The Honourable Premier of New South Wales,
The Honourable Deputy Opposition Leader,
Your Worship, the Mayor of Liverpool,
My Fellow Fijians and friends of Fiji,
Bula Vinaka and a Happy Fiji Day celebration to you all!
I’m pleased and proud to join you all here in the true heart of Sydney – the Greater West – to celebrate the national day of our island home. Among so many of the 50,000 Fijians in Australia who make up the biggest Fijian diaspora in the world. I’m especially delighted to be joined by the Premier of New South Wales, Mike Baird, and other elected representatives of the Australian people to help us mark the 45th anniversary of Fiji’s Independence. And I ask you all to give them all a big Fijian welcome.
I want to start in the customary way by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we gather and pay respects to their elders, past and present. The Darug, Gandangara and Tharawal people. As I said in Manly yesterday we recognise their struggle and the injustice of their dispossession – something our own indigenous people were fortunate to not experience. But there is also no doubt about the special nature of the relationship between Fijians and Australians of every background. And that is also something worth celebrating today.
I also want to start by thanking the members of the Fijian community for their traditional welcome. And for reminding us yet again of the strength of our traditions and why they will always remain at the centre of our national life. Vinaka Vakalevu.
Friends, this is a great occasion – a gathering of the Fijian tribe in Australia – the Fijian family. Because I always say that is precisely what we are. An extended family stretching from our island home across the world to wherever Fijians gather. It’s a wonderful privilege for me – as the Fijian Prime Minister – to join you here in Liverpool with my wife, Mary, and other members of the Fijian delegation. And I thank you for the warmth of your welcome.
The great thing about Australia is its diversity – a country that has welcomed people from around the world and forged them into one nation – one people. As I say, some 50,000 people of Fijian heritage have joined that mix. Fijian Australians, Australian Fijians. It really doesn’t matter what you are called. Because every Fijian in Australia can celebrate their ties to both places and the special relationship between the Fijian and Australian peoples.
Why have so many Fijians happily settled in Australia? Why do so many Australians holiday in Fiji? – by far the largest number of visitors we get – almost 350-thousand last year. I think we feel at home in each other’s countries because we share some basic characteristics and values. We are inherently open and friendly. We are warm, welcoming, generous of spirit and unpretentious. And we care for the feelings of others, for their wellbeing and happiness. As I said yesterday, no matter how tough things were between our governments in recent years, it never affected our personal relationships. We have always been the best of friends and always will be.
My friends, everyone knows that Fiji Day is October the 10th, the anniversary of our Independence from Britain in 1970. But while that’s the day we officially celebrate Fiji Day in Fiji, we are developing something of a tradition of celebrating it in other places when the opportunity arises. In August, I was present in Canada when hundreds of Fijian Canadians gathered in Surrey, British Colombia, for a Fiji Day celebration. And now I am here in Liverpool, New South Wales, doing the same thing.
It’s not so much the date that matters but that Fijians gather together when they can. Because it is not only about celebrating the birth of our nation – of Independent Fiji. But celebrating the privilege of being Fijian. Because that’s what we all are now. Fijians. Irrespective of who we are or where we come from.
Friends, it’s easily one of my Government’s greatest achievements – to forge a common identity for every Fijian citizen. No longer are we identified as individual ethnic groupings based on where our forebears came from. We are all Fijians. And can now come together as one nation, one people, to celebrate that fact.
I want to share with you here in Sydney some of the things I also talked about in Canada about what it means to be Fijian. It means that you belong to Fiji and, most importantly, feel you belong. Whether it comes from being born there or being naturalized. The same thing applies in Australia but the Australian experience has been quite different from our own.
It used to be that only indigenous Fijians could call themselves Fijian. In fact, some of my political opponents still say the term belongs to them. But this is nonsensical. Fijian is an English word given by the British to describe the inhabitants of what they called Fiji, which came from the Tongan name, Fisi. The indigenous name for Fiji is Viti. So using this logic, indigenous citizens should really be called Viti-an.
We needed to forge a common identity in Fiji. People in Australia of whatever background are Australians. Americans are American. Canadians are Canadian. And so on. So it’s logical – apart from anything else – that a person from Fiji should be Fijian and that’s what we have done.
We now refer to the indigenous people as i’Taukei because that’s what they are – custodians of the land and indigenous customs. The First Fijians. Just like the Aborigines are the First Australians. But whether you are i’Taukei, Indo-Fijian, a kailoma of mixed ethnic background or are of European or Chinese descent, we are all now Fijians.
It is one of my Government’s proudest achievements. Because it is an absolute prerequisite for building any successful nation that everyone share the same identity. The same name.
