The Hon. Keith Pitt, Assistant Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Government of Australia;
The Hon. Fijian Minister for Industry, Trade, Tourism, Lands and Mineral Resources;
The Hon. Fijian Minister for Agriculture, Rural and Maritime Development and National Disaster Management;
Mr Geoff Shaw, Vice-President, Australia-Fiji Business Council;
Mr David Aidney, President, Fiji-Australia Business Council;
Mr. Frank Yourn, Executive Director, Australia-Fiji Business Council
Distinguished Guests and Speakers,
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all.
As I’m sure you all know, back in Fiji we are in the midst of our preparations in the lead-up to COP23 this November in Bonn, Germany, where I will assume the COP23 Presidency. It’s an enormous responsibility, but one that Fiji is proud to take up.
And I’d like to begin by thanking the Australian Government for their AUD Six Million dollar contribution towards the success of our COP Presidency. Vinaka vakalevu.
Of course, climate action does sit atop Fiji’s foreign policy agenda, but so does the expansion of Fiji’s trade with the rest of the world. So I’m delighted to be back in Sydney at the Australia-Fiji Business Council as we strengthen the business partnership between our nations to bring more economic benefit to more of our people.
Last year, I led the first high level Fijian Government mission to Australia that was solely focussed on growing trade and investment, and deepening the ties that link our economies.
That visit, along with my being here today, are both part of re-engagement strategy from my Government, a strategy that seeks to bring the Fijian and Australian economies closer together, and fill in gaps of missed opportunity that have languished – in some cases – for decades.
We’ve made progress in that effort, and that journey has been much easier by the simple fact that, as Fijians and Australians, we have genuine affinity for one another. We get on well, our citizens always have, and I’m very glad to say that, in recent years, our Governments do as well. And that camaraderie and that friendship have served us all well as the foundation for our business relationships.
Every year, we welcome thousands of Ozzies to our shores and make them feel right at home with the warmth of our famed hospitality. And here in Australia, you’ve welcomed many thousands of Fijians as well, many who have built lives for themselves and thrived here in your country.
As neighbours, as partners and as friends, our people share a deep love for our ocean, we hold dear many of the same values; humility, loyalty and teamwork, and we certainly share a love for sport – rugby in particular. Speaking of which, you likely know that this weekend we’re hosting your Kangaroos in Suva for the Tri-Nations games and I know we’re all keen for the result. In the meantime, I’m sure you’ve all taken notice of our Fijian Drua, newly renamed the Fiji Airways Drua, as we continue through the National Rugby Championships.
I know the Fijian people share my pride in how well our boys have performed so far. I’m sure none of you missed our victory over the Rams last week, and we in Fiji are very much looking forward to our match against the Rays in Fiji in two weeks’ time at our stadium in Lautoka.
Fielding a team in the NRC was a big win for Fiji, and it was another recognition, among many, of the progress Fiji has made over the past ten years. Of course, sports tourism is only one of the many avenues we’ve pursued over the last decade to grow our economy, welcome investment and build up our nation, but it surely is one of the most thrilling. And I know the Fijian people share my own excitement every time we bring another world-class sporting event to our shores, especially when its rugby.
Ladies and Gentlemen, in Fiji, we’ve just recognised our 47th Anniversary of our Independence this past Tuesday. And this Fiji Day, the Fijian people certainly had a lot to celebrate.
Over the last decade, our GDP has doubled and our revenue has tripled. And this year, our economy marked its eighth consecutive year of growth – eight straight years of economic progress and prosperity that have spread to every corner of Fiji – with forecasted growth from the IMF of 3.9 per cent in 2017, and another three per cent next year.
It hasn’t been chance that’s guided us to this achievement, our success is owed to consistency. A consistent economic vision and a consistent development agenda that have united the Fijian people in common purpose and set out Fiji on a new, unprecedented path of progress.
As a government, we saw clearly what needed to be done to modernise our economy and we’ve made it happen, but we aren’t resting on our laurels.
We see what still remains undone to take Fiji into an even more prosperous future, and we are ready to do what is necessary to embrace new and better opportunities. That is what gatherings such as this are all about.
So far, our efforts have been focussed on two fronts; realising greater opportunity for Fijians at home and deepening our economic ties abroad, including here in Australia.
That effort is already paying off. A total of 336 Australian projects were registered in Fiji between 2010 and 2016, worth around 1.4 Billion Fijian Dollars. It’s estimated these projects have created nearly 1,500 jobs across our economy in tourism, agriculture, forestry, construction, mining and quarrying. Now more than ever, savvy Australian business-people, like those here today, are realising that Fiji is more than just a place to kick-back and enjoy paradise, it’s a country where they can build their next big business.
So, as I said earlier, we are here to build on what our commitment and our co-operation have already achieved, and make a strong partnership even stronger.
First, let’s talk about what’s happening in Fiji. Since I spoke with many of you last year, we’ve continued our ambitious campaign of development, investing our economic gains directly back into the Fijian people. That includes investment in better roads, bridges and jetties, more efficient ports and airports and world-class telecommunication infrastructure to spur connections within Fiji and boost our engagement with the region and the rest of the world.
We’re also funding critical work throughout the country to widen access to essential services, water, electricity, health services and education.
