MARLES: It’s a real pleasure to be here in Nauru. It’s a thrill actually. I've been through the airport once before back in 2004 but this is my first proper visit to Nauru which is a country that shares my love of Aussie Rules football and a country with whom we've got a very strong and productive relationship. Great things are happening in terms of the way the Aid Partnership is working and the outcomes from that. Later today we'll be going to the Nauru Secondary School which is an $11-million spend that Australia has participated in. The building of that school has created a wonderful facility here. But, importantly, it’s not just the building, it’s what goes on in it and we've seen an increase in both retention rates at school and participation rates. Now that’s a great example of where we're doing in relation to our aid spend.
To that end, one of the things I'm very keen to announce as part of this trip is that the Australian Government will be contributing $170,000 towards a master review of a new hospital in Nauru. It’s a project we're keen to be a part of and I'm also happy to announce that we will, in principle, be there to support whatever comes out of that review; in other words, the reconstruction of a new hospital in Nauru. That’s also a very strong commitment from our country to Nauru in terms of developing what are the most important human services that we all require, mainly health services.
I also want to say that this forms part of a trip on my part, or a series of trips to cover the region within the first few months of the formation of the Gillard Labor Government in Australia. And the reason the Government is keen for me to do this, the reason why I'm keen to do it is there’s a statement of importance on the part of the Australian Government about the way we regard the region. Whatever happens internationally and we will see many things transpire in our time – trade negotiations will happen, powers will emerge, other will decline but your neighbourhood will always be your neighbourhood and this is collectively our neighbourhood. And for that reason the relationship that we have with the countries of the Pacific are absolutely fundamental to Australia’s national interest and we want to make that clear. We want to make clear to the people of Nauru how important we regard our relationship with Nauru, not only the friendship that exists there but how important we regard that relationship to our national interests. We hope this visit is very much a statement of intent in relation to that.
REPORTER: This is your first visit to Nauru as an official as the Parliamentary Secretary, do you intend to make more frequent visits here in the future?
MARLES: I very much hope to come back to Nauru and around the Pacific. I think you can't replace human contact in terms of building relationships. And we want to build on what is a very strong relationship between our two countries but make sure that it is at the highest level. I'm very keen to come back to Nauru as I'm also keen to host representatives of the Nauruan Government in Australia.
REPORTER: You had discussions today with President Marcus Stephen and Foreign Affairs Minister, what came out of those discussions?
MARLES: We had a really good discussion about the future of the relationship between our two countries, about the future of Nauru in terms of the industries which are going to be fundamental to the Nauruan economy going forward. Phosphate obviously has been central to the Nauruan economy but the Government here is obviously looking at other industries which can replace phosphate into the future and one of those that was mentioned was the coral stone for which there seems to be an enormous amount of hope and optimism and so we're keen to hear that. We're also keen to understand how the Government views the fishing industry going forward – that’s an important natural resource for Nauru. We want to understand how Australia can help those industries develop in a way that would see sustainable benefits for people in the long term. And we want to understand from the Nauruan point of view how the Government would see its relationship with Australia in the future. I think it was a very productive conversation in regards to that.
We also mentioned climate change. That’s obviously an issue which Nauru and other countries of the Pacific feel a particular vulnerability in relation to, for very understandable reasons. The President is heading off to Cancun in a few days time and we want to make it clear that we are very keen to see more optimistic arrangements arrived at internationally. It’s an issue that has occupied us significantly within our own domestic, political agenda in terms of trying to get in place an emissions trading scheme. But we've also been active internationally trying to negotiate some form of arrangement. And in doing that we're keen to put forward, perhaps to echo the views that have been put forward very well by President Stephen and indeed President Tong of Kiribati about the particular vulnerabilities that are felt by the Pacific.
REPORTER: What part will you be playing in deciding the MOUs and the aid project for Nauru and other countries in the region?
MARLES: That’s a good question. MOUs will be signed at the highest level and there'll be an involvement by our Foreign Minister and indeed potentially our Prime Minister in the signing a number of those agreements as there has been up until this point. Foreign Minister Rudd as Prime Minister is signatory to a number of the partnership agreements with countries within the region.
