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Australia Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and a team of parliamentarians have wrapped up a whirlwind five-day visit to three north Pacific nations with a final stop in the Marshall Islands on Wednesday and Thursday.
The Marshall Islands visit included a meeting with President Hilda Heine and a government reception, meetings with private sector and non-government representatives on Wednesday evening, and a visit to a domestic violence prevention programme prior to departure to Australia on Thursday morning.
Earlier in the week, the group visited Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia. All three island groups are closely affiliated with the United States through Compacts of Free Association.
While Marshall Islands government leaders have been critical of what they see as Australia's lack of commitment to climate action, this contentious issue was not broached by Bishop or Marshall Islands leaders at public events.
Marshall Islands Environment Minister David Paul and Bishop toasted long-standing and close relations between the two nations during Wednesday's reception at the Marshall Islands Resort.
Paul noted that Australia was the second nation after the United States to extend diplomatic recognition to the Marshall Islands after it entered the Compact of Free Association with the US in 1986.
Bishop highlighted a visit to Ebeye Island, next to the US Army's missile testing range at Kwajalein Atoll, where she viewed an in-progress US$19 million water and sanitation project that Australia is jointly funding with the US and the Asian Development Bank.
Seeing children filling bottles with clean water from a water-filling station was a happy occasion for the Australian delegation, she said.
Bishop also reaffirmed Australia's commitment to and engagement in the Pacific region.
Although climate issues have come to dominate all government activities in the Marshall Islands, neither Bishop nor Paul mentioned the climate issue during friendly remarks to reporters.
The Heine administration has been openly critical of Australia's energy and climate policies over the past two years. But while this may have been addressed during closed door meetings between the Australian delegation and President Heine earlier on Wednesday, both Bishop and Paul focused on other issues of mutual agreement in their remarks at the reception.
Prior to departing on Thursday, Bishop's team visited the offices of the national women's organisation, Women United Together Marshall Islands (WUTMI), to show support for the Weto in Mour (safe haven) programme that provides counseling and services to victims of domestic violence.
Bishop noted that the Australian government was providing funding in the Pacific region, including to WUTMI, for a variety of women's empowerment programmes.
SOURCE: RNZ PACIFIC/PACNEWS
Pacific Islands News Association
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