities, it's best that the funds actually come through budget support," Mr Khaiyum said.

"We are able then to develop synergies that are required across different ministry's containment efforts of the coronavirus as well as other on-going measures country-wide."

FBC News reported New Zealand's High Commissioner to Fiji, Jonathan Curr, as saying his government had allocated a "portion of the Kiwi aid budget to Fijian businesses."

Jonathan Curr.

Jonathan Curr. Photo: MFAT

"That's the best way for us to support those who are most vulnerable - small and medium enterprises, what's the best way to support the private sector through these challenging times and there are specific needs for the tourism sector."

John Feakes said while his government had supplied medical equipment and testing kits to tackle Covid-19, there was the need to help Fiji's economy get back on track.

"We are focused on the economic recovery phase and I'm sure we will be working with Fiji on a package down the track."