Address, University of the South Pacific - Fiji

18 Jan 2019
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, everyone. It’s wonderful to be here at USP and to see so many of you here. It’s a great privilege to be here as the Australian Prime Minister and to bring the greetings and the kind affections from the Australian people to all of you.

Can I start by saying vinaka to Professor Pal Ahluwalia for his very warm welcome earlier, and congratulate him on his new role as Vice-Chancellor. Professor, I know you’ll do a tremendous job leading this very important and prestigious institution. I’d also like to acknowledge the sterling efforts of Professor Rajesh Chandra, both to this University and to the Pacific during his decade-long tenure as Vice-Chancellor. To The Hon. Rosy Akbar, Minister for Education, Heritage and the Arts, it’s a pleasure to meet you here today and thank you also for your welcome. To Mr Winston Thompson, the Pro-Chancellor of the University of the South Pacific as well as my colleagues who join me here from Australia, Senator Anne Ruston, the Assistant Minister for International Development and the Pacific and the High Commissioner John Feakes. I congratulate you again, John, on the tremendous job you have been doing here representing us as our High Commissioner.

I’ve given plenty of speeches at universities in my time but never in a garland like this. I think it’s quite good.


But it’s all part of the welcome and the culture of respect that is so evident in Pacific cultures all around our region. It’s fair to say there is a lot of affection here today and I appreciate that very much. I understand that is an affection for Australia and while Jenny and I have greatly appreciated the very warm personal welcomes we have had since we have been here, what we understand and all of my delegation understand is that’s a reflection of the affection and the kindness and the warmth that is extended by the peoples of Fiji to Australia and our people.

We are more than neighbours, we are more than partners. As Prime Minister Bainimarama and I have said on each of our discussions so far, we are family. We are vuvale and this principle of vuvale is something we feel very deeply about. It’s a different kind of relationship. Australia has many relationships all around the world and they come by many different names. Some of them are spoken in that special language of diplomacy which diplomats understand and the rest of us would shake our heads at I suppose. But to talk about vuvale is to go beyond diplomacy, it’s to talk about something deep and something rich, something that is very local, something that is very ‘home’ and something which connects peoples more than any words or any documents can.

When you see yourselves as family, a relationship moves beyond a shallow transactional lens. Our relationships, what we do as countries, can’t just be the sum of our transactions and our deals any more than our engagements with each other are the sum of deals, transactions. They extend far more than that and we need to look at them far more than that and our Government is doing exactly as we look out into the Pacific and particularly here in Fiji.

Because when we see things, I think, in a very transactional way, we sell ourselves short and we sell our opportunities short. So it’s an approach, vuvale, in the Pacific that I intend to follow and our Government intends to follow and Australia intends to follow because we believe that is the way that will have the deepest and richest of relationships, because it will reflect our character and our values.

Now it’s true that Australia and Fiji as we are tied also by our geography and our history and for many years our coins even pointed to a shared history as they pointed to a shared crown. Evidence of the confluence of our early histories as nations. On different trajectories when it comes to those issues today, but when you share those beginnings as nations, when you share the beginnings of colonisation and these issues there is an understanding there is an appreciation, I think, whether it’s Australia or New Zealand can have with Pacific nations, particularly Fiji, that many others will struggle to understand. But we have lived it so we get it and I think that provides for a very open and honest and very meaningful dialogue and conversation.

Every day new stories are being created about the connections that are being forged between us. There are thousands of them. They happen on our sports fields, in our churches, in our schools and indeed in our universities. They emerge between our defence and our police forces, our businesses. They are great stories of human connectedness, which is why we are so committed.

I have seen firsthand the enormous potential here in Fiji over a long period of time and I very much welcome the vibrancy of the economy here. Nine years of uninterrupted economic growth bear testament to this, and it’s a credit to all of those who have been able to achieve it, be it through the leadership of the government and their policies or indeed the hard-working people of Fiji, every single day. They’re going out there, running businesses, working hard. That is work that’s respected, delivering an important dividend for Fiji and indeed for our region. A relatively small country, but a big country in many other ways - a diverse and dynamic tourism sector, a country that has produced iconic global brands like Kookai and Fiji Water.

