Australia Foreign Minister Visits Cook Islands, Kiribati, Tonga

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Bishop announces initiative to allow Australia students to study in region

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, April 1, 2015) – Julie Bishop becomes Australia's first foreign minister to visit Cook Islands, where she announces an initiative allowing Australian university students to study in the region.

Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says the nation's relationship with the Pacific will be further strengthened by an initiative allowing Australian university students to study in the region.

It is the first time Ms Bishop has visited Kiribati and Cook Islands and her final destination Tonga.

She told Radio Australia's Pacific Beat program that about 46 Australian students would be studying in the three nations.

Ms Bishop said the New Colombo Plan is similar to a program in the 1950s and 60s when Australia hosted Pacific university students.

"Now we have reversed it and we are supporting Australian undergraduates from all of our universities," she said.

"[They will] travel to countries in our region so they can live and study in the universities and higher education institutes in our region."

It is the first time Ms Bishop has visited the three countries and the first time an Australian foreign minister has made the journey to Cook Islands.

"I've had the most gracious and warm welcome in all the places I have visited on this trip to the Pacific, but particularly here in the Cook Islands as it is the first time an Australian foreign minister has visited," she said.

"This year it is their 50th anniversary of self-governance, so I congratulated the Cook Islands' government and particularly the prime ministers and the Queen's representative here on this important milestone in the history of the Cook Islands."

Ms Bishop added the tour had been very beneficial as she was also able to draw attention to some issues which need to be discussed during the Pacific Island Leaders Forum at the PNG capital, Port Moresby, later in the year.

"Given the diversity of issues that we face including security, development, economic progress, health, education and a whole range of [other] issues, I want to be sure that we've got the right membership around the right table to deal with some other these challenges and some of the opportunities that are presented in the Pacific," she said.

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