Hon PM Bainimarama – Fiji Day Speech in Sydney

The President of the Fiji Day Organising Committee,
My fellow Fijians,
Friends of Fiji,
Ladies and Gentlemen.

Bula vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all.

What a pleasure it is to be back in Sydney with so many of my fellow Fijians and friends of Fiji as we celebrate the 47th Anniversary of our Independence.

It is wonderful that, even an ocean away from our home, we can all come together, as Fijians, to show our love for our great country.

Earlier this week, I joined many of our fellow Fijians in Nadi where, for the first time ever, we held our national celebration for Fiji Day in the West. Thousands of Fijians gathered together in honour of our independence, watched our military perform in their annual parade, and celebrate our ties as a united Fijian family. It was a very special event for me to take part in; it was so great to bring our national celebration to our Western Division, and celebrate with many Fijians who had never taken part in our official celebrations, which have always been held in Suva.

This year, I’ve also had the opportunity to meet our fellow Fijians in Vancouver and San Francisco to celebrate our independence and carry the message about where Fiji is today, and where our nation is headed. And now, finally, I’m in Sydney with all of you for your Fiji Day celebrations.

No matter where I’ve gone, I’ve always shared in the same feeling of unity and joy with our Fijian family, and I know we all share in that same spirit this afternoon. It’s a feeling that can’t be bought, it’s a feeling that never fails to stir my heart – seeing the smiling faces of so many of our citizens, of all ages and backgrounds, dressed in Fiji Blue singing our national anthem – those moments rank among my most treasured as Prime Minister.

Every year, these celebrations serve as a reminder of all we work for, as one nation and one people, determined to build a new and better Fiji. It puts faces to the initiatives that my Government fights for every day, and it shows me how far we have come as a nation. It recharges my own passion to continue down this path of progress and take Fiji to even greater heights.

There are over 50,000 Fijians who live in Australia now, and I want all of them, not just those here today, to feel that same sense of pride and belonging that are ignited at these Fiji Day celebrations. Because now, more than ever, Fiji is whole, Fiji is united and Fiji is brimming with opportunity for every Fijian. Luckily, you are a short flight away from returning to experience all of that for yourselves. In the meantime, I am proud to tell you about the progress that we have made, and what we are working to achieve for the future of Fiji.

That progress has come about because we are steadily realising the vision for the new Fiji – a vision that I’ve spoken with your community about in the past. A Fiji where no Fijian feels cast aside in their own country. A Fiji where no Fijian is left out of our national development and prosperity.

And a Fiji where every Fijian’s success is determined by their own discipline, their own ambition and their own hard work.

I know that many Fijians who resettled here in Sydney and throughout Australia did so because they didn’t see a future for themselves in Fiji. Many left because they had lost faith in where our nation was headed, and sought better lives for themselves and for their children. And others left because, sadly, they felt like unwelcome strangers in their own rightful home.

There are times in our history when it was difficult to see our nation’s true potential. I know that. But that is no longer the case – that is not the Fiji I lead today. The spirit of optimism that is sweeping our nation is something you can only truly understand when you experience it for yourself.

When you do visit Fiji, in your conversations with everyday Fijian men and women, you’ll finally hear the hope that we have for our future, you’ll hear the pride we have in our great country and you’ll hear the new dreams and ambition that the Fijian people hold for themselves, their families, and their nation.

I’ve seen that newfound faith in what is possible first-hand. I’ve seen it in the stories and experiences of the Fijian people. I’ve seen the parents who are sending their children to school to realise opportunities they never dreamed of having themselves. I’ve seen it in the young, budding entrepreneurs who are bringing their ideas to the table and using their creativity to help spur growth in our economy.

And I’ve seen it in Fijian communities in remote, rural and maritime regions that are building connections with the rest of Fiji, the region and the world for the very first time.

The recipe for success that has led Fiji’s progress over the past decade isn’t something we keep secret.

Our agenda has been transparent and our mantra clear; we are now a unified nation, and it is our unity and togetherness that have driven my Government’s agenda to modernise the Fijian economy – an agenda that has led to eight straight years of economic growth for Fiji.

For eight straight years we’ve been consistent and unwavering in carrying out the work we knew needed to be done to take the Fijian economy forward, and for eight straight years we’ve been able to pass on the prosperity of our economic growth directly to ordinary Fijians.

