Australian PM’s visit opens a new Chapter with Fiji

Venkat Raman

Fijian Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama has welcomed Australia to the ‘Pacific fold,’ saying that Australia’s presence is needed in the interest of the region.

That was an expression of a warm sentiment from a leader who had, a few years ago, was angst over his rich and powerful neighbour for its stand against the Bainimarama regime.

But he also demanded that Australia perceives Fiji realistically, recognising the country’s progress as a genuine democracy with a record of two general elections that have been acknowledged internationally as free and fair.

He was speaking at a dinner that he hosted in honour of visiting Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his wife Jenny, the first bilateral visit by an Australian PM to Fiji.

The dinner reception, held at the Grand Pacific Hotel in Suva on January 17, 2019, was attended by Ministers, Members of Parliament, diplomats and business leaders.

Unprecedented engagement

Stating that he was personally happy, Mr Bainimarama said that Mr Morrison was in Suva as a follow-up of ‘unprecedented engagement between Australia and Fiji.’

He also praised the efforts of the new High Commissioner of Australia John Feakes.

“We are in a new era of bilateral relations. But to truly begin this Chapter anew, the Australian government and the Australian people need to look at Fiji and the rest of the Pacific through a new lens; and that starts from the top,” he said.

Mr Bainimarama said that the ‘new look’ should begin with the acknowledgement that as sovereign nations, Australia and Fiji stand as equals.

“Australia is a proud democracy. The Australian people enjoy a political system where their rights are respected, their votes matter equally, and their faith is well-placed in strong and enduring institutions. Would any Australian ever accept that their vote – or the vote of one of their mates – mattered less than that of another? Or that they were, somehow, less Australian than any of their fellow citizens?”

Equality for all Fijians

Mr Bainimarama said that all Fiji citizens in Fiji have the right to be treated with equal respect, education and employment opportunity and all other privileges.

He said that his government’s efforts to establish a new, true and genuine democracy in Fiji led to the new Fijian Constitution in 2013, which established a Common National Identity, declaring all citizens as ‘Fijians,’ with equal rights under the Law.

“Our countries are taking great steps forward, but it was not always that way. I am speaking, of course, of Australia’s serious “step back” from Fiji in the immediate years following 2006. However, it is only through acknowledging those rocky times in our shared history, that we give ourselves, and the many young Aussies and Fijians today who didn’t live through it, a full appreciation for our newfound progress,” Mr Bainimarama said.

He said that Fiji stands as an outright success, despite how the winds may blow in Canberra, Wellington, Beijing or Washington.

“We are a people responsible for our own future who are forging our own destiny, and we are doing a damn good job of it,” he said.

Australian initiatives 

Following the visit, Mr Morrison announced a new ‘Vuvale (Family) Partnership’ between Fiji and Australia that included (1) a US$ 60 million Education Partnership with the University of the South Pacific to lift teaching standards and (2) US$ 12 million Programme to send 3000 hours of Australian television content into the Pacific over the next three years.

He also formally announced Fiji’s inclusion in the Pacific Labour Scheme, following news in November that Australia would expand the migrant labour scheme to all Pacific Island countries and lift its cap of 2000 places.

Fiji will also join Australia’s Pacific Medicines Testing Programme.

The Vuvale Agreement will see more ministerial and high-level meetings between the two countries, border assistance and training and sport cooperation.

“You can see across all of these initiatives, whether it is in economy, security, culture, or sport, this is a broad based relationship,” Mr Morrison said.

PACERPlus Appeal

The Australian prime minister also made a renewed pitch for PACER Plus, a Pacific Free Trade deal which Fiji and Papua New Guinea have so far refused to sign, saying that it would do little to benefit them

“We see Fiji very much as an economic hub in our region. Every deal is better with Fiji in it,” Mr Morison said.

Please read our Editorial, “New Zealand should open up to Fiji’ under Viewlink.

Scott and Jenny Morrison with Maria and Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama at the dinner reception held at the Grand Pacific Hotel, Suva on January 17, 2019 (Fiji Government Facebook Picture)

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