25th Australia Fiji Business Forum

  • Speech, check against delivery
17 October 2019

Your Excellency Prime Minister Bainimarama.

Ministers, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, friends.

Ni sa bula vinaka.

On behalf of Prime Minister Morrison, the Australian Government and our people, it is a great honour to extend a warm welcome to Brisbane to our Fijian family, and to our Australian business representatives.

It’s hard to believe it has only been one year since I joined you in Fiji for the Forum’s last meeting.

And, again, I am impressed with the strong turnout from Australian and Fiji businesses.

The success of this Forum is testament to the enduring connections between our business communities.

After all, business is the backbone of each of our societies, and the driver of our economies.

Businesses — particularly small and medium enterprises — are employers, advocates, innovators and contributors.

I speak from my own experience, watching the central role that rural and regional businesses play in communities in my electorate of Parkes in New South Wales.

This Forum is a great opportunity to talk about how we can deepen these business links, and the role business can play in working with Government to tackle some of the challenges we face in our region.

I would like to first say a few words about the progress we’ve made on the Government’s Pacific Step-Up.

As many of you know, Prime Minister Morrison was in Fiji last week, where he was joined by my colleagues Marise Payne, the Foreign Minister and Minister for Women, and Alex Hawke, the Minister for International Development and the Pacific and Assistant Defence Minister.

It was a highly successful visit, and I know the Prime Minister appreciated the productive meetings with Your Excellency, Prime Minister…

…and, of course, he enjoyed the rugby league!

The Prime Minister’s visit underscored our strong and broad relationship that spans economic, development, security, disaster and climate resilience, and it reaffirmed our commitment to strengthen our cooperation.

This was the Prime Minister’s second visit to Fiji, and the Foreign Minister’s third visit, in the last twelve months alone.

We’ve also welcomed Prime Minister Bainimarama to Australia twice, and Fiji’s Attorney-General and Minister for Economy once, in the last year.

And I acknowledge the presence today of

  • Minister Premila Kumar, Minister for Industry, Trade, Tourism, Local Government, Housing and Community Development; and
  • Minister Mahendra Reddy, Minister for Agriculture, Waterways and Environment. 

Australia’s Pacific Step-Up is much more than just visits though.

The Government is investing in our Pacific region, because we recognise that when our Pacific family is strong, stable, prosperous and sovereign, so too is Australia.

And the Vuvale Partnership is a key part of our Pacific Step-Up.

The Vuvale Partnership is a comprehensive agreement that elevates our bilateral relationship and further strengthens our bonds.

The partnership was signed last month, during Prime Minister Bainimarama’s visit to Australia, and it paves the way for deeper security, economic and community bonds.

It will entrench frequent high-level consultations, including regular meetings between our Prime Ministers, annual Foreign Ministers and Defence Minister meetings, and annual Senior Officials’ Talks.

James Gilling, who is the head of the Pacific Bilateral Division in DFAT, will talk more about this tomorrow.

When we look at the elements of our partnership, it’s clear that we are already on our way to strengthening this cooperation.

For example, this year we welcomed Fiji’s signature of Australia’s Pacific Labour Scheme.

And we have seen an impressive take-up — 80 Fijian workers are already participating under the Scheme.

We’ve also seen growing numbers of Fijian workers under the Seasonal Worker Program, with a further 77 visas granted this year…

…taking the total number to 1,114 visas granted since 2015. 

This is a great example of a policy that is good for Fiji and good for Australia.

Fijians are taking up these opportunities, learning new skills, and contributing remittances back to their communities.

They are also contributing to Australian businesses and communities.

A ‘win-win’ as the Prime Minister has said.

Similarly, the security of our Pacific region is a high priority for the Australian and Fiji Governments.

We know that natural disasters and humanitarian crises can take a terrible toll on lives, businesses and the economic development of communities and countries. 

Tropical Cyclone Winston, alone, resulted in US$1.4 billion in damages.

We are supporting Fiji’s ability to respond to disasters by transforming Blackrock Camp into a regional hub for police and peacekeeping training, pre-deployment preparation, and humanitarian relief. I am pleased to say we’re on track to complete this by December 2020.

We’re also working closely together to strengthen Fiji’s customs and borders, through the Fiji Border Security Assistance Package.

Efficient and effective customs and border procedures make our communities safer, and make it easier for businesses to trade and transact.

And, of course, our work to strengthen community ties is an important part of our Vuvale Partnership.

I have already mentioned our ties in rugby league.

Sport is a common passion for Fijians and Australians.

Fijian players have contributed so much to Australia’s sporting code, earning recognition and respect in Australia and from their families.

Our PacificAus Sports initiative will open up even more opportunities for Fiji in rugby union, but also in netball, football and rugby league.