For my part, I guess as the principle person who will be meeting with, talking to governments in the region, visiting the countries, obviously the input that I have to that process is going to be important and I guess what I would like to bring to bear in relation to that is something of a first hand sense of the priorities of the Pacific Islands and make sure that the agreements we arrive at with countries such as Nauru are in the interests of Nauru and serve the future of Nauru.
REPORTER: You talked about the importance of having good neighbours. There've been ongoing problems with Fiji and it’s been ousted from the Pacific Islands Forum, do you see any hope of an earlier solution here?
MARLES: Good question again and we are saddened by the lack of progress on the part of Commodore Bainimarama in returning Fiji to the rule of law and to a democracy. We don't really see any meaningful signs in this point in time that the Commodore is serious about taking his country down the path to democracy. Indeed we've seen signs to the opposite in the past few months. If you're looking at the restrictions on the media in Fiji and the arrest of Mr Chaudhry and more recently the expulsion of Mr Roth the head of Fiji Water. All of these are really troubling signs about where that country is at and it’s a concern for all of us in the region. And I think what’s important for those of us in the region to say is that we are opposed to the coup culture which has occurred in Fiji. That we stand opposed to the kind of government that has established itself in Fiji and we stand opposed to establishing governments in the way that that government established itself in Fiji. That’s an important statement for us to make to ourselves as the region and the Forum has made that statement. It’s an important statement for the region to make to the rest of the world about our values and how important we place democracy in terms of the running of our region.
We hope greatly that Fiji can be returned to a state of democracy at the earliest possible point in time and I would like to emphasise that our beef is certainly not with the Fijian people themselves. We, in many ways, stand in solidarity with them. And we've maintained our aid commitment to Fiji and if anything it’s actually increased over the last few years but it is very important that that government understands the significance of democracy and returns Fiji to its rightful owners which is the people of Fiji, as soon as possible.
REPORTER: Will you be visiting Fiji during this time?
MARLES: In terms of my initial set of visits to the region the answer to that question is no. This is my second tour of the region and I'll plan to do another to visit those members of the Pacific Island Forum but Fiji is not on that itinerary and that’s because we have maintained a stance of minimal contact at the Ministerial and Parliamentary Secretary level so we'll continue to honour that stance. We don't want to give any sense of encouragement to Fiji that the state of affairs that they now have is one that we regard as being able to be sustained in a permanent way.
REPORTER: Geelong has close ties with Nauru, did you meet any Nauruans socially or at Geelong Grammar?
MARLES: There was a Nauruan who was at school with me in Geelong. Sad to say, I can't remember all the names of the people I went to school with but yes there were Nauruans at school when I was at school. Indeed there’s an official with the Australian Embassy now that went to Geelong Grammar after I was there. But there’s been a long connection between Nauru and Geelong and it’s a great pleasure for me to play a little role in continuing that connection.
Just a few weeks ago I re-opened the Incitec Pivot phosphate plant in North Geelong. This is a plant which has been making super phosphate in Geelong going back to the 1920s, along with Ford. It was one of the first manufacturing plants in Geelong and of course it gets its raw materials from Nauru and I know that the government here was very excited indeed about the fact that that plant was being reopened. They were very keen in my current position to point out that a lot of the phosphate that’s coming - the ships coming in to Corio Bay were emanating from here. So there is a long connection, not just with that but with the footy club as well. I think there've been a couple of presidents of Nauru – Rene Harris and Hammer de Roburt who have both been very keen Cats fans. Before coming here I actually spoke to the football club about ways in which we can build closer ties between the Geelong football club and the people of Nauru and I've also spoke with the AFL – the Australian Football League to see how we can improve those ties as well.
REPORTER: You grew up in Geelong. You must be a follower of the Cats footy club.
MARLES: I am. We talk about being a Geelong tragic so I'm a very keen Geelong fan and of course we've gone through our glory days in the past few years winning two premierships. To give you a little bit of a sense of the particular level of tragedy in my household I have two miniature poodles, two dogs. One of them is named Gary and the other is called Ablett. Now that Gary Ablett has gone to play for the Gold Coast, we're not exactly sure what to do with the dogs but we're keeping them, so yeah I'm a very keen Geelong fan.
REPORTER: Thank you for your time and hope you enjoy the rest of your visit.
MARLES: Thank you very much and it’s a real pleasure to be here.
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