Joint press conference, Marshall Islands

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: 35th anniversary of Australian relations with Marshall Islands; climate change; Minister launching content on ABC radio; regional cooperation in the Pacific.

SPEAKER: Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator the Honourable Penny Wong; Marshall Islands Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Senator Honourable Kitlang Kabua; CMI faculty and students; teachers of the Marshall Islands; students of the Marshall Islands; and honourable members of the media. Thank you for joining us this afternoon for the joint media address with Minister Kabua and Minister Wong.

This is Minister’s Wong’s second official visit to the Marshall Islands, but first as Foreign Minister. It is her eighth bilateral visit to a Pacific Islands foreign country since being sworn in as Australia’s Foreign Minister in May 2022. And to the people of the Marshall Islands, we are so very honoured for the warm welcome she has received. And I’m sure that for all of you, Honourable Minister Kitlang Kabua needs absolutely no introduction here, but we should say here at the College of the Marshall Islands, what a wonderful representative as RMI’s youngest‑ever and female Foreign Minister.

And can I say what a symbol of the camaraderie and mateship of the Marshall Islands media pulling together this media conference, something, we too – too, we Australians pride ourselves in, the joint efforts that this media conference has represented.

There will be a short media question and answer opportunity at the end of remarks by Ministers Wong and Kabua. Without further ado, Minister Wong.

PENNY WONG, FOREIGN MINISTER: Thank you very much. Thank you very much for that introduction and thank you for being here today and most, most importantly, thank you to my colleague the Foreign Minister Kitlang Kabua. I thank you so much for the warm welcome you have given me and my delegation. I know that the Marshall Islands has had your borders closed for quite a long time and it’s such a great honour to be, I think, the first Minister to visit since you opened your borders, so I’m very grateful for that opportunity and grateful to you personally for the hospitality you’ve shown me since I have arrived last night.

Well, this year, Australia celebrates 35 years of diplomatic relations with the Republic of the Marshall Islands. We were the second country to recognise the Marshall Islands, so we have walked, or maybe canoed might be better – there’s been a long journey together and I’m here to celebrate that 35 years, but also to say we look to the next 35, as importantly, we look to the challenges that we both face.

Since the new Government was elected some five months ago, I have emphasised the importance to Australia and to the Australian people of the Pacific – the ocean we share – and I have been very clear that Australia wants to approach our Pacific family respectfully as members of the Pacific family together, that we want to listen. That we have heard and understand the imperative of acting on climate, which is demonstrated by the Albanese Government’s much more ambitious position when it comes to climate change.

We are very keen, and I am personally very committed as Foreign Minister, to telling the stories of our First Nations peoples, as part of talking about and communicating who we are. And I know from talking to the Minister and others here in the Marshall Islands that the relationship in particular with the Torres Strait First Nations peoples is so important, and those connections go back such a long time. And we want to work together to make sure the region we share, the ocean we share, that is so much a part of your life – your lives and your culture, is a region that reflects our shared dreams of sovereignty, of peace, of stability, of respect – respect for each other and respect for the region.

I was very honoured today to not only spend most of the day with my friend and colleague Minister Kabua, but also to meet the President, to be able to speak with students here today, to talk to those – some of those very passionate young people, young Marshallese about climate and I look forward to the events we have today, including, I’m told, I get to go on a boat, which seems be to a very Marshallese thing to do.

One of the things we did today, which I think speaks to our desire to be closer, was to announce the provision or an agreement between our media and your state media, your radio, to provide greater content. I know how important radio is here in the Marshall Islands. Often probably the only form of media people might be listening to or be able to consume at one time. So, I was really pleased that the ABC, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, has been able and willing to provide free of content, I think it’s, eight shows, which hopefully you’ll be hearing and have heard today on your radios. So, that was a very pleasing thing to be able to announce.

So, without further ado, I will hand over to my colleague and say I’m really grateful for the opportunity to be here. As you can see from behind me, it’s the most extraordinarily beautiful place to have the opportunity to visit and it’s been a great honour to do so.

REPUBLIC OF THE MARSHALL ISLANDS FOREIGN MINISTER, KITLANG KABUA: Thank you very much, colleague, friend, Honourable Penny Wong. I am so happy to be here today to address our friends and colleagues in Australia as well as here in the Marshall Islands. But first and foremost, I would like to acknowledge the sons and daughters of the First Nations of Australia. I would also like to acknowledge our traditional leaders here in the Marshall Islands, acknowledge the people and Governments of Australia and Marshall Islands and our media representatives who are gathered here today.