While we’re on the topic of sport, I would add that I thought the Flying Fijians were unlucky to miss out on a win against Wales in last week’s world cup match — but they played impressively and played with passion, no doubt lifted by the thousands of supporters cheering them on at home!

Now while I’m sure everyone here is an avid rugby fan, your discussions today and tomorrow will be focused on business, trade and investment.

And for good reason — Australia is an important market for Fiji.

Australia is one of Fiji’s largest trade and investment partners, with two-way trade in goods and services totalling $2.09 billion in 2017-18.

Australia is a big contributor to Fiji’s tourism industry, accounting for 42 per cent of tourists visiting Fiji.

Our economic engagement also operates in both directions — Australian investment in Fiji was $1.34 billion in 2017, and Fijian investment in Australia was $484 million.

These numbers tell a positive story — a story of opportunity.

It’s also a story that is backed up by the Fiji-Australia Joint Economic and Trade Study, which was commissioned by both of our Governments and released last month.

The Study highlighted Fiji’s role and growth potential as the economic and trade hub of the Pacific.

And Australia is absolutely committed to working with Fiji to grow these economic opportunities and become this economic and trade hub.

The Study recommended several areas where we should be cooperating to elevate the trade and investment relationship, including more engagement between our economic agencies to share expertise on economic reform and encourage the private sector to invest in both our countries.

The Study also outlined the importance of infrastructure investment to address supply side constraints that impact on trade, as well as the importance of promoting greater Fijian exports.

Both Governments are now looking at the recommendations, and we’ll be discussing practical ways to take these forward.

For example, we’re looking at how we could support the Nadi River Flood Control project — a transformative infrastructure project that will safeguard Fiji’s major tourism corridor.

We’re also committed to providing improved market access for Fiji’s agriculture exports.

Prime Minister Morrison announced last week a pilot program to double the amount of kava that can be imported for personal use from two kilograms to four kilograms by the end of this year, and a commercial importation pilot by the end of next year, an announcement I know many Fijians, including those living in Australia, will be happy to hear.

Last year I also announced Australia would look closely at Fiji’s exports of breadfruit into Australia, and I’m pleased that the final risk assessment was released last month, which paves the way for trade to commence next year.

In my October visit last year, I was pleased to announce was the establishment of the Government-Industry Working Group. We will be talking to the Fiji Government about convening private sector consultations in the near future.

In the meantime, I know Ewen McDonald, the head of our Office of the Pacific, has been engaging with the Australia-Fiji Business Council.

We are also working with Fiji to ensure it can realise its potential as the aviation hub in the region, and so we would welcome discussions around updating our current air services agreement.

The Study also acknowledged Fiji’s potential as a services hub for the region if we can unlock freer trade in commodities.

PACER Plus could play a key role in facilitating this, so we welcome Fiji’s ongoing consideration of joining PACER Plus.

Another key priority that I wanted to touch on today is infrastructure.

The $2 billion Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific is now operational and ready to support transformative infrastructure projects in Pacific island countries and in Timor-Leste.

This Facility is prioritising energy, transport, water and telecommunications infrastructure, with a particular focus on low emission and climate resilient infrastructure.

Lending is also open to both private and government-oriented projects.

So business will be a crucial partner in delivering these projects, providing the expertise and experience needed to build high-quality infrastructure.

I’m pleased the Facility team has already made several visits to Fiji, and met with businesses in Australia and the Pacific.

Foreign Minister Payne discussed possible infrastructure projects with the Attorney-General during her visit to Fiji in June, including the Nadi River Flood Project.

We want to use the Facility to leverage more private sector investment and involvement in new Pacific infrastructure, and so engagement between the Facility and Fijian businesses will be important.

For example, the Facility team attended the Pacific Islands Investment Forum in Apia in September and met Pacific Provident Funds to discuss potential opportunities for co-investment in regional infrastructure projects.

The Facility expects to be going to tender in November to pre-qualify firms to be part of a construction and project management panel.

This will ensure we have technical skills on tap for feasibility studies, project designs, engineering services, and construction management.f We hope that a range of Australian and Fijian firms will be interested in bidding to be part of such a panel.

I’m pleased Rob Jauncey, Chief Investment Officer in the Facility, will be speaking to you tomorrow, so I would encourage you to have a chat to him about the opportunities here.

I will conclude my remarks there, but I do want to reiterate the Australian Government’s optimism and commitment to grow the Australia-Fiji economic relationship, and to create new opportunities for our businesses and our people.

The Vuvale Partnership lays the foundation for this, and we look forward to continuing our work with the Fiji Government and with the business community to this end.

I wish you all the best for your discussions this afternoon and tomorrow.

Thank you.

Media enquiries

  • Minister Coulton’s office: Steph Nicholls +61 417 314 920
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555