I acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we gather, the Ngunnawal people, and pay my respects to their Elders, past and present;
The Australian Minister for International Development
and the Pacific, the Honourable Alex Hawke,
The Chief of Joint Capabilities in the Australian Defence Force, Air Marshall Warren McDonald,
The Commandant of the Australian War College, Air Commodore Matt Haggerty.
Honourable Ministers travelling with me from Fiji,
Staff and Students of the Australian War College;
Ladies and gentlemen.
Bula Vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all.
As one of the many Fijians who has trained with the Australian Defence Force over the years, I’m delighted to be with you all this afternoon to renew our connection and to salute the servicemen and women of Australia – in this room and beyond – who make up one of the best and most respected fighting forces in the world.
I came to Australia seeking common ground on a number of issues knowing, as I have all my life, that Fijians and Australians regard each other with genuine affection and respect. Nearly 100,000 Fijians have made their homes in Australia while more than 360,000 Australians visit Fiji every year. As people, we see ourselves as friendly, down to earth and unpretentious. And we also share what the Aussies have always described as the principle of a fair go – the notion that no matter who you are or where you come from, we are all equal and deserve the same opportunities.
Aside from the odd difference of opinion which is normal in the affairs of all nations, the only real conflict between us is on the sporting field. And we Fijians are so sporting that we even allow some of our best players to play for Australian teams and beat us. Though not very often if we can help it.
Friends, I’m honoured to bring you the greetings of the Fijian people and especially our own men and women in uniform, who have racked up four decades of service to UN Peacekeeping. Along with our leadership of the global climate struggle through our Presidency of COP23, this service to the world by our small nation unites our people in pride. Fiji punches above its weight and with the support of our neighbours, will continue to do so at every opportunity.
In our defence forces, we are brothers and sisters in arms who share the same values and many of the same traditions. In war and in peace over the years, we have stood shoulder to shoulder to defend those values – the right to liberty and freedom, the right to our national sovereignty and the right of people everywhere to decide their own futures, to live in peace and build prosperous futures for themselves and their families.
These values – along with respect for genuine democracy and the rule of law – are what bind the Fijian and Australian peoples together. We have fought and will fight to protect those values. And we are something else. We are mates. Good mates who stand up for each other and come to each other’s assistance in times of need.
Like all mates, we sometimes have our differences. Right now, we may have varied level of ambition when it comes to confronting the threat of climate change, and I’ll have more to say on that in a moment.
On February 20, 2016, the strongest storm ever to have made landfall in the southern hemisphere – Tropical Cyclone Winston – slammed into Fiji packing winds of more than 300 kilometres an hour. Winston killed 44 of our loved ones, destroyed thousands of homes and public infrastructure and wiped out one third of the value of our GDP overnight.
As a nation, we were reeling and in shock. But within hours, Australian servicemen and women began to arrive to offer a helping hand, first aircraft carrying relief supplies and then the wonderful crew of the relief ship HMAS Canberra, who headed for the most devastated islands and communities and whose smiles and “can do” attitude in the face of appalling loss and adversity lifted the spirits of our people.
I have publicly thanked the Australian Government several times before for its prompt and generous support for Fiji in the aftermath of Winston. Our other friends in the world were also there in force.
Here in Canberra today, we strengthened our relationship even further when your Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, and I signed – on behalf of our nations – our new Vuvale Partnership to guide the direction of our relationship from now on. The choice of the Fijian word vuvale is an appropriate one under the circumstances. It means family, people in the same household living under the same roof. And it implies a relationship stronger than a casual friendship or acquaintanceship, which is what we wanted to stress on both sides. That our history, our geographical proximity and the extremely close person-to-person ties between Fijians and Australians make us more like family than friends.
We all know that successful households – whether families, housemates or in this case, nations – only thrive when those living under the same roof are considerate of each other. When everyone acts in the collective interest of the household and not just their own. And when everyone recognises each other’s point of view and adopts an attitude of generosity of spirit and compromise. Plus a degree of frankness that might sometimes offend but is essential to preserving any relationship.
