Australia stands ready to help Fiji long-term: Bishop

The Fijian government has identified three priority areas - healthcare, education and agriculture – that will need to be supported in its effort to rebuild the country from the devastation caused by cyclone Winston last month.

PACNEWS reports this was revealed by Australia’s foreign minister Julie Bishop after meetings with Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama and Foreign Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola in Suva. 

“The main topics we discussed was not only the recovery effort and Australia's role in working with Fiji authorities to provide basic food, shelter and sanitation hygiene equipment but also the longer term recovery that will be required. Yesterday we visited Koro Island and saw the devastation, the homes and buildings, schools, that has been so severely damage and Australia will continue our support and work with Fiji government and restore Fiji back to normality.

“At this stage after the initial recovery effort he (PM Bainimarama) was concerned about healthcare, education longer term agriculture. The three areas were identified by the Prime Minister and foreign minister. We will work closely with authorities as we have for the last three weeks to ensure that we provide targeted support to those most in need,” Bishop told reporters in the capital Suva.

Bishop said Australia stands ready to support Fiji long-term in the agriculture sector as well as rebuilding its economy.

“One other issue that is quiet disturbing is the fact the agricultural crops have been devastated. So this season there is a loss of income and impact on the economy. Australia stands ready to support Fiji in helping with economy and getting crops for planting.

“This been a tragic time for the people of Fiji, 44 casualties as a result of the cyclone but the people are resilient and determined to restore their lives and Australia is proud to be part of those efforts.

“We understand there will be an overall need assessment undertaken in the next few days and Australia will stand ready to continue to support Fiji at this time, she said.

With only eight days left for the remainder of the State of Natural Disaster declared by the Fijian Government, Bishop said Australia’s presence in Fiji will remain for as long as they are needed.

“We are continuing to retain our presence here – the thousands of defence personnel, civilian volunteers who are moving from the phase of immediate support to longer term support - putting roofs on schools ensuring that children can get back to school, ensuring that medical centres are operated and off course ensuring that the tourism trade can continue to thrive because tourism is one of the major pillars of the Fijian economy.

She said it’s up to Fiji what other form of assistance it may require in its rehabilitation efforts.

“It’s a question of what Fiji is looking for. We obviously are working in partnership with the Fijian government to provide support for what they are requesting. We’ve already provided $15 million (US$7 million) in immediate response. In addition to that is the cost of our defence and civilian personnel here. They will remain for as long as they are needed, we are in the hands of the Fijian government," said Bishop