What a wonderful news that there is an agreement, a partnership, between our only – well, one of our very few broadcasting stations, V7AB here in the Marshall Islands, and ABC, a world‑renowned broadcasting company, to further connect a small country out in the middle of the big blue Pacific, such as here in the Marshall Islands.

The coming of Honourable Minister Penny Wong and her delegation really marks this unique and strong friendship that both of our Governments have – 35th anniversary celebrated this year. Our foreign policy foundation for the Marshall Islands is friends to all and enemy to none. Now that we face mutual crises such as climate change, such as geopolitical situations that put us in a precarious position, it is important that we hold each other’s hands, stand together and try to find solutions to improve the quality of life for people in the region, for people in the world.

Minister Wong has visited so many people today – representatives from our climate change sector, representatives from our leaders in empowering women and youth, representatives from Government, most importantly, and the best, I’d say, is here with the students of the College of the Marshall Islands, the students of the high schools that we have in Majuro. I know that if the opportunity had arisen, the whole of the nation would have gathered here today to witness the arrival of Honourable Minister Penny Wong and her team.

We look forward to a fruitful and strengthened partnership between our two countries as we work together to find ways to improve the quality of life for both of our peoples. With this said, once again, friend, Honourable Minister Wong, [foreign language spoken] on behalf of President Kabua, the Government and the people of the Marshall Islands. [Foreign language spoken]

FOREIGN MINISTER: Do you have a question?

JOURNALIST: Minister Wong, if I may ask. In the past the climate issue has been a hurdle in the relationship between the two countries. Going forward how do you see this working with the MarshalI Islands especially with the increasing urgency?

FOREIGN MINISTER: Well first, I want to say we understand the lived experience of the Marshallese people, which is also the lived experience of many people in the Pacific. I was the Climate Minister between 2007 and 2010 and we worked quite closely with Pacific Island nations and others for a while and developing states to try and give momentum to the international negotiations then, and it was, it was so disappointing in those years that the world was not able to come to an agreement at past Conferences of the Parties. We now have Paris and we now have Glasgow and we need to build on that.

We have been elected and it’s a great thing, it’s an important thing that we have been elected for a very clear mandate for an ambitious climate policy, one that will see renewables in Australia take up in excess of 80 per cent of our energy consumption, or our energy production, generation, this decade. That’s a big shift for a country, that as you know has been very energy intensive. So, we will work with Pacific Island nations because we understand it’s important.

One of the things that we have proposed is that we co‑host a Conference of the Parties. That’s obviously a matter for the Pacific to discuss. We’ve got a long way to go in those discussions, but the drive behind that is to try and amplify the perspectives of the people of the Pacific.

JOURNALIST: A concern and an issue that’s coming forefront in the Marshall Islands on this issue is adaptations. I’m wondering how you see Australia addressing this here?

FOREIGN MINISTER: You’re right. An adaptation is required as people here know – people in the Marshall Islands know. Even if we were able to be ambitious as we would all hope, we already have sufficient climate change locked into the system, and so we are clear about the need for additional adaptation financing and additional adaptation support, and, obviously, we work very closely with other partners in the Pacific to try and support Pacific Island nations in their requests for support and adaptation.

One of the things that I hope we can also do is, we’ve started do, but we have, I think good capacity in terms of our policy and science capabilities in this area, and I hope we can engage more on those areas. As I said to the Minister, I said, “Look, we’re not your biggest partner, but we can add value and there are things we can do well and we want to work with you on those things.” Okay. Thank you very much

JOURNALIST: Minister Kabua, your Foreign Minister colleague [indistinct].

KITLANG KABUA: Absolutely. I’m happy that the Minister had mentioned this. As I have mentioned before, we need to strengthen our relationship with all the countries throughout the Pacific. The way that it has been run the past several decades is that, yes, we share the same ocean, but, you know, your issues are yours and my issues are mine. But what I see today is that we have a strive, we have a commitment, all these countries in the Pacific to, and as one, to strengthen ties, and we see it today in the arrival of Minister Wong and her team. The strive to strengthen and find way to support each other and support other countries in the Pacific. We can only function and have a strong voice if we’re united as one.

FOREIGN MINISTER: Can I just – sorry, can I say one more thing. Sorry, I just wanted to add to that. I’m sorry. It’s rare that Ministers continue press conferences. I wanted – I think one of the overarching themes of our discussion has been the importance of regionalism in addressing and meeting the challenges we all face, and I want to acknowledge and thank the Minister and the Government, and the President in particular of the Marshall Islands, for their leadership on regional issues. You’ve shown leadership and you’ve shown an understanding of the importance of regional architecture and regionalism at this time, and I would like to publicly acknowledge that and thank the Government and people of the Marshall Islands for that. Thank you very much.

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