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Kiribati Foreign Secretary in Australia mentions Banaban community living in Fiji

PACIFIC BEAT RADIO AUSTRALIA Updated March 15, 2011 17:46:09

The job of representing Kiribati on the international stage often involves explaining how to correctly pronounce the country's name.

That's according to the Kiribati Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Tessie Lambourne, who was in Australia meeting government officials, politicians and members of the local i-Kiribati community.

In a wide ranging interview, she discussed how the region should tackle the issue of Fiji, the increasing role of China in the Pacific, and how to expand Australia's seasonal worker program, which Kiribati is participating in, although not as much as it would like.

Presenter: Bruce Hill
Speaker: Tessie Lambourne, Kiribati Secretary of Foreign Affairs


LAMBOURNE: At the moment we have 16.

HILL: That's not very much is it?

LAMBOURNE: No and I think we hope to get more coming to Australia but this is a good start given the circumstances Australia's facing recovering from the economic crisis. So we would like to see that number increase in the coming months.

HILL: So you think there's real scope for more i-Kiribati people to take part in this seasonal workers scheme? It's mainly aimed at horticulture isn't it?

LAMBOURNE: At the moment yes, but I guess there is scope to expand it to other type of seasonal work in terms in the agricultural sector. But yeah we've had 11 people come in last year and they've just returned home, and now we've just got the 16 people coming earlier this year, just a few weeks back.

HILL: Do you have any idea of how many people you'd like to take part from Kiribati?

LAMBOURNE: The target the government would really like to meet in terms of labour mobility, is to be able to send one-thousand people a year, this is our aspiration. But we know it all depends on the demand.

HILL: So is it the demand that's stopping it, just not the demand for workers in Australia so far?

LAMBOURNE: I guess there are a number of factors that contribute to that, and one is people don't know much about our people.

HILL: They certainly don't know how to pronounce the name do they, they see "ti" and they say oh, Kiri-batty, and you must always be correcting people internationally?

LAMBOURNE: And with pleasure because we know that people pronounce that, they read it as they would read an English word and we understand that, and so we like helping people know how to pronounce a Kiribati word, like Kiribati.

HILL: It must take up a fair amount of your time when you're in Washington and London and Brussels and you must be permanently saying, no, no, it's Kiribati?

LAMBOURNE: Yeah sometimes it takes up most of our time when we meet people for the first time. Sometimes it can get a bit embarrassing to correct people, but it's very important, for us it's very important that people first the people know that there is a country in the Pacific called Kiribati, and that they know how to pronounce it.

HILL: How easy is it for a fairly small country like Kiribati to really project itself internationally, to get its issues taken seriously, because it's a small country and there are great power things going on all the time, it must be pretty easy for you guys to just get lost in the rush?

LAMBOURNE: That is a major challenge too, and I believe not just to Kiribati, but to other small island countries in the world. But especially for us in Kiribati, first people do not know that we exist, so it is very difficult.

HILL: It used to be you'd say we're the only country that's bisected by the international dateline, so it's one day in one half of the country but another on the other. But you changed that a few years ago.

LAMBOURNE: That's right we used to say Kiribati it's all in the parts of the world, it's east, west, it's where the east meets the west and the north meets the south. But now we're not able to do that anymore.

HILL: Well now you've changed the international dateline so on a map it looks like a giant hammer?

LAMBOURNE: That is correct. Yeah we had to do that for administrative purposes.

HILL: It was silly when it was Sunday in one part of the country and Monday on the other, people were at work or they were at church?

LAMBOURNE: That's right, so we only had about three solid days of work during the week that both sides of the country can work together.

HILL: Well tell me about some of the issues that you are discussing here in Australia. There are some obviously that leap to mind, climate change adaptation, attitudes towards Fiji for example. I know that Kiribati has got strong reliance on Fiji in terms of transport links and that Kiribati is concerned that Australia and New Zealand aren't engaging with Fiji in the way that Kiribati would like them to do. Have you had much response from Australian officials when you've raised this with them?

LAMBOURNE: Our government's approach towards Fiji has been one of constructive engagement and dialogue.

HILL: Has it worked?

LAMBOURNE: It has worked for us. And you're right, Fiji is for Kiribati a very important partner, and hub for a gateway to the world for Kiribati, and also with the trade. But more importantly we also have a sizeable community in Fiji. The people of Banaba who were resettled in Rabi in Fiji, they are members of the community in Fiji. And so they also are of importance to us. Our government's position has been one of engagement and different governments have their own approaches towards a certain issue.

HILL: I guess my question is do you think that the Australian and New Zealand approach is the correct one, or have you raised this with the Australian officials or do you not talk about it too much in public?

LAMBOURNE: I think the important thing for us is to make sure that the people in Fiji are looked after, their welfare, they are taken care of, and how the Fiji regime or whoever is in charge in the country how they provide for their people is actually it's up to them, it's a domestic issues for them. But as a partner and a neighbour I think in the Pacific, and this is also part of the culture in the Pacific, is when your brother is in trouble, having difficulties, you help, you go and talk to them and you help them with their difficulties. And this is the approach that we have taken. That we believe that in our region it is important that we keep talking, and especially to try and make sure that they have people and advice that they can turn to and listen to if they wish.

