NEWSREADER: Australia’s junior Minister for the Pacific has announced Australia’s support for a plan to redevelop a hospital on Nauru and to eventually build a new one. Nauru was the first stop for Richard Marles, who’s on a week-long trip to the Pacific.
REPORTER: He’s Australia’s new Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, and Richard Marles is on his second tour of the region. He’s spending this week visiting Nauru, Kiribati, Tuvalu, American Samoa and Niue.
RICHARD MARLES: It’s an important statement to these countries that they matter to us, that we're keen to understand what their issues are, we're keen to build on what is already a very good relationship.
REPORTER: One of the main issues is aid. Australia is one of the biggest donors in the Pacific and there’s a major review of its aid program underway.
Climate change and Australia’s scheme to bring seasonal workers from the Pacific will be discussed, and Richard Marles is also expecting questions about Australia’s approach to Fiji and Fiji’s suspension from the Pacific Islands Forum.
RICHARD MARLES: We want to talk to them about our attitude to Fiji and indeed the forum’s attitude to Fiji and where we go with that and making sure that we maintain a very strong stance.
REPORTER: His predecessor now argues Australia should change direction on Fiji. The former Parliamentary Secretary, Duncan Kerr, recently called for strategic re-engagement with Fiji, saying isolating the military regime hasn't worked.
Others disagree, saying it would be wrong to make concessions to Fiji’s ruler, Commodore Frank Bainimarama.
JON FRAENKEL: Many of those who urge dialogue with Bainimarama urge dialogue because they sympathise with the objectives of the regime. I don't share that view at all and neither do most people in Fiji.
REPORTER: For now, Australia’s hardline policy remains, and Fiji is one Pacific country that Richard Marles won't be visiting.
Peta Donald, ABC News, Canberra.
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