Our agenda for development is rooted in the sacred law that governs every action of my Government – the Fijian Constitution. The Constitution enshrines an unprecedented array of rights for every Fijian. The Constitution also ensures that Fijians irrespective of their ethnicity, religion and cultural practices are equal and have common and equal citizenry. This encourages all men and women to participate equally in and contribute equally to their country.

Our development agenda has seen a massive push for the expansion of infrastructure and essential services throughout Fiji.
Because we need to open up our communities to the rest of their country, to our region and to the world. We need every Fijian to have access to reliable roads, bridges, ports and jetties so they can bring goods to market, visit with family and friends and seek new opportunities. And for those that have visited Fiji again recently, I’m sure you would have taken notice of our new state-of-the-art international airport in Nadi, the newly upgraded Queen’s Road and the new developments springing up across the country.

We’ve also continued to vastly expand access to services; water, electricity, health and other essential services that every Fijian needs as a foundation for success in their lives.

Services that are making life better for men, women and children all over Fiji, along with networks of telecommunications that are keeping them connected with their fellow Fijians and with the rest of the world.

As I’ve said before, education is now free in Fiji at the primary and secondary level, and we also offer free textbooks and subsidised bus fares to our students. We’ve invested in our children, all of our children, everywhere in Fiji. And we are opening doors of opportunity for young Fijians that stood shut for generations.

In moving our people forward, we’ve also done a great deal to make Fiji a more caring nation – a nation that provides for those that cannot provide for themselves. We’ve vastly expanded our social welfare programmes, schemes that are assisting rural pregnant women, children, the elderly and those living with disabilities. We are subsidising access to water and electricity for low-income families.

We’ve launched a national campaign to bring security and stability to Fijian communities, by giving secured tenure to those who have been living for decades as squatters.

We’ve done all of this because we know we need to make special efforts to ensure our prosperity reaches every Fijian.

So we’ve done a great deal to give ordinary Fijians the skills, resources and opportunities to do well for themselves, but we knew that wasn’t enough. We knew that, in some cases, the rules of our society were stacked against many of our people and that we needed to establish a more level playing field across our economy. That is why we’ve taken steps to shake up long-standing structures of privilege and dismantle vestiges of the elite, to give every Fijian an equal shot at doing well.

We are engraining merit-based achievement into every aspect of our national development, so that ability, performance and hard work are the ultimate determinants of success in the workplace, in Government and in every facet of national life.

We are currently in the midst of a massive reform programme for the Fijian civil service, as we seek to engrain a new culture of excellence and service-delivery across government. When our work is complete, recruitment in the civil service will be based solely on merit. Not on who you may know, who your parents may be or where in Fiji you may be from, but on merit. And that work – that commitment – is making our civil service more client-focussed and more results-oriented, with, of course, the biggest winners being ordinary Fijians.

The iTaukei own 91 per cent of the land in Fiji, and that ownership is guaranteed under the Constitution for all time. We no longer will have situations where iTaukei land were permanently alienated and converted to freehold land under the previous governments and constitutions.

The Constitution also prohibits unfair discrimination on the basis of one’s culture or religion while recognising the unique culture, customs, traditions and language of the iTaukei and Rotumans. We’ve also ensured that lease monies are equally distributed amongst all members of a land owning unit. This brings about transparency, equality and economic empowerment for all, not just the few.

For the first time there is constitutional protection for tenants who lease land. We have also now made it legally possible for leases to be issued up to 99 years. As some of you would know previously leases were, at least for agricultural purposes, issued only for 30 years.

My fellow Fijians, when we pursue development in Fiji, we aren’t making many of the same mistakes made by industrialised nations – mistakes that have brought disastrous consequences for the natural world.

Instead, we are setting an example of how progress and development can go hand-in-hand with a steadfast commitment to the preservation of our environment.

No development in Fiji under my Government has taken place at the expense of the environment, and none ever will. We’ve even said no to valuable sources of revenue because those projects haven’t met the high standards we require. And we certainly don’t have any regrets about that. We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to our children and we owe it to all those generations yet to come to not only preserve our environment, but to actively work against the damage that has already been done.

Our oceans and our reefs are currently being choked by pollution from our region and the rest of the world. That was the major reason Fiji took on the responsibility of co-hosting the first-ever UN Conference on Oceans this past June in New York.

