Archive for the Speeches Category

HON PM BAINIMARAMA AT THE OPENING OF THE 20TH CONFERENCE OF COMMONWEALTH EDUCATION MINISTERS

HON PM BAINIMARAMA AT THE OPENING OF THE 20TH CONFERENCE OF COMMONWEALTH EDUCATION MINISTERS

2/20/2018
Your Excellency the Commonwealth Secretary General,
The Honourable Attorney General and Minister for Education,
Honourable Ministers from throughout the Commonwealth,
Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen.

Bula vinaka and a very good evening to you all.

This is a proud day for Fiji as we host the first gathering of Commonwealth education ministers to be held in our country. And wherever you come from in the world from the 53 nations that make up the Commonwealth family, I warmly welcome you on behalf of the Fijian people. It is our pleasure to have you in Fiji and I hope you enjoy our world famous hospitality.

It also happens to be a sad day, a day of somber reflection for the Fijian people as we commemorate the second anniversary of Tropical Cyclone Winston, which slammed into our nation with terrible force on 20 February 2016. Winston was the biggest storm ever to make landfall in the southern hemisphere, packing record winds at its peak of more than 300 kilometres an hour.
44 of our loved ones were killed in the affected areas; many thousands of Fijians lost their homes; public infrastructure, including many schools, was damaged or destroyed; and when it was over, the overall cost amounted to one third of our GDP.

Our people have recognised the need for a new standard of resilience to meet the constant threat we now face, even outside the traditional cyclone season. They know – because they lived through it – that we must build back stronger and better to survive the more frequent and more intense cyclones that are coming because of climate change.

Of course, homes and schools can be rebuilt. What can’t be replaced are the 44 men, women and children who died in the affected areas, their lives cut short by Winston’s fury.

They were someone’s father, someone’s mother, brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunties, uncles, cousins. They were ordinary Fijians – the backbone of our nation. And because we are a small country, they were known to many of us and they mattered to all of us. We still mourn their passing and on this anniversary we remember them, as they rest in the loving arms of Almighty God.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, I ask you to rise for a moment of silence for those who died in Cyclone Winston. And let us also remember the people of Samoa, Tonga and the southern Lau group of Fiji, many of whom are suffering as we gather here today in the wake of Cyclone Gita.

(silence)

Thank you.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is singularly appropriate – given the new age of climate uncertainty that is upon us – that sustainability and resilience be the theme of this conference. We all know that education is the key to sustainable development because it equips people with the skills they need to benefit their own lives and the lives of those around them. But governments at every level must also place sustainability at the core of their decision-making.

• Sustainable development that protects our natural heritage and treads lightly on the environment.
• Sustainable policies that work holistically and which have longevity to extend the benefits of development to as many of our citizens as possible.
• Sustainable spending that doesn’t cripple nations, states and cities with excessive debt.
• And sustainable economies that balance the needs of government and the private sector, with both working hand in hand to ensure continuing sustainable development.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, the global community has committed itself to achieving 17 Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs by 2030. But none of them can be achieved without fulfilling SDG 13 – Climate Change – and SDG 14 – Life below Water or the health of our oceans.

They are inextricably linked and everything else depends on them. In that, no sustainable development at all will be possible without decisive action on climate change and decisive action to reverse the degradation of our oceans.

People ask me: Why did you take on the presidency of COP23 when there is so much to do in Fiji? Why did you co- chair the World Ocean Conference last year? And my answer is very simple: Because our lives depend on it. The lives of every Fijian and every citizen of climate-vulnerable nations around the world.

• They include Pacific Islanders who face the prospect of their nations disappearing beneath the rising waves altogether.
• the people of Bangladesh and other low-lying continental states also assailed by large-scale flooding and storms.
• Prolonged droughts and arable land turning to desert in vast swathes of Africa and elsewhere.
• the beautiful city of Cape Town facing the prospect of running out of water altogether.
• Residents of California, Portugal and Spain battling fierce wildfires, with significant loss of life and infrastructure.
• Increased acidity in our oceans and coral bleaching destroying our reefs;
• and all over the world, threats to food security posed by drought and salinity playing havoc with our agriculture.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, none of us are safe until we meet the challenge posed by climate change. None of us are truly secure. As I keep saying: we are all in the same canoe. And as a global community, we must do everything in our power to meet this challenge and resist all attempts to slow the process down.

