Wednesday, July 27, 2011

[pima.nius] Australia looks to work with Cuba on Pacific aid

1:43 PM |

Australia looks to work with Cuba on Pacific aid

Updated July 27, 2011 08:41:34

Australia is looking to work more closely with Cuba in delivering development aid to the Pacific.

Australia's Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Richard Marles, visited Cuba last week to hold talks about linking up the countries health assistance programs in the Pacific.

Last week, he also attended the UN security council's debate on climate change held in New York.


Presenter: Geraldine Coutts
Speaker: Richard Marles, Australia's Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs

MARLES: Look we think we've taken the next step forward in doing that. It was a really success to Cuba and Cuba is obviously a fascinating country, but a fascinating player in the development assistance world and it's very renowned in terms of with health. There are ten-of-thousands literally of Cuban doctors around the developing world doing very good work and that includes working in the Pacific and I think they've developed a particular expertise in delivering health care and assistance in developing world settings and we're keen to see how we can, if you like, leverage their expertise against our presence in the Pacific to do something really important. So what we've agreed is we will both participate in a scoping study of Cuban experts and Australian experts hopefully later this year to look at ways in which we can do exactly that and see whether we can ultimately have an agreement about doing that. And I should also say we've taken the first tentative step in relation is actually in Haiti and this occurred prior to my visit, but we do provide some assistance to the provision of Cuban medical assistance in Haiti, after, of course, the tragic earthquake there.

COUTTS: Now you talked about scoping of experts. Is this strictly in health at this stage?

MARLES: Yes, it is. Health is in a sense what the Cubans are most renown for and it does represent the development assistance that they're providing in the Pacific at the moment. So that is what we are looking at seeing how we can work with them to do more in relation to that.

COUTTS: Now health is of course really important and we know that Cuba has many, many universities dedicated to turning out doctors, alone a speciality there. For a small country and a small economy, what's the thinking, why are they doing that?

MARLES: I think that's a really good question and it's one I asked a number of people, including the foreign minister and we also visited a place called the Latin American School of Medicine, which despite its name is actually providing medical training to people from all over the world, including some 160 odd students from the Pacific. So they are drawing people from the developing world to Cuba and giving them medical training and for a full six year course and at the end of it, people go back as trained doctors. I think in answer to your question they see that health care is an important, well it's probably the key social indicator. It's something that they have focused on very heavily within their own country. I think in the process of doing that they have developed a particular expertise around how to develop a health care system in a developing setting and in a setting where there isn't a lot of money going around and this is now something that they feel they can share with the rest of the world and somebody said to me it's kind of in the Cuba DNA now to provide healthcare assistance to as many countries as possible and that's what they're doing.

COUTTS: What's in it for them, who funds all of this?

MARLES: Well, the Cuban government fund it and I mean a good question again, what's in for them. Well, I think they're engaging in developing assistance for the same reasons that we are, that they're in the sense of this is the right thing to do in terms of helping the developing world. I also think it's important for them in terms of building their international profile.

COUTTS: Now last time we spoke Mr. Marles, you talked about going to Cuba, because you wanted to explore non-traditional aid partners. Is Cuba the first of those? Will there be more?

MARLES: Look, there could be more and I think Cuba is probably the best example right now and well put it this way, for me, doing this work in the Pacific. It was a surprise to come across Cuba as a player within the Pacific providing development assistance. It's a little counter intuitive, but the fact of the matter is they're there and they're doing good work and so yeah, I think they are the best example and I suppose what it really says that from our point of view, we don't see the Pacific as an exclusive domain of Australia's or New Zealand's where we're the only ones allowed to provide development assistance, that's not how we see the world. If there are countries wanting to do work in the Pacific and wanting to help in development assistance work in the Pacific, then we think that is fundamentally a good thing and the only thing we want to do in relation to that is to say hey, let's work together in doing that. And so true to our word, when we've seen Cuba out there doing such good work, we've approached them and sort to leverage our presence with their expertise and their work to see if we can do something really good.

COUTTS: And now to the first part of that particular trip, where you went to the UN and hosted by the Security Council was the climate change debate. Now whether it was your comments or whether it was generally a point taken at that debate, but China and India were not happy that the responsibility of the debate was going to the Security Council. They feel that it was outside the brief of the Security Council and that caused a lot of attention. Why was that so heatedly objected to by China and India?