We cannot allow the continued degradation of this precious resource on which so many of our coastal communities depend. And at the Oceans Conference, over 1,400 voluntary commitments for ocean action were registered by the international community – a big win for every Fijian and for every person on earth.

But we aren’t only working abroad, I am also doing everything I can to persuade our own people of the importance of this agenda. Part of our response to an increase in litter has been to place a tax on plastic bags because these bags, along with plastic bottles, are being swept into our waterways and out to sea.

To complement this, Government is working with retailers to engage women groups to make re-useable bags to be sold at outlets which create economic opportunities for our people, in particular for our women.

There is also a 10% Environment and Climate Adaptation Levy or ECAL and all revenues collected from ECAL goes into a separate trust fund that is used only for environmental and climate adaptation projects. All monies spent through ECAL must be published and available to the public.

These initiatives are about having the national resolve and planning for the future. Because if Fiji is to lead the world on such an important issue, it has to lead by example and display leadership..

Finally, as you all likely know, we are also preparing to take on the most important responsibility ever entrusted to Fiji – our upcoming presidency of the ongoing United Nations negotiations on climate change, COP23.

This November, in Bonn, Germany, Fiji will take the lead in confronting the greatest threat that has ever faced humanity – that of climate change.

We all know that the effects of our changing climate are already upon us. Here in Australia, you are facing the loss of your Great Barrier Reef. In Fiji, we are faced with the rising seas, changing weather patterns and severe weather events – events like Cyclone Winston.

I know many of you here watched from afar as Cyclone Winston ravaged our nation, destroying homes, schools and public buildings, and claiming the lives of 44 Fijians. I know you waited anxiously for news of your families and loved ones. And I know many of our Fijian community in Australia came together to assist affected Fijians – and I thank you dearly for that support.

I’ve taken on the COP23 Presidency, because we cannot sit idly by while industrialised nations continue to make this crisis even worse.

And I will be demanding bold and decisive action on this issue in Bonn this November, as we seek the full implementation of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

We’ve assembled a grand coalition for climate action of governments, businesses and civil society that I will lead to the COP this November.

And I would like to thank the Australian Government for their AUD six million dollar support to our presidency and this vital mission we are undertaking. My fellow Fijians, I always look forward to spending time with your community here in Sydney because you always put on such a vibrant show of patriotism for your home, our beloved Fiji.

I encourage you to share the news and developments of Fiji with those that cannot be here today, your friends, your coworkers, and your community. By doing this, you are helping Fiji in ways that cannot be accomplished on our own.

Members of my delegation are also present and available to help anyone interested in applying for Fijian citizenship, as you know that under my Government we allow for holding of multiple citizenship. We have the Fijian Elections Office team here who can register you to vote and we have a team from the Ministry of iTaukei Affairs who can register your children in the Vola Ni Kawa Bula.

I greatly appreciate all of your words of encouragement and thank for you all for the invitation to spend time with your community. And I wish you all a very happy and blessed Fiji Day!

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

Hon PM Bainimarama – Charity Ball

The Mayor of Liverpool Ms Wendy Weller,
WOWS Foundation Executive Director and founder Mr Joe Pilgrim,
Members of the Diplomatic Corp,
The Fiji Day Organizing Committee Members,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Bula vinaka.
Good evening to each of you – and what an evening it is. You all look fantastic.

I love being surrounded by so many Fijians and friends of Fiji, I feel very at home among you all, even being so far from Suva. Thank you for your warm welcome, and for the hospitality that you have shown to me, my wife Mary, and our delegation.

You put Fiji’s best foot forward. Every smiling face in this room is a representation of Fiji’s finest – and you are each great ambassadors of Fiji to the Australian community.

After traveling from Canada and the United States to Fiji, we held the national Fiji Day celebrations in the west for the first time ever. Australia is now my fourth country in which I’ve spent Fiji Day this year. And that fact is quite a testament to the global reach of our diaspora community. Each celebration has been unique and special in its own way – yet all have shared the same feeling of being united as one Fijian family.

