Photo: AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts
PRIME MINISTER: Thank you. I’m very proud to be here at the Blackrock Camp. I have known for some time about these plans, the plan to develop this camp into a world-class training centre. For the past few days, my wife and I and our delegation have been here and we have been talking and progressing many important issues for the relationship between Australia and Fiji. I have spoken a lot about how committed we are to that relationship, for the benefits that flow to both countries and in particular to remark on the benefits to Fiji. But today I also want to talk to my countrymen and women in Australia and say why it is so important that we are here today. A stable and secure Pacific is important for the prosperity of Australia, as much as it is for Fiji and the other Pacific Island nations. The participation that has provided for by Fiji all around the world, is a demonstration of their commitment to a peaceful world but also a stable and secure region.
So this is in our interests too, as Australians. This is in our national interest. I am not just here because I love Fiji - I do, I think that is fairly evident - but I love Australia and having this partnership particularly in these areas for the redevelopment of this site for the purposes for which it is being committed, is very important to Australia also.
Australia and Fiji’s partnership and the partnership between our defence forces is grounded in a shared history of service and sacrifice. Jenny and I were reminded of that sacrifice yesterday afternoon in Suva. 53 Fijians have lost their lives serving in peacekeeping missions around the world and just as I was inspecting the guard and asking them where they had served - Syria, Golan Heights, places such as these - I was reminded again of the great passion for service there is here. Our soldiers have deployed together from Bougainville in the Second World War to peacekeeping operations in the places I have mentioned and also including the Sinai. So I commend Fiji for it’s global contribution to peace and security and acknowledge the great, ultimate sacrifice paid by so many. It must be respected. I know it is here in Fiji, it is respected in Australia and it must be respected by the United Nations also.
You have gone the distance. Last year Fiji celebrated 40 years of continuous peacekeeping service. Your soldiers have served with great bravery and distinction, including in places where others have refused to venture. Not the Fijians. They have come, they have served, they have turned up and shown up and I know that because you often serve alongside Australian Defence Force personnel in these peacekeeping and humanitarian operations. It’s a record of service and sacrifice for which you should be very proud. You have lent a hand also when natural disasters have struck and this camp will be also a place where the skills are learned and passed on about how those roles can be most successfully performed.
The redevelopment of Blackrock is not just about the bricks and mortar. It is a symbol of our partnership, a long-term and enduring commitment. Blackrock will increase the interoperability between our militaries as well as our police forces. Crucially, it will also build the personal links between the men and women of Australia and Fiji who serve in our uniforms, under our flags, to protect our values all around the world. Those men and women who serve in our defence forces are the ballast of our friendship.
So again, I want to say vinaka to you for hosting me and Jenny, my wife, here at Blackrock and all of our delegation. I know this base will help to achieve our shared aspirations for a more prosperous, resilient and secure Pacific. This is what we want for our region - because we want it for our region, but in saying that, we also acknowledge that this is very much in the interests of protecting Australia and ensuring Australian interests are able to be pursued and the prosperity and partnership and peaceful relationship that we share in our region can be maintained as much for Australia as also for Fiji. So I commend those who have got us to today, we have done out bit, we’ve dug a hole, put a bit of concrete in there. The Defence Minister showed a lot of talent there. It’s now over to you to train the men and women who will continue the great work to which they have been called.
Thank you very much. Vinaka vakalevu.