I’ve experienced the talent, the generosity and the energy of the Fijian people and of course - I suppose particularly our rugby players - don’t want to see too much of that energy on September 21 when the Flying Fijians meet the Wallabies in the opening round of Rugby World Cup.


But somehow I suspect we will and it will be a great contest as always. I saw some of the boys down on the rugby league site there this morning. Of course, we can’t forget the fine young men and women who serve alongside Australians as part of the Australian Defence Force. Three of them, Apaitia Matalau, Tevita Vula and Apete Turuva, proudly returned to Fiji as part of the Australian Navy HMAS Canberra relief operation team assigned to help in Koro Island during 2016’s Cyclone Winston.

Fiji’s leadership role in the region is welcomed and it is understood. Fiji has earned respect for its decades-long commitment to UN peacekeeping operations in some of the most dangerous parts of the world. Let me place on record my deep appreciation and that of Australia, for the sacrifice of Fijians in keeping the peace around the world. More than 50 Fijians have lost their lives, sacrificed their lives serving in peacekeeping missions all around the world. Yesterday my wife Jenny and I went and paid tribute to them. Not only to them, but also to lives lost in the First and Second World Wars in Malaya and other places. But I must admit I was struck by just how many and how great a price has been paid by Fiji serving the cause of peace with the UN. That is something that should be deeply respected by all nations who form part of the UN and by the United Nations themselves. Fijians have paid a great price and they deserve great respect. That is certainly the position Australia holds.

I know it’s a relationship worth nurturing and the same goes for all nations in our Pacific family and that is reciprocated. That’s what we’re doing. Playing our part in our region to secure its strategic place in the world, a stable economically and sovereignty, independence. I saw this firsthand when Prime Minister O’Neil as Chair of APEC drew together the leaders of Pacific nations from right across this region to hear their clear and articulate voice advocating the outlook of the Pacific peoples. It’s a voice we need to hear and pay attention to.

So here, I’m attending to voice my commitment and that of my Government, to listen and to hear all of you. It’s fitting that I’m doing it here at this remarkable university, which is owned by the governments of 12 island nations, proud nations, and has locations in all of them. The University of the South Pacific understands respect, equality and openness. Indeed, it thrives because of all of these things. There is unity of purpose, whether it’s here in Suva, or in Port Vila where I was earlier in the week, or Atafu in Tokelau or any of the other eleven campuses.

We need to take that spirit, and apply it to the leadership of our region as indeed USP is raising up the leaders of Pacific nations in so many roles in business, in politics, in sport, in culture, in family. They’re important jobs, but there are many challenges, global challenges confronting us - and I say ‘us’, and not ‘you’, because we live here. Australia is not a remote observer of the Pacific, it is our home also and we’ve got a stake in what happens here. So we stand with you as we look to those challenges. We know that to succeed, we must work together.

Climate change is one of those challenges and it is an important priority for the Pacific and for Australia. We recognises this and the need for global action. We have a role to play and a responsibility and we’re playing it. If there’s anything that Australia should be known for - and I believe are known for - is that when we make commitments, we stick with them. We have made commitments in the area of climate change and we’re keeping them and we’ll keep them and stick with them and act on them. We will do that particularly here in the Pacific. We remain firmly committed to our international agreements and the targets we’ve committed to under those agreements. We’ve committed to reduce our emissions by 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. This is an ambitious target but we will meet it as we have met Kyoto 1, as we will meet Kyoto 2 and as indeed I have said on many occasions, we will meet our 2030 targets at a canter. All so, because we will do what is necessary to meet them. But as we have shown though those earlier protocols, when Australia makes those commitments we have a track record of getting there.