This event is particularly meaningful because it is not just a way for us celebrate and reconnect to our homeland, but it is an opportunity for us to give back in a meaningful way. The funds raised by tonight’s charity ball will have a direct impact on Fijian lives. For this, I thank the event organisers, sponsors, and donors – and I thank each and every one of you for your support and dedication to such a worthy and noble cause, and thank you for having me here tonight. With your generosity, the beneficiary of tonight’s event, WOWS Kids Fiji, will be able to help more of Fiji’s children to “Walk On Walk Strong.” With your generosity, WOWS will be able to help more children go on and to live positive lives, achieve their dreams, and find the strength to overcome any difficulties along the way.

WOWS Kids Fiji is dedicated to assisting children with cancer in Fiji, and supporting their families as they deal with the physical, emotional, and financial toll that the disease so often takes.

When coping with the harsh reality of cancer, especially children’s cancer, it’s difficult for patients and their caretakers to go at it alone; this is why WOWS has stepped forward to offer help when it’s needed most.

Cancer is the third leading cause of death in Fiji, and the types of childhood cancer that WOWS deals with– like leukemia, brain, and bone cancer– can be especially devastating. This year alone, WOWS Kids supported 63 children in Fiji, spending an average of $9,000 per child each month to provide transportation, treatment, and medical supplies. WOWS also assists in ways that go beyond the hospital by helping with some of the less obvious costs of treatment, like accommodation costs for children and their families, and phone card top-ups that allow them to stay in constant contact with their doctors and WOWS support team.

My Government, through the Ministry of Health and Medical Services, shares WOWS’ commitment to easing the burden of cancer and supporting families. In 2016, the Ministry of Health, with the Fiji Cancer and WOWs Kids, signed the World Cancer Declaration, with the goal of reducing the preventable mortality rate of cancer patients in Fiji. And just recently, the Honourable Minister of Health, Ms. Rosy Akbar, launched August as the Fiji’s first-ever Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

Ladies and gentlemen, at this launch, the Honourable Minister shared a statistic that gave me great hope: In just the past five years, the survival rate of common childhood cancers had more than doubled in Fiji. This progress would not be possible without the combined efforts of the Government, organisations like WOWS Kids, and supporters like you. With your help, the future for Fiji’s children is even brighter. By giving generously to WOWS, you are giving directly to a happier and healthier tomorrow for Fiji’s children.

Once again, I thank everyone who made tonight’s event possible, and everyone who has opened up their hearts and wallets this evening.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

Hon PM Bainimarama – Australia-Fiji Business Forum

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.

Hon PM Bainimarama – Opening Statement at Fiji-Queensland Trade and Investment Symposium

The Honourable Queensland Treasurer and Minister for Trade and Investment,
The Honourable Fijian Minister for Industry, Trade, Tourism, Lands and Mineral Resources,
The Honourable Fijian Minister for Agriculture, Rural and Maritime Development and National Disaster Management,
Your Excellency, the Fijian High Commissioner to Australia,
The Consul General and Trade Commissioner to Australia and New Zealand,
The CEO of the Australia-Fiji Business Council,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen.

Bula vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all.

Along with building our resilience to climate change, the expansion of Fiji’s trade with the rest of the world is among my government’s top priorities. So I’m delighted to be spearheading the first dedicated trade and investment mission to one of the most dynamic economies in our region – the state of Queensland.

I want to start in the customary way by acknowledging the traditional owners and custodians of the land on which we gather and to pay my respects to their elders, past and present.

Ladies and Gentlemen, my only regret is that I wasn’t in Brisbane last week to see the Maroons beat the Blues in the deciding match of the State of Origin. I know how important this is to every Queenslander. And I would have loved to have been among the 50,000 spectators at the Suncorp Stadium with Petero Civoniceva by my side – a Fijian former Maroon who has done so much for Queensland rugby league and who is with us all today. Vinaka vakalevu, Petero, for the honour you have brought to Queensland and to Fiji over the years and your service to the game and the community that continues in your retirement.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I also want to warmly welcome the Queensland Treasurer and Minister for Trade and Investment, the Honourable Curtiss Pitt. To thank him for being with us today and for the supportive comments he made in his own address. Mr Pitt presides over an economy that generates more export income than any other Australian state. And Fiji places the highest importance on forging a closer engagement through the strengthening of our trade and investment ties. To take our economic relationship to the same level as the great friendship that has always existed between our peoples.

Fijians and Queenslanders don’t just share a deep love of sport. We genuinely like each other and share some very important characteristics. We are friendly, open, caring and unpretentious. We are down to earth. And if there’s one place in the world where I know I can be Frank by name and frank by nature, it’s in Brisbane.

