• Prime Minister Bainimarama and Mrs Maria Bainimarama
  • Minister Koya
  • High Commissioner Punja
  • Distinguished guests,
  • Ladies and gentlemen,

Bula Vinaka.

I would like to begin by also adding my acknowledgement to country and also thanking you Father Joe for your dedication.

John and I are very pleased to be here with you all at this wonderful occasion to celebrate the nation of Fiji, its unity in diversity, and the friendship between the peoples of Australia and Fiji and most especially, to welcome you Prime Minister and Mrs Bainimarama to Australia.

Today, we are celebrating Fiji day and in particular the harmony of Fijian and Indian cultures.  As an Australian of Italian heritage, I understand very well the importance of sharing one’s heritage and culture. 

Australia is one of the most culturally diverse yet socially cohesive nations on earth, thanks to the rich tapestry and contribution of its multicultural society.

Speaking on the anniversary of Australia’s signature of the United Nations’ International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Prime Minister Turnbull celebrated and reaffirmed:
“the Australian values of fair go and mutual respect for all regardless of how they look, how they worship or where they come from”

Of course, these are Fiji’s values too.  Yours too is a multicultural, multi faith society where diversity is respected and valued.

Our two nations are bound together by our shared Pacific Ocean, shared institutions and language, and most importantly, by our people.

Just last month Prime Minister Bainimarama and I attended a conference of the Australia, Fiji and New Zealand Business Councils and we each celebrated our countries’ strong and growing private-sector ties.

Now we share a platform again to celebrate Fiji as a whole, and in particular, the vibrant Fijian-Australian community in Australia.

The Fiji diaspora has grown at 6% each year between the 2006 and 2011 censuses.  Indeed, the 2011 census showed that over 65,000 Australia residents were born in Fiji.

The heart of the Australian Fiji community is here in Sydney, with New South Wales the home to more than half of Australians born in Fiji.

As the daughter of migrants myself, I am passionate about the contribution that diaspora communities make to Australian society.

The strong contribution of Fijian-Australians is reflected in your very strong labour force participation rates and higher than average income. 

And it also evident in the spirit of events such as this one.

Business and community events are excellent reminders of the broad and rich relations between our two countries.

Recent figures point to strong growth in two-way goods and services trade, worth more than $1.8 billion in 2015, a nearly 8% increase on the previous year.

In the past, when there have been differences, these strong and growing family ties, friendships and business relations have not let us grow too far apart.

It is good that our two governments have steadily drawn closer together.

We saw that in the way we collaborated in response to the terrible destruction wrought by Tropical Cyclone Winston in Fiji in February this year and can I commend you Prime Minister on the decisive and effective early response of the Fiji Government.

And I am proud of the way that Australia has supported, and continues to support, Fiji’s response and recovery effort.

I especially commend the generous response from Australia’s Fiji diaspora under the guidance the extremely active High Commissioner Punja.

Within 48 hours, Australia’s immediate assistance had reached more than 200,000 people.

The Australian Defence Force deployed 1,000 personnel to help get this humanitarian assistance to where it was most needed carrying on in the tradition of longstanding friendship that our defence forces have shared over many years. 

This is something which my husband John has enjoyed first hand in his years of service in the Royal Australian Navy.

I was very proud to attend the function in August which the Royal Fiji Military Forces hosted for the crew of HMAS Canberra when she visited Suva.  It certainly looked like lots of goodwill was being exchanged around the very large kava bowl!

Still today, assisting the Government of Fiji to sustain longer term recovery efforts is at the forefront of Australia’s work in Fiji.

I welcomed the opportunity to hear first-hand from Attorney General Sayed-Khaiyum how Prime Minister, your government has prioritised ongoing work to ensure that educational outcomes remain on track and family lives can return to normal. 

We strongly support this.  The principle of ‘build back better’ underpins our efforts, to assist communities to be even more resilient to future natural disasters.

I saw this work first hand when I visited the Rakiraki Market and Vatukacevaceva school (Vaa-too-car-their-vaa-their-vaa) in Ra province in August this year.

Last month I visited Devesh Bharos farms in Fiji, which provides commercial seedlings for agriculture, horticulture and forestry.

The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research has been helping them to diversify crops and expand supply chains, so that farmers throughout Fiji get more and better crops to plant.

I was impressed to see how the partnership with Australia is increasing incomes for people in the area.

This is the Australian Government’s new aid model in action: partnering with the private sector, harnessing the power of the market to help the poor build their own wealth.

Another way the Australian Government does this is by assisting Fiji workers to earn Australian wages.

We have uncapped the Seasonal Worker Program and expanded it to include the accommodation industry.  I am delighted that more than 170 Fiji workers have obtained visas to Australia under the program and we look forward to increasing the number of workers as we improve the program.

Of course, yesterday’s announcement that a Fijian team will join the Buildcorp National Rugby Championship in 2017 is great news.  Fiji’s national second XV will no doubt live up to their name of “Fiji Warriors”. 

Australian Rugby and Rugby League in Australia have been greatly enhance by players from the Pacific Islands and I am sure that fans and players will very much enjoy the Fiji Warriors joining the competition.

Prime Minister, I look forward to visiting Fiji again in the future and continuing to grow the relationship between are two countries. 

As you know, I am spending a lot of time travelling in the Pacific.  Indeed, I have become such a frequent flyer through Nadi airport that I am on first name terms with your Protocol officers!

Have a great day and all the best to you all as you continue the celebrations for Fiji Day.

Vinaka vakalevu and thank you.

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