Photo: AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts
PRIME MINISTER BAINIMARAMA: Thank you members of the press, I am confident when I say that today’s bilateral was not only a clear success, it truly marks a new chapter in the Fiji-Australian relationship.
The Fijian economy is in the midst of record growth, our people are welcoming unprecedented opportunity and our voice is being amplified around the world. It’s refreshing to see that with Prime Minister Morrison and this new ‘step up’ in diplomacy, this new era of Fijian achievement is finally being given the attention it deserves.
I don’t need to dwell on the fact that in the years after 2006, the Fijian-Australian relationship was put to the test. From my conversation with Prime Minister Morrison, it’s clear now more than ever that we can put this behind us in the past, letting bygones be bygones. As our diplomatic relationship deepens from this meeting, it is my hope that our economies, our people and our partnership will rise to new heights.
Now that we have established a relationship based on trust and mutual respect, I am glad that we will no longer see diplomacy through headlines and hurried phone calls. I look forward to building on this progress with a more open, candid and direct line of communication with Canberra. I am proud to say that Prime Minister Morrison and I have dubbed a new Fiji-Australia Vuvale partnership aiming to consolidate our two countries’ relations in order to leverage new opportunities and address common challenges. In the Indigenous i-Taukei language, Vuvale means family. So I cannot think of a more appropriate name as we reset our relationship with the nation that more than 70,000 Fijians now call home, maybe a little bit more than that.
Prime Minister Morrison and I discussed security and defence cooperation including peace-keeping, border and maritime security, to strengthen relations in this area Fiji and Australia will jointly develop the Blackrock peace-keeping and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief camp in Nadi, something we will see much more of at tomorrow’s site visit. Once completed, the facility will provide an unprecedented level of assistance and safety to Fiji and the Pacific region.
Meanwhile it’s important to recognise that our partnerships today are broadening far beyond security, with Australia offering invaluable technical assistance and capacity-building to reshape and modernise Fijian institutions. Nowhere will this be more evident than in the Fijian classroom as we continue to build upon our ongoing education revolution that is transforming the way Fijians teach and learn, using lessons from the Aussies along the way, to make a more efficient and effective education sector.
We are also committed to further deepening trade and investment between Australia and Fiji. I am passionate about opening up new markets that will allow a new age of ambitious Fijian farmers and entrepreneurs to financial success, while giving Australians access to the quality of Fijian-made goods.
On this note, I thank the Prime Minister for yesterday’s landmark announcement that Australia will be easing restrictions on kava imports, a move that will undoubtedly enrich the lives of Fijian farmers for generations to come. As we look to loosen the flow of goods, we hope to do the same with our people, from easing visa applications, to enacting the Pacific Labour Scheme for the benefit of Fijian workers and Australia.
I hope to see great progress in the establishment of our people-to-people relationships across a broad front in 2019. I’ll have more to say tonight and I look forward to seeing you all at our official welcome dinner this evening. Vinaka vakalevu, thank you.
PRIME MINISTER: It is a great privilege and pleasure to be here with Prime Minister Bainimarama. As we’ve already said today I congratulate him on his re-election and I also congratulate him on his leadership of COP23. It is a privilege to be here with a leader of the Pacific and a leader of his nation and for us to be now taking our relationship between Australia and Fiji to a landmark level, a new level. I want to thank you Prime Minister for the way you’ve described where we’re now heading and what we’re going to achieve in the years ahead. To elevate our relationship, our bilateral relationship to a Fiji-Australia Vuvale partnership, this is really a centerpiece partnership in the Pacific, which speaks volumes about the type of relationship Australia is now looking to establish right across this region. We are different in our association with the Pacific, than almost any other developed nation anywhere else in the world, with the exception of New Zealand; and that is, we live together as a family of nations in the Pacific. Our interactions with each other, our engagement with each other, our partnership with each other, has to be done in the spirit of a family relationship. I think that’s what we’ve been able to achieve here today, in addressing the many issues that are before us and as the Prime Minister has said, they encompass quite a few issues.