We also value modesty, loyalty and teamwork. Sticking together especially when times are tough. What you call mateship in Australia and we also prize as our greatest national value. Equal opportunity. Reaching out to help those less fortunate, the people you Aussies call “the battlers”. And our heroes are invariably those who triumph in face of adversity, who beat the odds. Something that has served us well in times of natural disaster and especially the cyclones that have caused so much heartbreak for both our peoples.

A great many Fijians have found new homes in Queensland and a great many Queenslanders have come to call Fiji their second home. So put simply, Fijians and Queenslanders are the best of mates. And we have a great opportunity to take that relationship to another level.

Ladies and Gentlemen, because of those shared characteristics and values, I ask every person in this room today to think about what we can do to bring us even closer together. And especially how we can intermesh our economies through increased trade and investment and create more opportunities for growth and prosperity for our peoples.

As you’ve heard, a key objective of today’s symposium is to highlight the significant untapped potential that exists in the Fiji-Queensland relationship. And areas in which we can work together and provide tailor-made investment solutions to benefit both our economies.

We see particular opportunities in the areas of ICT, mining and agriculture, along with other productive sectors of our respective economies. So I have brought with me a high-level team of Fijian ministers, permanent secretaries and other senior officials – plus the head of Investment Fiji – to help showcase what we have to offer.

I’d like to introduce them one-by-one and ask them to stand so that you can all see precisely who they are and who you need to talk to about your particular field of interest.

You have already heard from our Minister for Industry, Trade, Tourism, Lands and Mineral Resources, the Honourable Faiyaz Siddiq Koya, who has the critical task of showcasing Fiji to the world and bringing more of the world to Fiji. He also ensures that our state land and those lands deposited by iTaukei landowners into the land bank are managed well. He is also developing a new and transparent regime for mineral exploration in Fiji.

Then, we have our Minister for Agriculture, Rural and Maritime Development and National Disaster Management, the Honourable Inia Seruiratu. As many of you know, I am the incoming President of COP23 – the ongoing UN negotiations on climate change. And the Honourable Seruiratu is also our Climate Champion, crisscrossing the world drumming up support for our presidency. It’s great to have him step off the global treadmill in Brisbane today.

Can I also introduce a brace of permanent secretaries – the civil servants who head some of our most important ministries. First Yogesh Karan – the Permanent Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office and Acting Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs and the Sugar Industry. Then we have Shaheen Ali – the Permanent Secretary for Industry, Trade and Tourism, who heads a dynamic team totally focused on our export effort and attracting investment and visitors to Fiji. And Naipote Katonitabua, the Permanent Secretary for iTaukei Affairs, who has the important task of assisting our indigenous people to maximise the economic opportunities from their ownership of more than 90 per cent of the land surface in Fiji.

Many of you will already have met our High Commissioner to Australia, His Excellency Yogesh Punja – a prominent business figure in his own right before he became a diplomat – and our Consul General in Sydney and Trade Commissioner to Australia and New Zealand, Zarak Khan – both of them vital points of first contact within Australia. And last but not least, the CEO of Investment Fiji, Godo Muller-Teut, who heads a team that can give any potential investor all of the information you need about Fiji.

This includes the one-stop shop we have established to ease the approvals process and the various incentives that are available. Duty concessions, investment allowances and some of the lowest and personal taxes in the region. As I say, a high level team all at your disposal to explore the wonderful opportunities that Fiji has to offer.

Ladies and Gentlemen, there are also a great many other people in the room from the private sector whose experience you can draw on – in agriculture, for instance, the CEO of Buderim Ginger, the General Manager of Paradise Beverages and Chef Colin Chung, who can all explain the trade and investment opportunities in Fiji’s agriculture and agro-processing centres.

And then there are the Fijians who have become Australians and have carved out prominent roles in business here – among them Hari Raniga of Majans Snacks and Shainiel Deo of Halfbrick Studios, who you will hear from shortly.

All of these individuals can give personal accounts of the many benefits of investing in Fiji – our position as Hub of the Pacific with our quick and easy transport links with Queensland; our rapidly improving infrastructure – better roads, better airports, more efficient ports; our general connectivity and world-class telecommunications; and especially the quality of our people – dedicated, loyal, hardworking team players. Eager to seize the opportunity to work for good employers and build a strong future for themselves, the companies they work for and the Fijian nation.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the time to invest in Fiji and expand our trade has never been better. My Government has unified our nation, given every Fijian a common identity and strengthened our institutions – including our parliamentary democracy – under a constitution that has given all Fijians unprecedented rights and is a model for other nations.