We have helped amplify the voice of the Pacific in critical climate talks, as indeed occurred at the recent APEC meeting in Port Moresby. I particularly want to commend Prime Minister Bainimarama for his role in Fiji’s Presidency of COP23, where you were instrumental in guiding the world’s progress on the rulebook underpinning the Agreement. Just over a month ago at COP24, that hard work paid off with an agreement reached on that very rulebook. We now have a common platform for all countries to account for their commitments and this will guide global climate action for years to come. Fiji’s leadership was critical to this outcome and it would not have been possible without Prime Minister Bainimarama’s drive and energy. He’s a forceful advocate, I’m sure you all know that.

Australia’s commitment to the agreement sits alongside our other efforts across the Pacific to respond to and address climate change with our family partners.

We’ve already committed $300 million on climate and disaster resilience support for the Pacific, more than $200 million of which has already been delivered. In Fiji, Australia has spent $13 million on climate-related activities over the last two years alone, from the reconstruction of health and education facilities following Cyclone Winston, to building climate-related skills and knowledge through Australia Award scholarships. This work will continue well into the future but it will continue directly and in partnership with our Pacific neighbours, partners and friends and family.

So climate change is a significant challenge and an important priority both for us as Australians and for us as a region and I know that is shared with Fiji.

But there are other challenges where we must work together as well. Oceans management is another. We’ve done well to date. The Pacific Ocean is one of the best-managed oceans in the world. In fact, you could even say it’s the best managed. That’s a credit to all of us who call our ‘Blue Pacific’ home. We’re a blueprint for the world - no pun intended - and that’s because we have the right architecture in place and we’re taking the right action. We must do more. For instance, Australia is working with the Forum Fisheries Agency to maximise economic benefits from tuna fisheries for Pacific island countries. We’re also working with the Secretariat for the Pacific Regional Environment Program to support marine conservation. We proudly support the Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner in its role strengthening regional oceans governance.

Australia’s interest is not commercial, and never has been. Our only interest has been to support the region and maximise the incomes for Pacific countries that come from your resources in a sustainable way. Fisheries in the Pacific is not unlike resources and mining in Australia and they both have to be sensitively managed for the future prosperity and sustainability of those sectors and for our economies.  So we’ll do that by working in partnership.

Now, beyond climate change and oceans, the years ahead will see us confront continued uncertainty around the global economy and trade. We’re very alert to this uncertainty and as a former Treasurer having dealt in many of the international forums, whether it’s the G20 or others. As we face 2019, the global economy is a much more uncertain place than it was 12 months ago and 12 months ago you wouldn’t say it was the most certain of all time. So, we do face a troubled global environment, whether it’s the trade tensions we see between the great powers, or what we’ve seen more recently in Great Britain and Europe. These are interesting times and they do require careful economic management to secure the prosperity of our people. Because it is a strong economy and only a strong economy that you can rely on to ensure that the health services and the other important social services that are provided throughout the Pacific and at home in Australia, can be delivered. Economic management is a necessity, it’s not a luxury, it’s not an add-on. It’s the central and most important challenge of governments.

We’re alive to this and that’s why we’re focused on putting the “P” into “APEC” and to make sure our region’s voice is heard loud and clear, as it was most recently. We’re pushing the ratification of PACER Plus - Australia ratified it at the end of last year. Fiji will make up its own mind, but I think it’s a good deal, I commend it to you. A regional trade agreement that will open new markets and economic opportunities for the Pacific, PACER Plus will be a better and stronger regional agreement with Fiji in it. We see Fiji very much as an economic hub in our region. Every deal is better with Fiji in it in the Pacific, for the leadership role that Fiji plays. I welcome and thank Prime Minister Bainimarama and his Cabinet for the discussions we had on this yesterday and as I announced yesterday, we’re undertaking a new joint study of both the trade and economic impacts of these arrangements and to further pursue those discussions in the weeks and months ahead to assist, facilitate I think, a good outcome in that area. But we’ll do it by partnership, we’ll do it with patience and we’ll do it with respect.

I’d like to also say that human rights and supporting the equal participation of Pacific men and women is also important to our collective future and I congratulate Fiji on your election to the UN Human Rights Council. As the first two members to serve on the Council from our region, I look forward to Australia and Fiji working together to elevate Pacific issues on the Council’s agenda.

