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The quest to bring back Kiribati

Australia will keep supporting Kiribati and values the nation, said Australian deputy prime minister Richard Marles when asked about the attempts being made to get Kiribati back into the Pacific Islands Forum.

Kiribati withdrew from the Forum on the eve of the Pacific Forum Leaders meeting sighting unfair treatment. Since then, attempts have been made to get Kiribati back into the Forum.

Mr Marles said Kiribati held a special place for him as this was where he and his wife went after their marriage.

“Kiribati is a very important country from Australia’s point of view. I’ve been to Kiribati on many occasions, it’s a place which is actually very dear to my heart,” he said.

Australia's deputy prime minister Richard Marles speaking to media in Fiji. Picture Shalveen Chand
Australia’s deputy prime minister Richard Marles speaking to media in Fiji. Picture: Shalveen Chand

“I’m hoping to meet with Henry Puna the Secretary General of the PIF. I know that they are very active in their engagement with Kiribati to emphasise that Kiribati is a valued member of the Pacific family.

“What we need to be focusing on is Australia’s place and our engagement with the Pacific on our own terms, and making sure that we are present, that we are there providing support, and that our focus and intent is on the development of the countries of the Pacific.

“And that very much includes Kiribati. But what we’ve seen over the last decade is a former Australian Government which was not doing the work, and that’s part of the issue here. There’s a lot of catch up that we need to do but we are intent on doing it and we are here in a very present way, and that very much includes Kiribati.”

Kiribati was part of the Micronesia five who could have brought the Forum down to its knees following disapproval of the appointment of Mr Puna.

While the rest of the states were persuaded not to leave the Forum through the signing of the Suva Agreement, Kiribati was not a party to this.

Australian deputy prime minister Richard Marles (left) with Fijian prime minister Voreqe Bainimarama. Picture Fijian Government
Australian deputy prime minister Richard Marles (L) with Fijian prime minister Voreqe Bainimarama. Picture: Fijian Government

“I think there’s a lot of work which is being undertaken by the Pacific Island Forum with Kiribati. The point I’d make is that Kiribati is an integral part of the Pacific. It’s a part of the world where, again, if Australia plays a role, I genuinely believe we will be the natural partner of choice, and we want that relationship very much to continue,” Mr Marles said.

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“That is about being there and engaging and making sure that we are backing up those visits with substantive action, and we’re doing that.”

Mr Marles visited Fiji and during this time he signed a defence agreement with Fiji and met with the Fijian prime minister Voreqe Bainimarama and attorney-general Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.

He gave assurance of Australia’s support in the upcoming elections and spoke of strengthening defence cooperation in the region.

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