With our consistent policies based on fairness, inclusion and empowerment, we have put an end to the years of instability and uncertainty – the lost years -and have set Fiji on a new course. And as a government, we have our eyes firmly set on sustainable economic growth and on achieving greatness. A determination to not only cement Fiji’s position as the pre-eminent Pacific island nation but steadily transform ourselves from a developing country into a modern nation state.

We understand how a modern economy works, which is why we have had eight successive years of solid economic growth in spite of the natural disasters that have beset us. And part of that success is because we understand the importance of policies that are pro-business. And of government and the private sector working together as close partners in national development.

So today, I invite you all to be partners in building the new Fiji – if you aren’t already – and partners in building our relationship with the great state of Queensland. Because if there’s one overriding characteristic we share as Fijians and Queenslanders, it’s a sense of optimism. An eagerness to embrace opportunity. Gratitude that we have both been blessed with beautiful surroundings. But with the absolute conviction that we haven’t yet reached our full potential and much better days lie ahead.

In Fiji, we are building that future not only by investing in our infrastructure to unlock our economic potential but investing in our people. We’ve always had an educated, committed, English- speaking workforce but far too many of our people were being left behind and didn’t have the means to reach their full potential. They needed a leg-up. We as a nation needed a leg-up. So we embarked on an education revolution to transform the prospects of our people and transform Fiji’s prospects with a workforce that is smarter, more productive, more innovative and more focused.

I often say that the proudest of my Government achievements is the free schooling we introduced in 2013 for primary and secondary school students. It’s something Australians take for granted. But imagine the pain for so many low-income families over the years of not being able to send their children to school. Or having to make them leave early and contribute to a family’s meager income.

Well those days are over in Fiji. We have lifted the most important barrier to advancement for any child – the ability to get an education. And in doing so, we have freed tens of thousands of young people from the poverty trap. And opened up for them a world of opportunity.

We also have a tertiary loans program and have increased our scholarships for more gifted students. And we have set up a national network of technical colleges to encourage our young people to take up a trade and increase our skills base. Which means that young Fijians entering the workforce now and in the years to come are better educated than at any other time in our history. Formal qualifications that recognise their skills and are transportable – opening up job opportunities not only in Fiji but across the region and beyond. And what it means for you as potential investors is a bigger pool of qualified people on which to draw to build your businesses and take your product to the rest of the world.

It’s already happening. We have a great many export success stories. The Fijian Made brand of goods and services is already reaching out to the four corners of the earth – water, cosmetics, manufactured goods, foodstuffs, telecommunications services. And they are making Fiji a byword for quality in the regional and global marketplace.

In the ICT sector, Fijians are also reaching out to the world from our call centres, which we are perfectly placed to host with our English-speaking workforce with neutral accents, our world-class telecommunications and a time zone that straddles the big markets of the Asia Pacific and North America. If you ring Fiji Airways – whether from Brisbane, Los Angeles or Hong Kong – that call is handled in Fiji. And several other regional and global companies are doing the same. Fiji as the new epicenter of business transactions.

So, Ladies and Gentlemen, while Fiji is proud of its string of beautiful islands and lovely resorts – the tropical playground of close to a million visitors a year – we are so much more. We can be so much more. And I invite you all to look at Fiji with fresh eyes. As a thriving economy and a nation that approaches its 50th anniversary of Independence in three years time more confident and with more potential than at any other time in our history.

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 – and to leave you with this thought: That if states like Queensland and nations like Fiji can produce successful sporting teams like the Maroons and our Rugby Sevens, we can do the same in the pursuit of economic success.

It requires a game plan that we have – governments providing the right settings and allowing businesses to flourish. It requires imagination that we have, the ability to identify opportunities and exploit them. And it requires teamwork that we have, all of the elements that make up a modern economy playing their respective roles with dedication and flair and totally focused on success.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Fiji is well and truly open for business and eager to engage with all of you. So I now have the great pleasure to blow the opening whistle on the inaugural Fiji-Queensland Trade and Investment Symposium. And let’s put some scores on the board together.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

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