So, Friends. We have broken down a barrier that had been erected around us for no good reason at all. We have strengthened our national identity. We have forged a more inclusive society. We have given everyone a sense of belonging. And there is a new sense of pride now in being One Nation. One Fiji. And that extends to Fijians living in other countries. You may have embraced another nationality. But if someone asks “where did you come from?” and you’re not i’Taukei, you no longer have to say “I’m Fiji-born” or “I’m a Fiji Islander”. You can say “I’m Fijian!”
Because of this and my Government’s other reforms, we are also a fairer and more just society. For the first time, the vote of one person is worth exactly the same as any other persons. We have forged the first genuine democracy in Fijian history of equal votes of equal value. And our Constitution also guarantees equality of opportunity for the first time and gives every Fijian equal access to justice. So Fiji is an immeasurably better place than it was before my Government’s reforms. Everyone a Fijian. Everyone with the same chance to get on in life and fulfill their dreams.
None of this has been at the expense of the i’Taukei. They still have and own the communal ownership of their land, their unique customs, traditions and language, recognized and protected in our Constitution for all time. We also now have the level playing field we so badly needed as a nation to draw a line under the past. The lost years. The years in which we argued about who among us deserved more instead of working together as One Nation to provide more for everyone.
Friends, for me being Fijian means a lot more than having a common name. It means the values and ideals we aspire to as a nation. It means loving one another and having a caring nature and a warm heart. Yalo loloma, as we say in the i’Taukei language. It also means being patriotic. Loving Fiji and thinking about the welfare of our nation and all its citizens and not just about ourselves and those around us. And helping others, whether it is your immediate neighbor in Fiji, those in our neighbouring countries in the Pacific or in the rest of the world.
It means leaving no-one behind. Caring especially for the less fortunate, the sick, the homeless and the disabled. Putting into practice in everyday life the teachings of all the great religions in our multi-faith society about how we should all treat each other.
Being Fijian also means caring for the land of Fiji and our seas. Keeping our pristine environment free of pollution and litter. Always using our natural resources in a sustainable manner, whether it’s our forests or our fish. And it means being brave and taking a lead in the world. Sending our troops into troubled places with the United Nations to protect vulnerable ordinary people. Leading the fight to persuade the industrial nations to reduce the carbon emissions that are warming our planet. And are causing the sea level rises and extreme weather events that threaten our way of life and the very existence of some of our neighbours. Always standing up for what is right and just in the world. Making the world a better place.
Friends, that’s what it means to be Fijian. And those are the values Fijians also take with them when they become citizens of other countries like Australia. So let us all rededicate ourselves today to the Fijian ideal on this great day in Sydney.
It has been a long, hard journey to get to this point in our history. And many of you here today know how difficult that journey has been. How much of the last 45 years we wasted. How much pain we inflicted on a great many of our fellow citizens because certain selfish elements said they didn’t belong.
I know that many of you simply lost faith in Fiji, especially in the terrible aftermath of the events of 1987 and 2000. I have said it before and I say it again: The fact that you were made to feel unwelcome in your country of birth is the most shameful episode in our nation’s history.
Apart from the anguish and despair you must have felt, you were some of our best and brightest. When we lost you, we lost a precious resource that robbed Fiji of decades of development. And anyone who doubts that should examine the similarities between Singapore and Fiji in the 1970’s and the differences between us now in terms of development.
Yet it wasn’t just the brain drain – tragic as that was. It was the Fijian family torn apart. And today I want to say sorry to those of you who suffered. The many thousands who were made to feel like strangers in your own country. Who felt obliged to seek new homes elsewhere. Leaving loved ones and friends behind. Coming to Australia – in your case – and having to start all over again.
You will be forever grateful to the Australian people for opening their door to you. And yet I know that for many of you even after many years, Fiji still occupies a big place in your heart.
Today, I want to use this occasion to formally welcome you back into the Fijian family. To invite you to return. To perhaps build a house in Fiji. To come and go as you please. To invest in your country of birth. To help us build the new Fiji, as well as strengthen our people-to-people ties with Australia.
The time to do so has never been better. We are in the throes of one of the longest running period of economic growth in Fijian history – 5.3 per cent last year, a better performance than Australia or New Zealand. So the wave of prosperity is building and now is the time for people with imagination to ride it.
We now allow multiple citizenship. So you can be both a citizen of Australia and of Fiji and come and go at will. So I urge as many of you as possible to reconnect with Fiji – if you haven’t already done so – and join us as we build our beloved nation. As we work together to finally put an end to the lost years. To make Fiji finally, genuinely, the way the world should be.
My thanks to all of you who have worked so hard to make this wonderful day a success. And again: A very happy Fiji Day celebration to you all.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you