Australian High Commissioner to Colombo and the Maldives, Kathy Klugman, hosted a ‘friendship event’ in Holiday Inn last night, the first time Australia has hosted a diplomatic event in the Maldives.
Klugman said she hoped the event was “the first of many such gatherings to celebrate the links between our two countries.”
“A great deal has changed in the Maldives in the last few years,” she said. “You have commendably made a significant transition to democracy and become a significant international voice in the fight against climate change. The Maldives government has taken a lead in meeting this challenge and Australia stands ready to help.”
Australia had contributed much to the Maldives, particularly in the way of education, Klugman said, announcing that the Australian government had commissioned consultants Coffey International to develop a volunteering and scholarship program involving Maldivian alumni.
“We know many Maldivians have studied in Australia, but we have never brought them together in comprehensive way,” she said. “We promise more parties in future involving Maldives alumni.”
Speaking at the event, President Mohamed Nasheed acknowledged that many Maldivians’ knowledge of Australia “goes as far as Oscar and Lucinda.”
This was because an early generation of Maldivian teachers had travelled to Australia to study their profession, and had returned to pass on their positive impressions to the pupils.
Australia could help the Maldives become “a more intricate part of the Indian Ocean”, Nasheed said, given its favourable position as a potential trading hub.
“We sit in one of the most navigatable parts of the Indian Ocean, with the bulk of trade crossing north of the Maldives or through it. Because everything passes through us it seems quite possible for us to tap into that,” he suggested.
On the subject of the environment, Nasheed noted that the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was the first to suggest that the Copenhagen Accord might be salvaged.
“Before that, a lot of people said they didn’t think [the Accord] would be worth the paper written on it,” Nasheed said. “Now we’re seeing an agreement might be more possible, and much of it is because of the very good work done by the Australian Prime Minister.”
“During all the meetings I found Kevin Rudd to be very friendly and a capable politician. His understanding of small nations and his relationship with many developing countries, especially Bangladesh, was striking – as was his tolerance and attitude to life.”
Nasheed concluded by saying he hoped Australia would strengthen relations with the Maldives by working with it on an increasing number of projects.