Welcoming the Visit of Australia's Foreign Minister, Hon. Alexander

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By Rt. Hon. Prime Minister of Tuvalu Bikenibeu Paeniu


December 15, 1998 Tuvalu Echoes

His Excellency Governor General, Right Honorable Sir Dr. Tomasi Puapua and Lady Puapua, Honorable Speaker of Parliament, Toomu Sione and wife, Honorable Cabinet Ministers and their spouses, The Australian High Commissioner to Tuvalu, His Excellency Greg Urwin. Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.

On behalf of the government and the people of Tuvalu I would like to warmly welcome you, Honorable Minister of Foreign Affairs of Australia, Mr. Alexander Downer.

When we last met in Canberra you promised to visit us and I pleased that you have fulfilled that promise, which reflects that you are a man of principle and also your commitment to small island countries as Tuvalu. We are indeed honored to meet with you personally in Tuvalu.

May I take this opportunity to also congratulate you on your re-election as Minister of Foreign Affairs in your new government. Your re-appointment as Minister of Foreign Affairs confirms your government’s confidence in the services that you have provided to your country and we in Tuvalu also share that same confidence.

The Pacific Island countries, including Tuvalu, consider Australia as a very important partner, and throughout the years we have enjoyed very warm and cordial relations. Although Australia has developed closer relationship with Asia, we hope the Pacific Island countries would not be considered as peripherals under Australia’s Foreign Policy.

Your termination of your portfolio of Minister for Pacific Islands under your Ministry is an indication of your commitment to Pacific Island countries. As I see it, . . . (it) seems like putting a second priority tag on Pacific Islands countries.

As you are aware, Australia is one of the countries that has assisted Tuvalu in its development and in times of disasters since our independence, and we are very grateful to see that Australia’s development assistance has continued to increase instead of decreasing.

Education is a very important part of our development. With a very narrow natural resource base, we see education as an avenue to better our economic and social development. We also see that the training of our students in Australia would allow them to learn and benefit from the skills and technology available or offered in the Australian training institutions.

Australia’s new policy of reducing the number of our students that can be considered to study in Australia under the Australian Training Aid Program was rather unexpected. Nevertheless, I am pleased that Australia continues to welcome our students on a cost-sharing basis. Those funded under a cost-sharing basis, unfortunately, pay higher fees for their children’s education while in Australia than those funded under the Australian Training Aid Program. I wonder if you would look at this with a view to allow them to pay the same fees for their children’s education?

As mentioned in our meeting earlier today, Climate Change is also an issue that is very important to Tuvalu and we hope that you understand our concern and the stand that we continue to take in international forums on this particular issue. Global warming -- and hence sea level rise -- has been strongly supported by recent scientific evidence and, if it continues, it is life and death to the people of Tuvalu. We understand how binding targets on gas emissions will affect Australian economy. However, we would like to again plead for your understanding and cooperation on this particular issue.

I am sure we could discuss these matters and other issues further while you are in Tuvalu and I hope you find your visit a most enjoyable and fruitful one. Again, welcome to Tuvalu.

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