Remarks from traditional welcome ceremony following mass at Mt St Mary’s Parish

  • Speech, E&OE
Subjects: Visit to Fiji; Fiji’s COVID-19 response.
14 November 2021

Thank you very much. Thank you, Jim, for that very warm welcome. Thank you to Father Rayalu for celebrating mass today, a beautiful service. And can I say thank you for the very warm welcome and welcoming me as a member of the Government but also as a parishioner. I bring my greetings from my home parish in the south of Canberra. I say a big g’day and bula, and it’s wonderful to be with you today.

This morning, I woke very early to watch my beloved Wallabies lose again to England for, I think, the eighth time in a row and I was reflecting on some of what connects Australia and Fiji. Of course, when we come together for church services, it is one of the things that connects us and rugby – I think, Fiji are playing Wales is it tonight? Tomorrow morning. So, I hope Fiji have more success than Australia, than our Wallabies. They talk about – sometimes people refer to rugby like a religion, and I know that’s a bit sacrilegious with the priest here, but, you know, they say also that rugby is the game that’s played in heaven. I believe that to be true and of course we heard at mass today that indeed first before you can play rugby in heaven, you need to get there, and there’s all sorts of things you need to do.

And of course, the greatest message I think we take away from the gospels is to love our neighbours, and we hope as Australians that in these difficult times as we’ve been coming together, as Fiji and people around the world have been dealing with COVID, we hope that that love we have for each other has been evident as we’ve been journeying together and dealing with these challenges, dealing with vaccinations, the border closures, all the economic disruption.

There have been great challenges and the people of Fiji have been in our hearts. And our Prime Minister has many times has talked about our Fijian vuvale and remembering that we are on this earth together and we look to share the good times and the bad. There has been some bad times recently, but we have great hope for the times ahead. And I want to commend the people of Fiji for the way you have come through these great challenges, the very high vaccination rates, which I know is giving great protection.

There are a lot of common elements we have together as nations and as family in the way we describe it and it’s a great honour to be here with you for the start of the trip for the next few days. I want to thank you for the official kava ceremony. I had the opportunity in Canberra with some of our Pacific Islander community to have kava and we are changing some of the rules on kava so people can bring more kava into Australia from Fiji and other parts of the Pacific, and indeed we’re going to be having a commercial trial starting in December. So, there’s going to be more kava in Australia as well, and I know that’s going to bring smiles to the faces of many of our Pacific community in Australia.

It is a great honour to be with you. I’m really looking forward to the next few days. It is my second visit to Fiji but my first in an official capacity, and I have great memories of coming here with my wife a few years ago. She’s very jealous that I’m here at the moment and she is not. But she sends her best wishes because the week we had together was one of the happiest weeks of our life and I look forward to meeting more of you and getting to know so many wonderful people over these next few days. So, thank you very much. It is a great honour to be with you and thank you again for the great honour you’ve bestowed upon me with the ceremony.

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