PACNEWS Interview with Australia’s Minister for International Development and the Pacific,Zed Seselja


What was the purpose behind the PacificAusSports Olympic and Paralympic Partnership?

The purpose of the partnership is about providing elite level pathways to Pacific athletes, both potential Olympic and potential Paralympic athletes. One of the facts about the Pacific is there is extraordinary sporting talent and one of the things that Australia is blessed with is something we’ve developed over the last few decades is a lot of great coaches and some amazing facilities. So to be able to bring those Pacific athletes and give them in many cases for the first time, the opportunity to have that high level coaching and to have access to these higher level facilities is key to the programme and I think we saw some really good outcomes as a result of that with many going on and competing at the Olympics and the Paralympics.

The Australian Government has supported individual sports in the past – what is the opportunity DFAT sees in the Olympic and Paralympic sports?

There’s something very special about the Olympics and the Paralympics is that it lifts the spirits. We know that sports like rugby and rugby union and netball, which, of course are either professional or semi-professional, get a lot of attention by the Olympics, which is great, because what you get is you get some of the world’s best athletes, but you also get sports that don’t always get a high profile, and people have opportunities to come and compete. So I think there is something very special about the Olympics and Paralympics. Certainly in Australia, we know that we during this challenging pandemic, we took a lot of pleasure from watching our athletes and I took a lot of pleasure from watching Australian athletes, but also with a keen eye on those specific athletes doing great things as well.

How have you seen the outcomes so far?

Some amazing performances, I think there was something like five national records from Pacific athletes. We saw some extraordinary individual performances. So I think we can all be very pleased that the support of Pacific sports for these pathways for Paralympian’s and Olympians has been a great success. And I hope it’s something that we can continue to work on and continue to build on it future Olympics.

Personally, what has been your highlights from the Olympic Games and The Paralympic Games?

As an Aussie basketball fan, watching the Boomers finally get a medal was very exciting for me. So seeing Patty Mills in the team was just a whole lot of fun but from PNG, who I met, who is a long jumper, and did an extraordinary job really achieved great things. I think PNG would be very proud and I now see Bulimairewa, who I also met who was at the Paralympics, and he’s from Fiji and he is a Paralympic javelin thrower. He lost his leg and taught himself javelin on YouTube and came to Australia and had some opportunities to be coached for the first time and you know, it was great to see him competing.

The IOC has announced Brisbane as the host city for the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games, how do you see this impacting on the Pacific Region?

I think it’ll be a showcase for Australia, of course, but also for our family in our near region and the Pacific. We see great opportunities coming from the Brisbane Olympics. We know that the ties between Australia and the Pacific are very close, I think they’re particularly keenly felt in in places like Brisbane and Queensland. Having it in Brisbane, where there is such a strong Pacific presence already, will just highlight to the rest of the world that yes, you are coming to Australia, but you are experiencing these Olympics, which are very much the Olympics for our immediate region.

What do you see the next steps with the PacificAusSports Olympic and Paralympic Partnership?

I’m very hopeful that what we’ll see is a continuation into the future of the Pacific, our sports programme. Decisions need to be made by the government in coming years for further funding rounds. But I think what we are likely to see and what I genuinely hope is that we will build on what I think has been a very, very successful programme so far.

Finally, a question unrelated to the PacificAusSports if you want to answer on regionalism and regional solidarity. The recent move by the Micronesian Leaders’ Summit last week to set up their own interim secretariat in Nauru – signalling the withdrawal of the five Micronesian countries from the Pacific Islands Forum. How does Australia view this move especially coming at a time when the Pacific Islands Forum celebrating 50 years of regionalism and regional solidarity?

Australia, of course, takes the concerns of our Micronesian friends very seriously. And we’ve been engaging, we’ve been listening to their concerns. What my message to them has been and my message continues to be is that the region is stronger together. And what I would like to see what the Australian government would like to see is for the Pacific Islands Forum to continue as a unified organization, to look at what reforms are reasonable and necessary to make sure that all nations feel included in that decision making process. But going forward, we would like to see the Pacific Islands Forum continue together because we think that voice is very important. It’s not just important here, but it’s important on an international scale as well.