As you likely know, we’ve made education free for the first time in Fijian history, unburdening our young people from financial constraints and empowering them to pursue an education as far as their abilities and interests will carry them.
Our free education programme, along with our free text books and free bus fares, have unleashed the potential of our young people, and today, tens of thousands of young Fijians are no longer trapped in a cycle of poverty simply because they could not afford an education.
Our commitment to young Fijians doesn’t end at the primary and secondary level. We are giving young Fijians more and better chances to pursue higher education as well. We recently vastly expanded our loans and scholarships programmes, nearly doubling our annual allocation to student scholarships.
We’ve established a national network of technical colleges that are equipping young Fijians with invaluable trade skills – skills that are in high demand in the region and in our modern and dynamic island economy.
But we knew it wasn’t enough to simply educate our people. We have to enact change on a societal level, we have to build a Fiji that recognises and rewards talent and achievement. A Fiji where jobs go to those with the right qualifications, not those with the right ethnic background, the right family name or the right connections. So when our students complete their educations and enter working life, they can have every confidence that hard work will bring them success.
We are currently carrying out a programme of reform throughout the Fijian Civil Service to engrain merit-based recruitment and advancement, and to instil a culture that is more client-focussed – focussed on the Fijian people and those friends of Fiji who seek to partner with us in development. The reform programme is also going a long way in eliminating bureaucratic red tape that, as we all know, can often choke development and hold us back from opportunity.
Our game plan for growth has paired the natural drive and ambition of the Fijian people with the skills, resources and opportunities they need to succeed – ingredients for success that many had long been denied. And we’ve seen an immediate impact from those efforts, with Fijians eager to work for reputable employers and build a strong future for themselves, their loved ones, the companies they work for and all of Fiji.
Today, we enjoy the most talented, competitive and capable workforce Fiji has ever had. And those hard-working men and women are able and willing to help build your businesses and take your products and your services to the region and to the global marketplace.
This all bears special significance for Australian businesses, because, as a popular tourism destination for your market, many Fijians are around Australians every day. So not only are we an English-speaking workforce, Fijians also understand the Australian consumer. When you combine that with lower costs, a general ease of doing business, world-class ICT infrastructure and a time zone that straddles the major market of the Asia Pacific and North America, you can certainly see the potential in doing business with us – particularly in outsourcing business processes.
We are currently developing a Services and Manufacturing Zone in our second-largest city, Lautoka. The Zone will bring together modern, robust infrastructure and premier connectivity, along with plug and play facilities, making it a prime target for investment in the production of high-quality finished goods and components.
By partnering with us in this project, you can take advantage of our position as the hub of the Pacific, with the best networks of transportation by air and by sea, and join us as we are poised to become part of the supply chain of manufacturers in Asia and Australia.
I hope that gives you some idea of the potential in Fiji that is waiting to be unleashed, and if you’re wondering how you can make the most of these opportunities, we’ve made that easier as well. We’ve taken a strategic approach to regulatory reform that is igniting innovation and preparing our economy to welcome greater investment.
Much of the progress we’ve made is owed to our commitment to work alongside our private sector partners, and as part of our pro-growth approach, we are offering duty concessions, investment allowances and some of the lowest business and personal taxes in the region. My delegation here today can walk you through the specifics of our investment policies this morning.
I know these are familiar faces for some of you, but for those that don’t know, today I’m accompanied by my Honourable Minister for Industry, Trade and Tourism and Lands and Mineral Resources, Faiyaz Koya; Honourable Minister for Agriculture and National Disaster Management Inia Seruiratu; along with officers from their Ministries who can discuss developments in our agriculture sector and opportunities in large-scale farming. Also with us is the Permanent Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office, Yogesh Karan; the Permanent Secretary for Public Enterprises Mr David Kolitagane; Mrs Taraivini Yalewanimoala Ratumudu, Fiji’s Director of Land Use Division in the Ministry of Lands; Fiji Revenue and Customs Services official Mr Shivindra Nath, and the CEO for Investment Fiji, Mr Godo Mueller-Teut.
Any one of our senior officials is capable of answering questions you may have, so let’s all get familiar with one another so we can figure out who is best suited to help you with any areas of specific concern.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
While I’m with you all today, I’d also leave you all with a final message about what all of us can do to be responsible stewards of this planet and support the aims of Fiji’s upcoming Presidency of COP23.
I don’t need to tell you what’s at stake for the Pacific and other vulnerable areas of the world.
The urgent need to address the issue of building our resilience to the extreme weather events, rising sea levels and changes to agriculture caused by climate change. All of which are already happening in Fiji and other Pacific countries.
You face the same crisis here in Australia with the loss of the Great Barrier Reef. So this isn’t some far off threat, this is in the here and now. And, friends, we must do everything we possibly can to shake people out of their complacency.
As the battle goes on, I also ask all of you to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Fiji. To support our Presidency. And do what you can to move the climate action agenda forward. We need to all think very carefully about what kind of world we want to leave to our children and grandchildren. I certainly think a great deal about the world I am leaving to my own family, and to the next generation of Fijians.
I want to close by thanking all those who have worked so hard to make this event a success – the CEO and staff of the Australia-Fiji Business Council and our local diplomats.
Thank you all again for being here, and for your interest in working with Fiji and the Fijian people. We certainly look forward to working with all of you.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.