HILL: There is a complicating factor in the Pacific these days, it's getting much more widespread than it used to be, it used to be like relations were with Australia and New Zealand, or to a certain extent the United States. Now there's another major player increasingly coming in and that's China. Some people have welcomed this as a counterweight to Australia and New Zealand. I think the Fiji interim government in particular seem to take the approach that well China can actually replace Australian and New Zealand influence. Other people aren't so sure. Where does Kiribati see China fitting in in the scheme of things, and do you see any benefits or any drawbacks to that?

LAMBOURNE: That is a very good question, and I think the bottom line for any government is their development and the wellbeing of the people. And the partners that they choose or the partners who are willing to assist them with their agenda, I think it's really up to the countries.

HILL: The bottom line is you need the money?

LAMBOURNE: The bottom line is the interests of the people, and so who is willing to help, for us I think it doesn't matter who the money comes from, but as long as the people on the ground get the benefits.

HILL: There was for a long time a kind of diplomatic cold war between Taiwan and mainland China, using aid as a weapon, and various Pacific nations took various sides, and for a while it was actually quite a lucrative game, you could play one off against the other. Some countries changed sides, I think one changed sides three times to get this sort of stuff. Do you see it possibly developing as it becomes perhaps a zero sum game, China might start saying well you can be partners with Australia and New Zealand and the States on one side or us, but not both at the same time. Do you think that might start happening one day?

LAMBOURNE: The relations between China and Taiwan have warmed up a bit since President Ma took office.

HILL: They've called off the diplomatic cold war I think, I think it was costing them both a lot of money?

LAMBOURNE: That's right.

HILL: Which is unfortunate for you guys?

LAMBOURNE: Yes, we'd like to be friends with everybody in the world, and that's still the case for us. Unfortunately when in 2003 we established diplomatic relations with the Republic of China, Taiwan, the Peoples Republic of China was also our friend at the time.

HILL: You'd like to be friends with both wouldn't you?

LAMBOURNE: Yes we would, we will, and our President has said on numerous occasions that if China wants to come back tomorrow the door is always open, or today the door is always open.

HILL: Well you know what their bottom line is, you've got to stop recognising Taiwan, simple as that?

LAMBOURNE: Yeah we'd like to be friends with everybody. But we know there's some difficulties among the members of the international community, but we believe that is an issue between them, and shouldn't be an issue between us.

HILL: Do you think that small nations like Kiribati are perhaps able to get their views heard and are able to get their opinions shared internationally, and get them taken seriously? Because one of the things that I've noticed about the debate about climate change is the complaint that no one takes the Pacific seriously; not Kiribati, not Tuvalu, not Samoa, not anyone, it's as though they're bashing their heads against a brick wall and no one's paying attention because they're small, they're islands, they're a long way away?

LAMBOURNE: That is correct, and that is a constant battle for us, especially in the area of climate change. I mean there are lots of other issues that confront us, but on climate change we've been fighting for assistance, and especially for the action from the international community to address the issue of climate change, and it is very difficult. So we work together as a region, we try on occasions where that is possible, and then partners like Australia have also been helpful in advocating for us, especially when Australia was chair of the Pacific Islands Forum.

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Comment by Stacey King on March 18, 2011 at 2:13pm

Yes Roba this is a very valid point. You can't go on about climate change and having to move 100,000 people and then tell a small group of Banaban elders they are not entitled to $70 a month if they don't live in Kiribati. Some Banaban families did move back and a few of the elders died not long after the big move which would have also been very stressful. While the Kiribati govt was concerned at the time that they would set a precedent if they paid the Banaban elders living in Fiji, they thought they would then have to pay Kiribati elders who had resettled in the Solomons.

So it doesn’t look good for trying to get a lot of the Kiribati population to resettle elsewhere. Obviously if you have worked all your life in Kiribati and paid taxes there they should be entitled to their pensions wherever they reside. In the Banaban case their taxes were paid all their lives through the mining of phosphate on Banaba and the 83% taxes paid to Kiribati during all those Colonial years.

So you have raised a very interest topic that has to be addressed for the future generations especially in the uncertain times ahead for Kiribati.

Comment by Roba on March 18, 2011 at 1:54pm
well I remember maybe wen its during Teitirake time or whoever the member o the RCL proposed in Kiribati parliment that the elderly in Rabi should partake too of the Pension money and the response receive was, "In order for our Rabi elderly people to receive (like wat we call here "social security" money that 65+ yo )they have to move to Kiribati n lived there. Is that appropriate? Tarawa itself is overpopulated!!! Where would our elderly people stay? Who will remain in the island and be part of the society in Rabi to instruct,counselled or advice the younger generation?
Comment by Takesau Tabore on March 17, 2011 at 2:18pm
I think the secretary of state is trying to gain political mileage by briefly mentioning the Banaban story. When you translate it into action it fades into cheap talk. Besides the fluctuating no. of scholarships (0,1,2 or 3) every year and having 2 seats in parliament wheres the Banaban share of the national cake? We are fed up of the usual lame excuse that we are in Fiji so we are not entitled to any. But when it comes to the Banaban homeland the KG is quick to make reports of  surveys of possible re-mining prospects (latest news). Can the S of state come to Rabi and address more pressing issues


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