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Transcript of interview with Campbell Cooney: Radio Australia, Pacific Beat: 2 December 2010: Tuvulu scholarsips; climate change; American Samoa

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The Hon Richard Marles MP Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs

Transcript of interview with Campbell Cooney, Radio Australia 'Pacific Beat'

Subjects: Tuvalu scholarships, climate change, American Samoa.

Transcript, E&OE

2 December 2010

CAMPBELL COONEY: To Tuvalu first. Now, while you were there you announced some scholarships. I'm just curious; what are the scholarships for?

RICHARD MARLES: We announced 17 scholarships in Tuvalu; five of those will involve the recipients of those scholarships studying in Australia, and the other 12 will be studying at the University of the South Pacific and the Fiji National University.

They are in a range of disciplines, from naval architecture to nursing, arts, accounting, the full gamut of the academic spectrum. I think it's a wonderful example of how Australian aid is helping develop the skills and the education of countries in the region, in this case Tuvalu. It is a significant number of people in what is a very small population.

CAMPBELL COONEY: Is there a concern or a feeling that perhaps the people who are getting these scholarships may in the end be looking for a job in somewhere like Australia or New Zealand, given the fact that Tuvalu is being affected by climate change and has basically focused a lot of their people in their efforts on getting jobs outside their home country?

RICHARD MARLES: I think improving the skills and the education of the people of a country like Tuvalu and — and we actually visited Kiribati as well; and certainly, in Kiribati, President Tong is very keen to see the development of the human capital, if you like, in Kiribati, to give people labour mobility and the skills to work around the world.

But if you look at those who have gained scholarships from Tuvalu — and we've done studies on those who have received scholarships and what they then go and do — and three-quarters actually go back to Tuvalu and hold senior leadership positions within the Tuvalu Government.

This program builds options for people living in countries like Tuvalu. But it is also building capacity for the countries themselves. For that reason, we're very committed to it and I think it's playing a very important role within the region.

CAMPBELL COONEY: I would take it that both those countries and both those stops, Mr Marles, you would have certainly been discussing climate change and the effect, and I suppose, the assistance Australia might be able to give to them?

RICHARD MARLES: Yes, that's true. If you think of countries that are on the front line of climate change, Kiribati and Tuvalu are probably the most vulnerable in the world, in the sense that they are very low-lying countries. They are based on coral atolls which are a metre or two above sea level and so any increase in sea levels is going to have a significant effect on those countries.

It's timely to talk to them about how they see the issue, about the vulnerability they feel in relation to the effects of climate change. But also, the advocacy they're providing internationally, particularly as we lead into the International Climate Change Conference in Cancun.


RICHARD MARLES: Australia will be present in Cancun with a delegation lead by the Minister for Climate Change Greg Combet. President Tong, who I met in Kiribati, will also be going to Cancun. He was a very vocal advocate on behalf of the small island developing states in Copenhagen and Enele Sopoaga, the Minister for Climate Change from Tuvalu, will also be present in Cancun, as well. And…


RICHARD MARLES: We're very keen to advocate the need for the world to take action on climate change and to move forward with an international agreement because it is, at the end of the day, a matter of critical importance for the countries of the Pacific.

CAMPBELL COONEY: You're in American Samoa now; before you left you were making it clear that this was to show Australia support for the US and the presence it has in the Pacific. Is there a feeling that it's the US and Australia in the Pacific giving one angle and showing that there's a presence that's — perhaps can compete with the massive presence that China is showing in the region now, as well?

RICHARD MARLES: Well, firstly, in relation to China, China is a growing power globally, it's obviously going to increase its presence around the world; that includes the Pacific, but it's not unique to the Pacific. And that's frankly something that we welcome; we're obviously keen for China to play a constructive role internationally and to work within the international rules. Australia has a very strong and growing bilateral relationship with China.

We were keen to go to American Samoa because American Samoa is, of course, part of the American family and it's also part of the Pacific family as well. And I think it's important in our attitude towards the Pacific that Australia has an extended view.

And this is a community of 60,000 people in the Pacific. It's a very important Pacific community. It's a community which has views on all the issues that face the Pacific. And it's also something of an economic hub, particularly when you talk about fisheries. The StarKist cannery in Pago Pago is where a fair proportion of the tuna catch within the Pacific ends up being processed.

So — and this is an important part of the Pacific and we were very keen to be part of the very first ministerial-level visit to American Samoa by an Australian Member for Parliament.


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