As COP President, I want maximum ambition, maximum action and with maximum urgency. As I said on the beachfront a short time ago, only by embracing the most ambitious target of the Paris Agreement can we avoid catastrophe. Zero net carbon emissions as soon as possible to limit average global warming to no more than 1.5 degree Celsius over that of the pre-industrial age.

At our Heads of Government Meeting in London in April, I will be specifically asking all 53 Commonwealth countries for that commitment. And I urge every nation – as well as non-state stakeholders – to work with Fiji to make a success of the 2018 Talanoa Dialogue, in which we are seeking more ambition in all our Nationally Determined Contributions to reduce heat trapping carbon emissions – our NDCs.

In London, I will also be pressing for the Blue Charter – a key feature for CHOGM – to be as ambitious as possible to adequately address the threat to our oceans. I cannot stress enough that the two are interlinked. Which is why I am very gratified that among our many successes at the COP23 negotiations in Bonn in November, many in the global community endorsed and are joining our Ocean Pathway Partnership. Vital for the future of Fiji. Vital for the future of our planet.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, after ensuring our very survival, nothing is more important to any nation than to equip its young people for satisfying, worthwhile lives by giving them access to quality education. The future of all our nations depends on it – our political and economic status in the world, our standing in the great global forums, respect from others, respect for ourselves.

By far my government’s proudest achievement has been our education revolution that began in 2013 and we intend to continue it. In fact, we now cannot stop it. Because just as you are never too old to learn new things, the process of maximizing the learning process has no conclusion. Constant development, constant refining and capacity building, constantly seeking new horizons and new opportunities.

The centerpiece of that revolution was the introduction, for the first time in Fiji, of free education in our primary and secondary schools. Plus free textbooks and subsidised transportation. At the same time – recognising the importance of early education – we developed a pre-school sector and there are now a lot more kindergartens in Fiji. We introduced the country’s first tertiary loans scheme. We significantly expanded the number of scholarships available to hard-performing students. And we set up a national network of technical colleges to encourage participation in the trades and provide Fiji with many of the skills it needs to grow our economy.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, as with anything on this scale and level of ambition, we have had our challenges. Among other things, we are streamlining the Education Ministry to be more responsive. And we are working with our teachers to increase their skills base and financially reward our best performers. But for all the challenges, I believe our education revolution is the biggest single thing we have done as a government and as a nation to benefit our people.

• We have ended the heartbreak of generations of low-income families who couldn’t afford to give their children a proper education.
• We have opened up new horizons for even the most disadvantaged young person – a world of opportunity – and given our girls and young women opportunities their mothers never had.
• We are producing a fairer and more inclusive society.
• And we have laid out a vision for every Fijian that through focus and hard work, we can eventually step out of the ranks of the developing nations and into the ranks of the educated nation states.

The wonderful thing is that our people are responding. And speaking personally, I get the biggest thrill from reading the stories in the media of individual Fijians who are benefitting. Like the one last week of Peni Kauivalenibula, a Lauan from Vanuabalavu, who dropped out in Year 11 and spent two years living on the streets of Suva. Peni is now studying to be a quantity surveyor at the Fiji National University through the government’s tertiary loans scheme. And I was very moved to see him tearfully thanking the government for giving him a second chance of an education and another shot at life.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, this is what makes the education sector so satisfying for politicians and educators, no matter where we come from in the world. The ability to change people’s lives – to empower them through the acquisition of knowledge to benefit not only themselves and their families but benefit our nations and help build a better world.

I wish you every success this week as you link education with the great challenge of building a more resilient future in the face of the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced. But I also want to leave you with the positive thought that it is because of education that humanity is able to bring all of its ingenuity and skills to the task of confronting this crisis head on.

The transition from dirty energy such as fossil fuels to clean energy such as hydro, solar and wind is already happening. Emerging technologies such as battery storage offer us the prospect of being able to ensure the supply of adequate, affordable power and still achieve net zero carbon emissions.