Now I’ve learned a few things about the Prime Minister over the last couple of days and in our other meetings we’ve had in Australia. I’ve worked out particularly on this visit that we’ve both chosen well, in terms of Mrs Bainimarama and Jen and it was great for them to be able to meet here and I think we’ve done pretty well, you and I. Maybe punching a bit above our weight, but nevertheless I think we’ve done well and it’s great to have Jenny here as part of this visit. I know she’s been enjoying what she’s been doing this afternoon, visiting schools and other places. But also we share a very strong commitment to understanding that unless our countries have strong economies, then we cannot achieve what we want to achieve for our people.
A strong economy is what delivers our health services, our educations services, our schools, our nurses, our doctors, our disability support, all of these things. I want to commend the Prime Minister for the work that he has done here in Fiji, to strengthen the Fijian economy, an economy which can be battered by natural disasters and Australia is always the first to turn up and assist Fiji when those disasters strike. But it’s the resilience and the planning for the Fijian Government and its leader that enables and has enabled Fiji’s economy to strengthen, particularly over recent times and become able to deal with challenges that we all face into the future.
That’s why our economic relationship is so important to the Vuvale partnership. An economic relationship which sees Fiji very much as a hub in the Pacific economy. That’s why we were pleased today to announce and discuss the new trade and economic scoping study that will assist and inform both parties as we work through the Pacer Plus programme and to also deal with any double tax treaty arrangements which have been raised by Fiji with Australia.
So we have a process to carry those issues forward as to how we can strengthen our economic relationship. But that economic relationship is also strengthened by our investments in education, by our investments in stability within the region more broadly. Because out of stability, prosperity always flows and that’s what our economic agreements - whether they relate to the Seasonal Workers Program and the Pacific Labour Program, it is designed for the shared skilling of our labour forces. In Australia, we have major demands, particularly in our agricultural sector, our hospitality sector, our aged care and disability sector and we believe these programs can really provide support to both skill Fijian workers who will have the opportunity to work in Australia, but also share those skills when they come back and work in Fiji. Dealing with our short-term skills requirements, as well as dealing with the longer-term economic needs of Fiji.
Our comprehensive border security assistance package will help reinforce the integrity of Fiji’s borders and in the weeks ahead there will be high-level delegations coming from our border officials and others across our agencies, who will begin the work of putting the details into those arrangements. Of course there’s the Pacific Maritime Security Program which includes a $2 billion program over 30 years which consists of the replacement of the Guardian Class Patrol Boats, integrated aerial surveillance and enhancements to regional cooperation. Fiji will receive two replacement Guardian Class Patrol Boats under this program.
We’re beginning work on Fiji’s entry into the Australian Pacific Labour Scheme as I’ve mentioned. That has already occurred and we look forward to that playing out over the course of the next year and beyond.
We also welcome Fiji into the Pacific Medicines Testing Program. That’s a joint initiative of the Therapeutic Goods Administration and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Fiji will join nine other Pacific Island countries that are participating in that program.
The Australia University of the South Pacific Partnership will be worth more than $84 million over the next six years and that is Australia’s investment ensuring the tertiary education system that has been provided here, will be able to meet future needs.
We’re also announcing the Australian Government, in partnership with Free TV Australia will commit some $17.1 million to provide 1,000 hours of new Australian television content each year for three years to Pacific broadcasters across the region. That would include opportunities obviously here in Fiji.
Finally, one thing we also have greatly in common is our passion for sport. I welcome the fact that Prime Minister Bainimarama is a Wallabies fan before he’s an All Blacks fan, but he’s always a Fiji fan first. But it is very encouraging to our boys, I’m sure Michael Cheika will be very pleased as I’m sure he already knows about your interest in the Wallabies. But what we’re pleased to say is, that shared passion has a practical element to the relationship between our countries; our Government will be providing support for the travel costs associated with Fiji entering a team to compete in the NSW Rugby League Intrust Super Premiership in 2020. We also look forward to pre-season NRL matches being played in the Pacific, including a match in Fiji in 2021. We’re also celebrating women in sports, particularly in these codes but also the Australian Government will work with Netball Australia to assist the Fijian national team prepare for the Netball World Cup in the UK in July 2019 through in-country support.
So you can see across all these initiatives, whether it’s in the economy, whether it’s in security, whether it’s in culture, whether it’s in sport, this is a broad based relationship. Today I’m just so pleased that Prime Minister Bainimarama and I were able to take that relationship to a new landmark level in the spirit of Vuvale and for that I say to him, vinaka vakalevu.