MOTTRAM: Well first of all who is the Pacific getting in their new parliamentary secretary for the region?
MARLES: Well, they are certainly getting somebody who is really interested in the Pacific and somebody who has had a passion about the Pacific for a long time. I've done a lot in a range of guises over my working life, both as a lawyer originally at Slater and Gordon, or an article clerk at Slater and Gordon and then during the union movement at the ACTU, I have had quite a bit of engagement with the Pacific, with Papua New Guinea and with other countries in the Pacific, so it is a keen interest of mine. And they are also getting somebody who is going to work hard and who really wants to listen to the priorities of the countries within the region and the way in which they want to engage with Australia.
MOTTRAM: And what will be your priorities then, because we've got some rather big issues in the region, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands with RAMSI. Have you thought about how the priorities will fall?
MARLES: Well, I guess the first thing to say and it’s obviously day one of this job, but your right in identifying both Fiji and the RAMSI mission and the Solomons. They are clearly big issues. I think our relationship with Papua New Guinea is a really significant relationship. It’s got to be within the top ten bilateral relationships that we have as a country and it’s probably ranks considerably higher than that. But I think if there is one thing that I feel very strongly about it is raising the profile of our relationship with the Pacific, with the countries in it within the public debate in Australia. I think they are critical to our national interest, there are some very important countries within the Pacific who we're dealing with and I think at times it doesn't get the kind of air time within the Australian public debate which it should and I am very keen to try and improve that.
MOTTRAM: It’s going to be a difficult ask though, isn't it, because I mean we've got the whole debate about China’s rise, the reshaping of the geostrategic environment in Asia. Is there a risk here that even though we are so close to the Pacific that it might actually just not get up on the agenda?
MARLES: Oh look, well I think, well the Pacific is our region. This is where we live and it’s always where we are going to live, so all those other geopolitical forces are occurring and they are very important and it’s critical that Australia gets its head around that and plays the role that it needs to in it, but whatever they are, we were always within this region and our region has to have a serious focus within our public debate. And I think that, it’s not that it hasn't. I mean in the sense that those who have been involved in the area, of course very serious about it and I think our engagement has been good, but I do think in the terms of the public debate, its importance needs to be raised.
MOTTRAM: Duncan Kerr, of course, was in this position previously, but between the time that he resigned from it flagging his retirement and now, it’s been vacant. A number of Pacific Island states have expressed concern about that. Do you think there’s been any damage done?
MARLES: Oh look, I don't think so. I certainly think Duncan was a, performed incredibly well in this role. I mean Duncan has been a bit of a mentor to me in terms of my interests in the Pacific and I know that he was very trusted and I think more than that, much loved by the Pacific Island countries and really did a sterling job in this role. I think if I can do half the job that Duncan did, I will be very pleased. So I and I think the great work that Duncan did held this government in good stead and I think far outweighs any issue around there being a bit of ..... there and hopefully I can maintain his good work in this role.
MOTTRAM: Do you think you are going to be able to have an impact on policy. I mean, after all, it’s the junior role in foreign affairs. Is it really just a glad handing sort of handshaking job?
MARLES: Oh look, I think well firstly I think one of the really key things about this role and about the region is that it is of course the part of the globe in which we have the greatest influence. So that is why I feel very passionately about the role that Australia’s plays within the region, because it’s absolutely vital to how the region functions. I certainly think it’s more than shaking hands. We really do need to be on top of the best way that we can strategically engage within the region and certainly I will be bringing all my energy and intellect to that task at hand.
MOTTRAM: And where will you be travelling first and when?
MARLES: Oh look, that’s all still to be decided, but I am keen to get out there to be honest and make myself known to people. As I say, I know a number of people already within I guess particularly Papua New Guinea, a country which I have had the most engagement, but I am certainly keen to introduce myself to the region and make sure that they know who I am and that Australia’s best interests are served.
MOTTRAM: Thanks for your time.
MARLES: Thank you.
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