Let me now turn to that new chapter I talked about, the vuvale chapter in our relationship now in the Pacific. I’ve returned the Pacific in Australia’s outlook to where it always  should have been be; front and centre of Australia’s strategic outlook and foreign policy. This new chapter, our ‘Pacific step-up’ as I’ve termed it, is genuine and authentic. It’s fair dinkum, as I would say. It’s based on respect, equality and on openness. It doesn’t mean we will always agree - I think this is one of the important principles of vuvale - hands up those families in which everybody agrees all the time?


Not many hands. But you know, the principle of vuvale is that families stay together and they stay at the table, as Prime Minister Bainimarama said yesterday, and they continue to work together and they put family first. That’s how we will work together in this new relationship. If you’re going to step up, you’ve got to show up, as I’ve said in these recent days. Here we are, showing up and the Assistant Minister Anne Ruston will be showing up, our officials and our High Commission will be showing up in the weeks to come. There are more senior officials who will be coming and working through various issues, whether it’s on education, culture or sport, the economy, security, all of these areas. In 1990, the then interim Prime Minister Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara said that Australia and Fiji had “a very strong relationship that may bend, but not break.” I would say it does bend and it must not break and we have a responsibility. They were very wise words.

So when we disagree, we disagree as equals with candour and respect, as family does. The Prime Minister and I have each other’s mobile number, we text each other, we talk about our families, we talk about football and it is a very warm relationship. When we pick up the phone when we have differences, we have a chat and we talk it through. The days of ‘take it or leave it’ are over when it comes to resolving issues. It’s not my style, it’s not Australia’s style, it’s not Fiji’s style. So this is truly a new chapter.

In keeping with our commitment to the Pacific last year I announced a package of measures to deepen Australia’s engagement in the Pacific. One of our most important new initiatives is the joint redevelopment of the Blackrock Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Camp into a regional hub for police and peacekeeping training and pre-deployment preparation. It’s an important project and later today, I’ll be travelling to Nadi to break new ground and mark the start of construction.

Australia is also cooperating to develop the PNG Defence Force’s Lombrum Naval Base on Manus Island, a move that will improve the interoperability between our defence forces and deepen regional maritime security cooperation. In Vanuatu, Australia is providing support to the police force so it can train more than 300 new recruits, and pursue other policing priorities. I was there to open the college earlier in the week.

On the economic front, I announced two major initiatives. The first was the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific, a $2 billion infrastructure initiative to significantly boost Australia’s support for infrastructure development in Pacific countries. Just yesterday, when we spoke with the Prime Minister, we have put the Nadi River Project as one that we would very much like to progress and discuss further. We’re looking forward to those discussions. It will be a very important project, I believe, to Fiji’s future prosperity. It will use grant funding, this $2 billion infrastructure initiative, working together with longer-term responsible and sustainable loans to support high-priority infrastructure in areas like energy, transport and water.

In addition to that fund, there is also the announcement regarding the Australia Export Financing agency Efic, with an extra $1 billion in callable capital and increased flexibility to support investments in the Pacific. Efic has always played an important role, it was announced as part of this package from the outset, to work together with the new measures that we announced as well.

Australia’s diplomatic footprint is also changing. We’re extending our diplomatic presence to every Pacific Islands Forum member and over the next few years, we’ll work with countries to establish five new diplomatic missions in the Cook Islands, French Polynesia, Niue, Palau and the Republic of the Marshall Islands. These missions and the ones already established across the Pacific will boast Australia’s best and brightest diplomats with the skills, the energy and the dedication to move our relationships forward. We’re going to clone John Feakes in a special laboratory at the University of the South Pacific.


We have outstanding people who work in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and in our missions across the South Pacific. You know John, but John and his male and female counterparts around the region are also well respected, as you know, and you would have come across them in various parts of your work. So together with the ones already established across the Pacific, we will have that infrastructure in place.

