Mister Speaker, let me again thank His Excellency the President for his speech opening this session of Parliament. His opening address epitomised the exemplary leadership and patriotism he has displayed over the course of his lifetime of service to the Fijian people. His honour is unquestionable. His optimism is inspiring. And his belief in our nation and our people’s potential is unwavering.
Mister Speaker, we are blessed to have a President who so openly makes the causes of vulnerable people his own and who advocates – at every opportunity – for a better, healthier and more inclusive Fiji. It was out of recognition for his passion and patriotism that I was privileged to lead this Parliament in approving His Excellency’s reappointment as our Head of State last year.
Mister Speaker, it was a proud day for Fiji and for the Fijian people as one of our nation’s great leaders reassumed the highest office in the land.
But, shamefully, not one member of SODELPA was there to witness that occasion. Led by the same leader who leads them today, they abandoned their seats and ran to the media, hoping to steal the limelight for themselves and rob our people of a proud moment in Fijian history.
So, Mister Speaker, it is no surprise the Leader of the Opposition began this week with another show of disrespect towards the Office of the President and the democracy His Excellency serves. But we all know Hon. Rabuka has no authority to lecture this chamber on graciousness – not when his party was turning their backs on the nation while – in glaring contrast — His Excellency was answering a noble call of service.
That level of hypocrisy has rendered their indignation completely hollow. Their own sound and fury signify even less than nothing, as both are undermined by the disrespect they have shown His Excellency from the day he was reappointed.
Listening to the tirade from the Leader of the Opposition – and I say “leader” with a lot of misgivings – I wasn’t angry. I was relieved. I was relieved to finally see him drop the charade of “statesmanship” and expose the ugly nature of his true character.
He has proved he is the still the man history will always remember him to be; a selfish, short-sighted and hateful ethnic supremacist.
Mister Speaker, we must ask: What about his Excellency’s opening address struck such a nerve with the Opposition?
Was it the Fijian children for holding pride in their Constitution and living the ideals of true democracy? Was it His Excellency’s denouncement of the backward politics of division and disunity? Or maybe it was the strength of my Government’s record of achievement? But the bigger question, Mister Speaker, is why don’t we see any anger from the Opposition on real issues; issues that carry serious national significance?
Where was their rage when Hon Bulitavu demeaned Fijian women and defended their abusers? Where is their fury when members of their own party tell lies on social media, to the iTaukei landowners, and in this very chamber?
And – in the case of the Leader of the Opposition – where was his indignation in the face of the corruption, moral bankruptcy and demise of our national bank, all of which defined his past government? We needed his anger then. We have no use for it now.
Instead, Mister Speaker, the Opposition saves their outrage for children – and Fijians of all ages – for taking part in the hashtag Our Constitution challenge; a President who holds a positive vision for our future; and a people who refuse their notions of ethnic supremacy.
But what upsets them most of all – especially their leader — is the permanence of what my Government has achieved. They cannot stand to watch the Fijian people embrace a new era, embrace common identity, embrace true democracy and shed SODELPA and the SDL Government’s shameful legacy. And it is laughable that he ask we disregard the will of the Fijian people by calling on us to resign as a government.
Mister Speaker, the Fijian people have twice rejected him. Once in 1999 and again in 2018. I urge the Leader of the Opposition: Listen to the Fijian people. They don’t want you. Respect their decision, do the honourable thing, and rid us of your dark and hateful politics once and for all.
Mister Speaker, yesterday, I had the privilege of honouring the memory and legacy of Captain Stanley Brown – the first-ever Commander of the Fijian Navy and a man I was proud to call my mentor. When I was ten years old, I served on board Captain Brown’s yacht as one of his cadets. Later in life, I joined him on Fiji’s first-ever Naval Deployment. I took from him many great lessons of life; he taught me more than how to be a capable seaman, he taught me how to live a righteous life. He taught me how to commit to the service of others. He taught me how to bring people together and help them help each other in common cause. Most importantly, he taught me to see the equal value in every person; he taught me to treat everyone – no matter their background or beliefs – with dignity.
