The Senator, Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells;
President of the Fiji Day Organising Committee, Mr Allan Gock;
President of Australia-India Business Council, Ms Barbara Ward;
Fiji’s High Commissioner to Australia, Mr Luke Daunivalu;
Leaders and Members of the Fijian Community;
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Ni sa bula vinaka and very good evening one and all.
It’s great to be with you all tonight in Sydney.
On behalf of myself, my wife Mary, and all Fijians back home, I wish all of you the happiest of Fiji Days.
While I’ve been to Australia several times this year – as recently as last week for the Australia-Fiji Business Forum in Brisbane, and last month for my State visit where we signed the historic “Vuvale Partnership”, coming for Fiji Day is when I feel most at home.
I feel a sense of humble pride and immense gratitude – as both your Prime Minister and fellow member of this great Fijian family – to be with you all tonight as we celebrate 49 years of Independence.
And, my friends, I can think of no better way to commemorate our rich history than by honouring a cause like Fiji’s very own Homes of Hope. By supporting this charity tonight, you’ll find yourselves in good company; I’m told that vocal advocates include the likes of superstar couple rugger Ben Volavola and American actress Shailene Woodley.
It’s easy to see why Homes of Hope has received such acclaim; their mission of rehabilitating victims of rape and trafficking is one that is desperately needed in all corners of the world. But what makes them truly special is the holistic support they provide to women and girls who seek their services. While, as their name implies, they offer “homes” as safe havens to victims, their work to provide a helping hand to these girls, young mothers and their children goes far beyond just the roofs over their victims’ heads.
Homes of Hope aims to rescue, restore, and reintegrate those vulnerable Fijians they serve. They know that these brave women have been through immense pain and trauma, and understand that instilling empowerment and building a sense of community is key to their recovery. That’s why the work of Homes of Hope extends outside of their 40-acre residential campus into communities all throughout Fiji. Graduates of their programme transform from victims into protectors with an inspiring “girl-led” approach, working to both break the stigma of rape and prevent others from re-living their own suffering.
The Government needs partners to truly have a lasting, grassroots impact in our communities, and they serve as a shining example of what great things we can do when we work together towards a common goal.
Their progress complements new initiatives that we have undertaken to make women more empowered than at any point in Fijian history. Thanks to the help of a grant from the Ministry of Women, the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre now has a 24-7 call-centre that provides a toll-free helpline to victims of domestic violence. Our National Women’s Expo is growing by the year, granting newfound financial independence to entrepreneurial craftswomen. And in last year’s national elections, an unprecedented number of women parliamentarians were elected, giving little girls from all over Fiji role models to aspire to.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the outpouring of generosity shown by those in this room tonight makes me proud to serve as Fiji’s Prime Minister.
In Fiji, and across the world, Diwali celebrations are among us; and I think the same lessons of goodness prevailing over evil is something that should inspire us all to dig deep in our support of such beacons of light as Homes of Hope.
Hope, my friends, is what drives this charity, it is what drives the survivors it rehabilitates, and it is what drives all of us as Fijians. As a grandfather of 19, I am wholly dedicated to ensuring that all of Fiji’s children and grandchildren grow up in a world where they are supported, they are inspired, and they are loved. My passion is about not only providing that sense of undying hope for the Fijians of today, but ensuring that every generation can be even more filled with hope than the last.
Hope in itself is such a powerful tool; it carries us through suffering, and it drives us through darkness.
Throughout Fiji’s post-independence history, I know that there have been several times where hope was hard to find among entire segments of our population. We were forcibly split along ethnic, religious, and provincial lines – lines that were drawn by those seeking to divide us, not unite us. For many of those who left the country, some of you in this room among them, the hope for a future of equality in Fiji may have seemed lost entirely.
But, my friends, those old lines of division have been erased through the work of my Government. As we come together to mark nearly a half-century of Independence, I can say with confidence that hope in Fiji is abundant. I see it in the eyes of every young student when I visit new classrooms. I see it in the communities that have been built back stronger than ever after the devastation of Cyclone Winston. I see it in our budding young entrepreneurs and new business owners.
It would, therefore, be remiss of me not to acknowledge and pay my heartfelt tribute to those whose hard work and selfless service has helped bring us to where we are today, gifting us an independent, hopeful and united Fiji.
Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for your presence here tonight. You be part of the positive change that our world truly needs, but so often lacks. I also wish to thank the generous sponsors and hardworking organizers who made this evening’s event happen. As we celebrate Fiji Day, your sense of patriotism is extraordinary to see on full display – and Fiji is blessed to have such passionate brothers and sisters in you.
I wish you all a very happy 49th Fiji Day, and an enjoyable evening as we honour this night – a night of great hope.
Vinaka vakalevu -Thank you.