We’re also creating a dedicated Office of the Pacific within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to give a loud and authoritative voice with my backing, to be working within or Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Following my commitments to step up our Pacific engagement, the Office will drive the implementation, not just from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, but from a whole-of-government perspective. Countries will continue to engage, no doubt, essentially with each of the individual partners and agencies of the Australian Government. But there will be a champion sitting within the Government which is the Office of the Pacific. And I’m pleased to announce, and he is with us today, that the Office will be headed by Ewen McDonald, whom the Government has asked to return early from his current position as High Commissioner of New Zealand where he has been doing an outstanding job with accreditation also to the Cook Islands and Niue, to take up this important role. Mr McDonald has engaged closely with Pacific counterparts on foreign policy, development and humanitarian issues and has worked hard to ensure Pacific perspectives are heard in international bodies, including the UN. He will build on this even further in his new position. I commend you on this appointment and I thank you very much for taking up the role.

There are practical steps that will make a difference in the Pacific and yesterday, Australia and Fiji took further steps forward in our relationship. They were historic, they were win-win, they were vuvale. That agreement, the Australia Fiji Vuvale Partnership Agreement, will now be negotiated by officials in the coming months, and we look forward to signing it when we welcome Prime Minister Bainimarama to Australia as our official guest later this year.

We also found a lot of common ground as you’d expect, with our shared interests and values and reached agreements across several other areas. We agreed to hold more regular ministerial and high-level meetings and exchanges to explore new opportunities and discuss challenges. We agreed to continue to strengthen our defence and security cooperation. We agreed to deepen our trade and investment relationship and explore future opportunities. We welcome Fiji into the Pacific Medicines Testing Program and we committed to immediately start work on Fiji’s entry into the Pacific Labour Scheme later this year.

And no doubt we will continue to work on our relationship to ensure we can compete on the sporting field, but also building capability with Fiji there. We’ve seen wonderful success with the Fiji Drua in the

National Rugby Championship, winning the grand final in the competition’s second year. So with that in mind, Australia will fund NRL pre-season trial matches in the Pacific in 2020, ‘21 and ‘22 and will support team travel costs for Fiji to compete in the NSW Rugby League Intrust Super Premiership in 2020 which I announced this morning. Netball Australia will receive funding so it can help the Fijian national team prepare for the Netball World Cup later this year.

Before I finish - you’ll be pleased to know it’s almost done -


I’d like to add one more thing to the measures I’ve listed. Today I announce a new partnership between Australia and the University of the South Pacific - see, it was worth waiting for - $84 million over the next six years.


We do this because it matters and it counts and you get results. USP has a unique role in developing the skills needed to drive the region’s development and economic growth long into the future. Last year, USP - as you noted earlier - celebrated its 50th Anniversary. So did I, by the way. This is a remarkable achievement - not for me, for you -


Australia is proud to have been associated with USP over the longer term. This agreement will see Australia support efforts to invest in the young people of our region, passionate people, vibrant people, intelligent people, through the focus on improving the quality of teacher education and through the education of students at the tertiary level in fields such as economics, human resource management and tourism management.

It will also promote greater linkages between the USP and Australia’s tertiary education sector. These resources will enable USP to fulfil its bold mission to make higher education accessible around the region, by making university more affordable for young Pacific students. It will also enable USP to lead research of the region in the region, and to showcase Pacific heritage and talent worldwide, like the wonderful performance we have just been able to experience in our time here.

One of the great qualities that Australians admire in Fijians is they have a great sense of what matters in life; family, relationships, community, faith, being connected to home and caring for the environment of home.

I have learned much from Fijians over a long period of time and Fijians and Australians have learned much from each other. Our countries are deeply connected, we are there for each other when things are tough and when things are great.

That’s why I’m confident, together, we can make our region and all of our communities stronger and more prosperous – wananavu, I would say. A common effort, united leadership and purpose. So vinaka vakalevu everyone for coming today and to the University of the South Pacific for being such a generous host and a fine institution.

Thank you.