20 April 2012
HOST: Now, a few weeks ago I watched an amazingly moving documentary about Japan a year on from the devastating tsunami. It was about the children of Fukushima Prefecture where the nuclear power plant went into meltdown after the earthquake and tsunami and where homes had to be abandoned, evacuated, and where children will never, some of the children, will never see their friends ever again. It was really, really moving to watch that. Well, slowly things are being done for the kids there and joining us on the line from Tokyo is Australia's Ambassador to Japan, Bruce Miller. Mr Miller, many thanks for your time on Radio Australia.
AMBASSADOR: No it's a pleasure, a pleasure to be with you.
HOST:Now, I read a statement released to coincide with this special thing that's happening there. You say in your statement it was a pleasure giving the children a present. What was this that you handed across?
AMBASSADOR: Well, we gave them a new playground, essentially. We gave slippery dips and a climbing frame - the sort of thing we have at home in Australia. We gave it to a temporary-built kindergarten which had been put up in Fukushima to look after children who had been, with their families, evacuated from the immediate vicinity of the nuclear reactor.
HOST: How, what did you pick up? Because as I mentioned there, you know, I watched this documentary. A lot of them are still reflecting, and quite amazingly mature for their age as well, but what did you pick up with the children?
AMBASSADOR: Well the children, I mean it's just wonderful to see little kids running around, looking happy with their new playground equipment. Obviously, it's been very disturbing, though, for them, having to pick up suddenly last year and move with their families to another part of the country. And there, being put into new schools and new kindergartens and all the rest of it, and having to learn to live with, on a daily basis, with, frankly, kids and a school playground they've never had to deal with before. And you know what that can be like with children, they can, children can be cruel to one another if they're from somewhere else.
AMBASSADOR: So what we're able to contribute to here is, with this new temporary kindergarten being put up we, are able to, for the children who had been evacuated, we were able to give them the playground equipment to go with that and it was just terrific to be able to do something practical, sensible and something that met a local need. And I'd just like to emphasise that - with the various work we have done in the different parts of the disaster-affected areas of Japan has been in response to, and after a consultative process and discussion with the local authorities and parents and the like as to what they would like to have from us. Rather than foisting something on them that would not suit the need.
HOST: A lot of people I suppose are still, as you would - anyone would - still holding out hope, you know, to return to their homes as well. How much is there an acceptance that ok, perhaps this is it, that you've got to move on, I mean, are these things that people reveal to you at all or –
AMBASSADOR: Well yes, talking to the local government officials, and talking to the parents, it's clear that there is a long-term hope to go back to where they came from and, in many cases, where many generations of their family have lived hundreds of years but I think there's also resignation and acceptance - it's not going to be next week, or next month or indeed next year. But it's certainly there as a long-term goal.
HOST: Are there any other projects in general, or collaborative exercises... Australia's kind of in with Japan... [in that area]?
AMBASSADOR: Yeah, yes, we've been doing the work we've just been talking about in Fukushima Prefecture. We've also been doing work further up the coast, in a place called Minami Sanriku, which is the town, the small town, that Prime Minister Gillard visited in April last year when she visited Japan shortly after the disasters, when she was the first foreign leader to visit Japan after the disasters. We have a particular relationship with that town where we, for instance, three weeks ago funded the travel to the Gold Coast of 24 children, from that part of the country, many of whom had lost their homes, and indeed, members of their family in the tsunami. And we again, in this case, we had asked the local authorities what would be most useful for us to contribute, and they said something for the kids, something to give them hope about the future, and to experience something different so that they could bring back to the community and, you know, bring back a sense that the world is with them, that they're not alone in dealing with this terrible disaster, because frankly, you know, we're still at the stage where the debris - it's only now that the debris is being picked up in all these, you know and being collected and taken away and reconstruction is really yet to start so it's a long, long haul that these communities face. So we've been doing that work in Minami Sanriku, we've been doing the work in Fuushima that I've outlined, and we've also got a bit of a relationship further up the coast in Iwate Prefecture, the third prefecture which was affected by the disasters, with some beef farmers up there that [Meat and Livestock Australia] has been working very hard on and doing a great deal of work with. So it's really not just us as an embassy and Australia as a government but also wider Australian entities - the ANZ Bank, for instance, has put a [life long] learning centre into Minami Sanriku, as I say [Meat and Livestock Australia] has been doing some wonderful work with beef farmers -
HOST: Bruce, I really want to know very briefly the Meat and Livestock - I mean, what sort of work, how are the Australian industry helping out their counterparts?
AMBASSADOR: Well I'll give you a couple of examples. I mean MLA has, Meat and Livestock [Australia], they've . . . provided hay . . . shipments to beef producers because the hay in Fukushima Prefecture's been contaminated by the radiation so they've needed hay from elsewhere to keep going. We've also - they've also taken beef producers down to Australia and taken some students down to Australia themselves, as part of, you know, helping out if you like, giving people a break away. So that's been very important. One other thing I should point to is that when the PM, the Prime Minister was here, she announced an education assistance package and, which has been implemented since, and we've now had, l think 34 Japanese university students travel to Australia and they've come from the hardest-hit regions and they've gone down to Australia and done some study and just allowed them a, you know, an international experience at a time of great difficulty.
HOST: Fantastic, great to hear that there's a lot happening across different fronts there. Really appreciate you joining us on Radio Australia. Many thanks for your time this afternoon.
AMBASSADOR: Not at all. Thanks so much indeed.
HOST: And that's Australia's Ambassador to Japan, Bruce Miller, joining us on the line there from Tokyo.