To this day, those same lessons of leadership guide every decision I make and every action taken by my Government. And therein lies the great difference between the FijiFirst Party and the members of the Opposition: We see the purpose our people share, while they see nothing but differences. We harness the power of national unity, while they sow ethnic, religious and provincial discord. We empower the potential of our youngest citizens, while they prey on fear and curse our children. We speak to the promise of our future, while they wallow in the past. And we celebrate the greatness of Team Fiji, while they degrade our national pride and discredit Fijian achievement.
Mister Speaker, the contrast could not be any starker. From my side of the chamber, the Fijian people have heard recognition of the real challenges they face, along with actual solutions. They have heard an honest record of achievement. They have heard a strategic approach, supported by facts and proven policy-making expertise.
They have heard a positive vision for their future and they have heard from a Government who actually believes in the talents, abilities and ambition of the coming generations.
Mister Speaker, as it has been a subject of discussion this week, allow me to give this chamber a lesson in true patriotism. If you want to see true Fijian patriots, go to the frontline of our diplomatic efforts, where our sleepless delegations fight relentlessly to elevate our voice on the world stage. If you want to see true patriots, look to the young people putting in the sweat and effort to support my Government’s projects in their communities. If you want to see true patriots, look to the children of Fiji who do not see the world through the lens of our differences, but who greet their fellow citizens with open hearts and minds unclouded by prejudice. And if you want to see true patriots, look to the police officers like, Siuta Niumataiwalu, who gave his life in the defence of his fellow Fijians.
To the members of the Opposition: that is where you’ll find true patriotism, you will not find it looking in the mirror. True patriotism, Mister Speaker, means sacrificing selfish interests for the sake of something larger, more meaningful and more enduring. I won’t have my patriotism questioned by a party who advocates ethnic supremacy, who endorses religious fundamentalism, and who shuns their duties to serve in this chamber.
Mister Speaker, the women and men I lead always put Fiji and the Fijian people first. We are a nationalist party, not an ethno-nationalist rabble. We are a Government that fights for every Fijian: Every child, every woman and every Fijian from remote and rural communities, every religion, every province and every background.
I may no longer be that ten-year-old boy tasked with shipman’s duties on board Captain Brown’s yacht and I may no longer serve as a Commander in our Navy.
But when it comes to running a ship or running a nation, the principles of leadership remain the same. Your crew must work in common purpose with a common understanding of the mission at-hand. You cannot reward some crew members more than others for the same work done. You cannot choose leaders based on where they come from, how they worship God or their ethnicity. You choose the right people for the right roles, or face the dire consequence of mission failure. And when you do find yourself privileged to lead, at times, you must make hard choices, and you must make them decisively.
Mister Speaker – as a former military officer yourself – I’m sure you know there are times when the breadth of the available resources does not match the scale of the challenges ahead. In the case of a small island nation, that is the case far more often than not. But it is those moments, Mister Speaker, when strong leadership shines brightest. It is those moments when innovation matters most.
It is in those moments we must be creative, we must find new solutions, and we must chart a bold course through the head-winds His Excellency has warned us are on the horizon.
I remember every problem I’ve confronted and every solution I’ve forged as Prime Minister, from the mammoth task of modernising our economy to the day-to-day victories of bringing clean water, reliable power or new technology to Fijian communities. And I certainly remember all the doubters along the way who questioned my leadership and attacked my decision-making.
But my record today speaks for itself. As our economy has grown, with strength and consistency, for ten straight years, as per capita income has more than doubled, as unemployment has plummeted to the lowest rate in two decades, as we’re taken foreign reserves to record heights, as we’ve revolutionised the education system.
As we’ve built bigger and better national assets and secured greater private sector development, and as we’ve seen network of essential services rapidly expand, our people have damn good reason to say they are proud to be Fijian.