MARLES: Look, there is a debate, you're right in whether or not the Security Council ought to be seized of this issue and the point that we made is simply that it's not that we think that the Security Council is the primary place that ought to be dealing with the issue of climate change within the UN system. Quite the contrary really, we see that the main efforts of the UN is engaging in relation to climate change should continue to be the UN framework convention on climate change which, of course, met at Cancun last year and will meet at Durban again this year, that is the forum where the real debate around efforts around mitigation are taking place. But we do think that there are security implications for the debate around climate change and climate change is clearly going to have an impact on water availability, of food security and in the case of the islands of the Pacific. It represents a big and existential threat to their existence of any conflict that's going around in the world today. And for all these reasons, there is at least a security dimension to the question of climate change and the Security Council ought to be considering that.

Now I think that was a view that was shared by many within the debate of the UN Security Council. You're right though in saying that both India and China and a number of other countries were concerned and it really goads the question of their sense of what this Security Council ought to do. But I don't want to overstate it, but there was a modest step forward in the context of this debate, a presidential statement was made the president of the Security Council. This really represents the first utterance by the Security Council on the question of climate change and that occurred as a result of this debate. So we were pretty pleased actually with the step that was taken forward by this debate.

COUTTS: Do you think that China and India were opportunists in making this claim and tabling the objection to distract from the constant criticism levelled at them for not doing more about carbon trading, carbon emissions?

MARLES: Oh no, I wouldn't say that. I understand the concern they have and I think to be honest, it was legitimately put from their perspective about what the role of the UN Security Council is, and so I wouldn't want to denigrate their argument. I think it was legitimately put, but it's not an argument with which we agree and the point that we made is the UN Security Council is already looking at questions such as poverty or HIV AIDS as root causes to all its global conflicts and just those issues are being dealt primarily in other parts of the UN system, but given that there is a potential security implication through them, it's important that the Security Council thinks about them or similarly we think that it's important that the Security Council is seized of and is thinking about the issue of climate change and that's why we raised the debate and it didn't surprise us that there were people who were or countries that looked at that and questioned it, but that's exactly why you have a debate and we think the debate issue forward in that sense.

COUTTS: Now the next leg of your travels is to Vanuatu. What's on the agenda for you there?

MARLES: Well, we're keen to meet the Vanuatu government and we're also visiting Kiribati and at the end of the week, we've got what will be a fantastic opportunity to visit Wallis and Futuna. But in terms of I think Vanuatu and Kiribati is an important place to visit after the UN Security Council debate actually to look at the issues of climate change and most other issue, but we're keen to keep in regular contact with all the countries of the Pacific and so this will be an important trip to maintain that contact.

COUTTS: And a lot of the travel that you've been doing and there's been a lot of it, is that leading up to the forum and to make sure that Australia has an investment in the agenda of the forum coming up at the end of August?

MARLES: Sure, I mean the forum is a question which is moving large in the next couple of months, but I think it's a bit bigger than that. I think someone who's holding my position within the Australian government ought to be in the Pacific pretty regularly and from my point of view, I want to make sure that I get around to all the countries, but not just once, get around to them frequently, to deal with the many issues that are on the agenda and I have no doubt that we will talk about that this week in the context of the forum coming up in the next month or so. But whether or not the forum is there I will still be out there in the Pacific talking about the issues of the day.

COUTTS: Well Vanuatu, you're going there. Will you have the judiciary on your agenda there. It's taken a bit of stick. It's drawn a lot of attention over Minister Harry Iauko assault on a publisher there and the very light sentence that was handed out. Will you be looking at the judiciary there and having a say in the same manner you might have compared with what has been said about Fiji?

MARLES: Look, we'll be talking with the Vanuatu government about a range of issues that have happened over the last well, since I last visited Vanuatu, which was earlier in the year about the judiciary, but we'll be talking to them about a range of issues and along with obviously the big issues which are facing the Pacific, such as Fiji. I've no doubt that it will come up in our discussions as well.

COUTTS: Former ombudsman, Marie-Noelle Ferrieux-Patterson says that the judiciary doesn't seem to care about international opinion and so it continues along its merry way about the way it handles the judiciary and again, the light sentence that was handed out. Is it a bit hypocritical that we're not coming down on Vanuatu in the same way we might in Fiji if the same thing happened there?

MARLES: Oh well, firstly I think what's going on in Vanuatu is really not the same in terms of what's going on in Fiji, so I wouldn't think that we should be approaching it in the same way to be honest. And as I say, I will be raising a range of issues with the Vanuatu government.


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pacific islands media association
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aotearoa, new zealand
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pacific islands media association
pima.nius@gmail.com
aotearoa, new zealand
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The pima.nius googlegroup is a facility for discussion and distributing information. Content sent by this googlegroup are forwarded from various networks and media publications.
 
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