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Australia commits to Fiji recovery

Tuesday 15 March 2016 | Published in Regional

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SUVA – Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has met Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama in Suva to discuss the country’s recovery from Cyclone Winston – the category five storm that swept across the island nation last month, killing 44 people and flattening entire communities.

Since then, the Australian Government has committed $15 million in humanitarian assistance for the country and sent more than 500 tonnes of resources and equipment on 30 relief flights.

Bishop was in Fiji on a two-day visit to oversee those relief efforts on the ground.

She held formal talks with Bainimarama on Monday, pledging to provide as much support as Fiji requests as it rebuilds after Cyclone Winston.

Speaking after their meeting, Bishop said Bainimarama highlighted healthcare, education and agriculture as areas the Government was most concerned about.

She said Australia would continue to provide assistance and defence personnel, while civilian volunteers would maintain a presence in Fiji.

“They are moving from the phase of immediate support to longer-term support – putting roofs on schools, ensuring the children can get back to school, ensuring that medical centres are operating, and of course ensuring that the tourism trade can continue to thrive because tourism is one of the major pillars of the Fijian economy,” Bishop said.

Bishop said Australia’s aid commitment was a sign of the normalised relationship between the two countries.

“I think the partnership that has been demonstrated over the last three weeks underscores the importance of maintaining a strong and close relationship with Fiji.

“Our defence engagement is strong. We are looking to increase trade and investment. We are supporting Fiji in development assistance.”

On Sunday, Bishop visited the country’s remote Koro Island, touring some of the hardest-hit communities and meeting with locals.

She also met with Australian soldiers working on the ground and thanked them for their timely service.

“This is our neighbourhood, this is our region,” she told them.

Bishop, who also met with Australian aid workers, has previously said up to 200,000 people in Fiji would benefit from Australian aid.

Shelter kits, access to safe water and hygiene items have already been issued to the people in the worst affected communities.

Australian medical teams have also treated more than 1500 people in mobile health clinics, including specialist treatment centres for women affected by the cyclone.

- ABC