Radio Rythme Bleu: Could you please clarify your position on the place of New Caledonia within the Pacific Islands Forum?
Richard Marles: Australia supports New Caledonia being a full member of the Pacific Islands Forum. We think it is very important to have New Caledonia as a critical Pacific Community represented in the Pacific’s most premium political forum. We will continue to provide support for that. In saying that, obviously these things do not happen overnight. There is work that needs to be done by New Caledonia, which is being done, to build their support amongst the other Pacific countries for membership.
Nouvelle-Calédonie Première: Was there any economic issue addressed in your discussions?
Richard Marles: I think the process of breaking down trade barriers between our countries is something we are keen to see continue. Indeed, we have seen some important developments in relation to that. Australian beers, for example, can be sold here in New Caledonia and I think you have a beer here which would be very good to sell in Australia. As two countries that are so close to each other, I think it is important we grow our economic engagement. A lot of that is happening in terms of natural resources, with New Caledonian nickel, but I think we need to see how we can expand that.
Nouvelle-Calédonie Première: In the health area, how could Australia assist New Caledonia?
Richard Marles: I think this is an issue that is obviously very important to the people of New Caledonia, and the first point to make is that it is an issue that demonstrates how close we are as two communities. I am closer here to my home town of Geelong than I would be if I was in Cairns or if I was in Perth or if I was in Darwin. So, there is a lot of sense in building those human links. Health is very central to that. Ultimately, this is going to be a matter to be discussed between the Government of New Caledonia and the various Health Departments in Australia, particularly New South Wales and Queensland. But from a federal Government point of view, we are very happy to do what we can to make sure these discussions are facilitated so there is a really good outcome for the community here in New Caledonia and also obviously a good outcome for the health systems of New South Wales and Queensland.
Radio Rythme Bleu: Why is the Noumea Accord important for you?
Richard Marles: The Noumea Accord is one of the most important political processes that has been undertaken in the Pacific to date. Not just the Pacific - the world, really. I would go further than that to say that the way in which the Noumea Accord is being handled, with all the complexity of the surrounding issues, particularly given the history of New Caledonia in the 1980s, is the global model for how to deal with issues of this kind. You are not the only area dealing with issues or questions of sovereignty. This is occurring with the Noumea Accord. In Bougainville, we have, in accordance with the Bougainville peace agreement, a similar process and model and there are other discussions happening around the Pacific. In some ways, I have described the Pacific as being something of a sovereignty laboratory, because sovereignty is being explored in all its different elements in the Pacific. The model for how to engage in a process of that kind is a question for the Noumea Accord. So we watch this with great interest and actually great admiration about the way in which the parties are handling themselves here.
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