25 Nov 2020

Fiji and Australia working on defence agreement

8:43 pm on 25 November 2020

Fiji and Australia have commenced negotiations for a reciprocal Status of Forces Agreement.

The bilateral agreement would facilitate Fijian and Australian defence personnel to undertake exchanges and joint deployments, as well as allowing the two defence forces to exercise in each other's jurisdiction.

The Australian Defence Force also works out of the air transport aid hub at Nausori near Suva

The Australian Defence Force also works out of the air transport aid hub at Nausori near Suva Photo: RNZI/Sally Round

Talks towards the agreement kicked off in a virutal meeting between the two countries' defence ministers, Fiji's Inia Seruiratu and Australia's Linda Reynolds.

Reynolds said the bilateral relationship is going from strength to strength. She noted Fiji's swift response in deploying the Bula Force to support Australia during the Black Summer Bushfires.

Seruiratu said the deployment earlier this year reinforced the importance of the two countries being able to move quickly to support one another, when required.

Australia and Fiji have worked shoulder-to-shoulder in response to significant challenges in the Pacific region from Covid-19 to Tropical Cyclone Harold, Minister Reynolds said

According to Mirage News, the ministers also discussed new ways to progress maritime security cooperation in the region and agreed that Australia would fund the construction of the Maritime Essential Services Centre in Fiji.

The centre is expected to incorporate the Republic of Fiji Navy Headquarters, the Fiji Maritime Surveillance and Rescue Coordination Centre, Coastal Radio and Fiji's Navy Hydrographic Service.

Seruiratu said that, as with the works at the Blackrock Peacekeeping and Humanitarian and Disaster Relief Camp, the MESC project would have a positive economic dividend and generate jobs.

Fiji's Agriculture Minister Inia Seruiratu

Fiji's Agriculture Minister Inia Seruiratu Photo: Alex Perrottet / RNZ

The Ministers also discussed the progress made in the bilateral defence relationship under Australia's Pacific Maritime Security Program.

Fiji received its first Guardian Class, the RFNS Savenaca, in March 2020 with the second vessel scheduled for handover in 2023.