I understand that politics is the art of the possible. I understand the depth of feeling in coal producing communities in Australia and the wider economic imperatives at state and federal level. But I also hope that we can eventually find more common ground in our vuvale on the climate issue. Because it is the greatest threat to our security in the Pacific and for my own people and other Pacific Islanders, the impacts are really starting to bite. Not only extreme weather events like Winston but the rising seas and changes to agriculture and fisheries that threaten our food security and our livelihoods.
The steady deterioration in the state of the only planet we have means that we all need to be far more ambitious in reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing global warming. Whether it is the super-storms wreaking havoc across the Pacific and the Caribbean, the desertification of arable farmland in Africa and the Mediterranean, or the rising seas lapping at the shorelines of coastal cities, the entire world is under threat.
Millions of Australians – along with their vuvale in the Pacific – are already bearing the brunt of climate change. And as we have seen with the recent Australian bushfires, the ongoing drought and the fact that some Australian cities and towns face severe water shortages, the outlook is worsening.
We must all unite behind the science. And the IPCC report that calls for the average global temperature to be capped at 1.5 degrees Celsius above that of the pre-industrial age.
It is a matter of great regret that certain fossil fuel producers have insisted that the IPCC Report not be included in the ongoing global climate negotiations. What has been removed from the table must be put back on the table. Because it is the only way that the world has any hope of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and averting global catastrophe. We naturally want Australia to join us in stepping up our collective response to the climate threat. And this includes putting the IPCC report back on the agenda at COP25 in Chile in December.
Fiji and the other Pacific nations have already declared a crisis in our own region in the Kainaki II Declaration arising from last month’s meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu. This was the strongest declaration from the PIF on climate and we appreciate Australia’s support as a signatory to the declaration.
I also again urge Australia to step up the leadership it is already providing in renewable energy investment and the research and development taking place across many aspects of it. I had a particular interest on this visit to see what Australia is doing to produce energy from waste and turn sea water into fresh water and have seen projects that would benefit Fiji and other Pacific nations.
In addition, Fiji is currently finalising a comprehensive Climate Change Act which, in part, draws on much of Australia’s experience in developing emission reduction projects. We very much look forward to learning from Australia’s approach in this area, particularly in regard to reducing emissions and increasing carbon stocks through better management of landscapes and soils. So we also seek Australia’s support to help make these advances available to us, along with other initiatives that can reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.
Friends, I very much welcome the improvement in Fiji’s relationship with Australia in recent times and look forward to new era of cooperation as we confront the challenges before us. We have a mutual interest in countering threats to national and regional security embodied in our new Boe Declaration, which I’m pleased to say expands the concept of security to recognise climate change as the single greatest threat to the security, livelihoods and well-being of our people. And we are closely cooperating in the fight against drugs, terrorism and transnational crime.
We also look to Australia for support in a range of defence-related initiatives that will benefit Fiji and our fellow Pacific Islanders, such as the joint re-development of the Blackrock Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Camp.
This facility – outside Nadi in western Fiji – will strengthen our ability to contribute to peace-keeping and provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief capability in the region. And we very much appreciate the substantial Australian contribution that is making it possible.
Friends, today is the last afternoon of my official visit and I close by thanking the Australian Government for its hospitality and the consideration shown to me and my delegation. A special thanks to the protocol, security and support teams at federal level and in New South Wales. And vinaka vakalevu to those on the Fijian side who’ve made my visit a success and the hundreds of Fijian-Australians I’ve also had the pleasure to meet on this visit. Plus the Australians of other backgrounds who’ve come up to say “Gidday Frank”, many of whom have brought their families to visit us over the years and some of whom have made Fiji their second home.
As a former military man, I’m especially pleased to be able to address this gathering and look forward to meeting as many of you as possible face to face. So thank you Australia for a wonderful visit and please come and see us in Fiji. Our national airline, Fiji Airways, is about to take delivery of the first Airbus A350 900s in the region. It’s a wonderful plane so please come across in state-of-the-art comfort and enjoy our beautiful surroundings and world-famous Fijian hospitality.
Vinaka vakalevu, thank you.