Mister Speaker, I want to be clear with every member of this Parliament. We take His Excellency’s call to stand together and work together with total sincerity. But we live in the real world. We deal only with accurate information. We haven’t built the modern Fiji on an unstable foundation of conjecture and fabrication. The unprecedented progress of our economy is not my opinion. These are conclusions drawn from data verified by independent third-party agencies like the IMF, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s.
If you accept that reality, if your contributions meet the high bar we’ve set, in the committees as well as in this chamber, I assure you, we will treat them seriously.
But if you continue to conduct yourselves at your current level of gutter politics, if you continue to manufacture despair and make a mockery of truth and decorum, I will make no apologies for calling out any of you.
Don’t be fearful of facts. Embrace them. Embrace real debate. Make real contributions. Give the Fijian people a reason to tune into these discussions and learn something. Something real. Something new.
Don’t drag us back into the ugliness of the past. Don’t surrender the battle of real ideas before it even begins. If you don’t agree with something, try actually offering an alternative for once, instead of stomping your feet and walking out in protest.
I urge SODELPA to be more than a one-issue party. End the tired fiction that we – the iTaukei – are somehow a marginalised people and that by treating our people equally we’re somehow leaving others behind.
End your siege mentality. I’m not asking for compromise with my Government, I’m asking you to compromise with reality.
We – the iTaukei people – hold a proud culture that grows prouder and stronger by the day. Open your eyes and look at your nation’s leadership. Do you think that I or any of the proud iTaukei leaders seated alongside me feel marginalised in our own country? It is lunacy to suggest so, Mister Speaker.
The only iTaukei who feel marginalised are you. You so desperately want to sit on this side of the chamber, and you’re willing to lie to our people to do so. You’re willing to tell them they are under their threat. When, in reality, it is only you, your power and your privilege which is under threat from my Government.
Our culture – the iTaukei culture – is helping lead the world through great challenges by re-shaping the minds of global leaders, through initiatives like the Talanoa Dialogue which is spurring global action on climate change. We hold total and irrevocable ownership over nearly all of the land in the country, while other indigenous people are often contained in tiny reservations. Yet still, members of the Opposition act as if ILO Convention 169 on the Rights of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples somehow applies to the iTaukei – as if we suffer in a country we lead, with land we own and with a Constitution that forever protects our unique culture, customs, traditions and language.
Mister Speaker, the members of the Opposition need to come out from behind their fake pages on social media, leave their DVDs at home and spend time coming up with actual ideas to share with this chamber. When doing so, I again urge you to listen to what the young people – including our young landowners – have to say.
They don’t want their progress to come at the expense of their Indo-Fijian brothers and sisters. They don’t feel attacked by the ideal of common identity. They want what every young Fijian wants: Opportunity. They want development. They want services they can count on, education that remains free and real opportunities to secure employment, develop their land, build and purchase homes and start businesses of their own.
These are the issues my Government is steadily working to solve. These are the issues that actually demand this chamber’s attention. If you continue to demand a return to the old ways, if you continue to demand ethnic and religious tests to access opportunity in our society, you will never be able to count yourself as true leaders or true patriots needed by the Fiji of today.
Mister Speaker, this week we celebrated the 30th Anniversary of the Rights of the Child. A landmark moment for international diplomacy where I proudly re-affirmed Fiji’s commitment to protect, empower and inspire our children.
Young Fijians – no matter their background, no matter their religion, and no matter where they call home – do not see the world through the lens of our differences. They are certainly not obsessed with ethnicity. They won’t learn to see each other differently unless we teach them to do so. But if we teach them the power of unity, if we teach them the power of tolerance, acceptance and togetherness, we will take this country to unimaginable heights of greatness.
I urge my colleagues in this Parliament to step into that future with me. Leave the old debates, the old ways of doing things in the past where they belong.
We’re on the cusp of celebrating our half century of our Independence. Only by adhering to the principles of equality, respect and inclusiveness can we meet our Excellency’s great challenge to make the next fifty years the best fifty years Fiji has ever known.