The Prime Minister of New Zealand, Your Excellency, the Rt Hon. Jacinda Ardern and Mr. Clarke Gayford;
I thank you all for joining us tonight as we honour a new chapter in the Fiji-New Zealand relationship.
It’s great to finally have my good friend the Prime Minister here in Fiji for her first official visit.
Jacinda and I have had the pleasure of meeting several times before, at the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu and the last two UN General Assemblies in New York.
During our first encounter in 2018, I actually got the chance to meet little Neve, who was just three months old at the time. While I was sad to hear that the now-toddler wouldn’t be joining us here in Fiji, I think we can all recognise that the media spotlight can be tough on a little one – so I’m happy to settle for her slightly-less-adorable father, Clarke, instead.
I’d like to extend a special welcome to those journalists who made the flight over and are joining us tonight. I’ll try to keep tonight’s remarks rather brief and prefer not to keep you here for too long.
In all seriousness, I will say that – despite certain sections wilfully ignoring the positive strides made in our country – Fiji has a surprising ally in the New Zealand media when it comes to covering a passion shared between myself and Prime Minister Ardern – the urgency of climate change. For that, I thank you.
I once thought Hell would freeze over before we saw much of positive stories on Fiji coming through, but in an age where extreme temperatures have become the new normal, perhaps I wagered too soon.
It’s a refreshing contrast with some of your climate-denying counterparts around the world. But I promise, Alan Jones wasn’t on the invitation list for this evening – so there will be no calls for “shoving a sock” down anyone’s throat tonight. I’ll even have security watch the doors and check the bathrooms to make doubly-sure.
My friends, jokes aside, this visit is about celebrating the rich and enduring friendship between Fijians and Kiwis. I thank the Prime Minister for making this trip a priority, and for taking the “Pacific Reset” to heart. Through her interactions with Pacific Island leaders at last year’s PIF in Funafuti, New Zealand’s genuine desire for a renewed and strengthened connection among our regional family was clear.
We watched as my friend ʻAkilisi Pōhiva, the late Prime Minister of Tonga – who came in, in not so good health, knowing that this PIF would be his last –shed tears after hearing the desperate pleas of Tuvaluan children, worried about the fate of their families and their country. And we heard, loud and clear, Jacinda’s strong message on climate change and its impact to Pacific Island countries.
At this afternoon’s press conference, I said Prime Minister Ardern was a leader who listened – and I meant it. In the Pacific spirit of Talanoa, we value that trait in anyone.
The respect she has shown for our way of life, and her sincere empathy for our suffering through a changing climate, will not be forgotten.
In my eyes, the humility, and the subtle strength, shown by the Prime Minister at PIF – despite representing the second-largest nation in the room – has proven to be one of two defining moments in Jacinda’s time in office to date.
The other was her unshaken response to the hate-filled acts of terror carried out at mosques in Christchurch last year, and the comfort she lent in a time of immense fear, grief and mourning.
“They are us.” Those few words helped unite a nation and inspire the world. And behind the words stood a remarkable story of resilience, compassion and action that, I believe, set a new benchmark for how any leader can help a wounded nation heal.
And we in Fiji – with a sizable diaspora community in Christchurch – needed that healing comfort here on the ground as we learned that three of our own were among the fallen.
In a moment clouded by darkness, New Zealand harnessed the power of national unity – allowing the best of humankind to shine through. Those three words – “They Are Us” – embody an ideal which I have pursued for the Fijian people since my first day as Prime Minister. Jacinda sees what I see: That being a Fijian or being a New Zealander is not about who you are, what you look like, or what religion you follow; it is about the love you hold in your heart – love for your country, and love for your fellow citizens.
And when we tap into the fabric of nationhood that binds our people together, there is no challenge we cannot overcome.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.