Australia’s Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign and Pacific Affairs, Richard Marles is heading the Australian delegation at Samoa’s independence celebrations.
He outlined Australia’s strong relations with the country to Brian Abbott.
RICHARD MARLES: Our relationship with Samoa today is as healthy as it’s ever been. I'm sure the same would be said in relation to New Zealand’s relationship with Samoa. That reflects the fact that Samoa is a country which is doing well and is on the verge of graduating from a least developed country. Indeed, that would have already occurred but for the 2009 tsunami. There’s a great sense of optimism today about the future of Samoa and what has been achieved in the last few years.
BRIAN ABBOTT: What’s the basis of Australia’s close relationship with Apia?
RICHARD MARLES: The simple answer to that question is that, sitting here in Apia today, we are in the heart of the Pacific. The Pacific is very much Australia’s neighbourhood as it is, of course, the shared neighbourhood of New Zealand and the countries of the Pacific. For that reason alone, Samoa will always be an absolutely critical partner with Australia in terms of our international relations.
We have a very strong development assistance program here in Samoa. We're the largest bilateral donor to Samoa. But we are working very closely with Samoa, not just in terms of the development of Samoa, but in terms of the development of the Pacific. We very much appreciate Samoa’s leadership within the Pacific. This is a great country. It’s well governed and we really appreciate the relationship that we have with this country.
BRIAN ABBOTT: Samoa is one of the great migration nations of the world. Do you know how many Samoans call Australia home?
RICHARD MARLES: There are varying numbers on that. I think a rough estimate would be between forty and fifty thousand. But,as I say, there are different estimates. What is clear is that the Samoan community in Australia is growing. That’s particularly the case in Sydney and Brisbane, to a lesser extent in Melbourne. We very much appreciate the contribution the Samoan diaspora is making to life in Australia.
BRIAN ABBOTT: Usually on occasions as momentous as this, there is an anniversary gift passed over. Has Australia made any anniversary gifts for Samoa?
RICHARD MARLES: Yes, we have. Our gift for the fiftieth anniversary of Samoa’s independence is participating in the refurbishment of Parliament House. We've made a significant contribution to that. But, as important as that is as a physical structure, it’s also a statement of our commitment and our support and our appreciation for democracy in this country and the example it sets for democracy within the region. We're very pleased to be the lead partner in the refurbishment of the Samoan Parliament House. It’s a very appropriate gift for us to be giving. But it is very much a symbol of the successful democracy that is occurring here in Samoa and the example that it sets for the rest of the Pacific.
I'd also make the point, Brian, that the fiftieth anniversary of Samoa does have significance beyond Samoa. Samoa, of course, was the first country within the Pacific to gain its independence so in many respects this is the fiftieth anniversary of the independence of the Pacific. It is a time to take stock of how the Pacific has been faring over that period of time and there is much that is good about the journey that’s been travelled in the last fifty years. The Pacific is, by and large, a stable, peaceful part of the world, and a democratic part of the world, with a very significant democratic history.
There are challenges for the Pacific and development is one of them. I think as we look to 2015 when the report card comes out on the millennium development goals, there are challenges for the Pacific which we need to continue to meet. Overlaying all of that, of course, is the issue of climate change, which is really the great issue of the Pacific and one which has an impact on everything, on life here but also on the development of the region.
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