What we need is a sustained global effort to scale up investment in these technologies and make them more affordable, especially for developing countries around the world. And as COP President, I am convinced that will eventually happen. Not least because humanity – unlike the dinosaurs – has a great capacity to adapt to changed circumstances.

So rather than a message of doom and gloom, let us all fire the imaginations of our educators – and through them, our young people – about what is possible if the world can finally come together to overcome this threat.

Thank you for bringing your intellectual input and experience to our collective effort this week. And I now have the great pleasure to formally open the 20th Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

HON PM BAINIMARAMA AT THE 21ST ANNUAL ANZ FIJI EXCELLENCE IN TOURISM AWARDS

The Minister for Industry, Trade and Tourism, Honourable Faiyaz Koya;
Honourable Ministers;
Chairman of Fiji Excellence in Tourism Awards Trustees;
Chairman and Board of Fiji Excellence in Tourism Awards Trustees;
Our Keynote Speaker this evening, Sir Michael Jones and Mrs Jones;
Country Head ANZ Fiji Mr Saud Minam and Mrs. Minam;
Members of the Fijian Tourism Industry;
Distinguished guests;
Ladies and gentlemen,

Bula vinaka and a very good evening to you all.

I’m pleased to be here tonight on the heels of my tour of our Western Division, where I met with our fellow Fijians for consultations about infrastructure, growth, land use, agriculture, and the everyday issues that are the bread and butter of my Government. It was my chance to spend time with ordinary Fijians here in the West, many of whom rely on the health and growth of our tourism industry, and I’m very glad to be here this evening to celebrate achievement in an industry that is supporting so many of our citizens.

The theme of this year’s Excellence in Tourism Awards, “Sustaining Our Resources,” could hardly be more fitting. Earlier this week, Fiji’s Southern Lau group was struck by Tropical Cyclone Gita; yet another superstorm that ravaged our Pacific Island neighbor, Tonga. We were blessed to be spared the brunt of the storm’s wrath, but as Gita churned off our shores, nearly two years to the day from the horror and devastation of Cyclone Winston, Fijians were reminded of the force of nature’s fury that we are all too familiar with.
Once again, we are reminded of the urgent necessity for action to combat climate change through sustainability, while also fortifying our future by making Fiji more resilient in every way possible.

Sustainability has been at the core of my Government’s development agenda since day one. I have said time and time again, and I repeat tonight: no development in Fiji will be unsustainable. And, in the time that has passed since I was with you all at last year’s awards ceremony, our passion for sustainable development has been elevated and channeled in ways that, just a few short years ago, few would have imagined possible for a small island state like ours.

Since this time last year, Fiji has taken a global leadership role the issue of sustainability and resilience. We were proud to be co-Chair of the United Nations Oceans Summit, we hosted the World Wildlife Fund’s International Year of the Reef, and, most notably, we took the perspective of Small Island Developing States to the centre stage of international climate discourse, as we successfully presided over the United Nations negotiations on climate change as COP23 President.

And the global spotlight that Fiji earned over the course of the past year through our climate leadership will undoubtedly benefit our tourism industry. The exposure that we gained proved to be invaluable in many ways; most immediately, we have been able to attract international investments and grants to make Fiji’s infrastructure and development more sustainable. This assistance will help expedite my Government’s efforts to provide every corner of Fiji with access to sustainable infrastructure, clean water, and renewable energy sources. It’s also given us access to technical expertise and support so that we can make better informed decisions on sustainable development. It’s not just the hard investments that will reap the benefits of this increased exposure. I hear that the exposure gained through international media coverage has already inspired a spike in web traffic to Tourism Fiji’s website. And the “Bula Spirit” that was shared by our delegation in Bonn, Germany, the smiles and the stories that we shared, relayed a message not of helplessness, but of hope. And that Fijian fortitude, that happiness and warmth that we were able to showcase all the way in Bonn, will yield fruit for Fiji for years to come.

Ladies and gentlemen, my Government knows how to strike the delicate balance of sustainable growth. While our political opponents try to grandstand by latching on to any issue that earns them a headline, the proof is not in hollow words and empty promises, or fear mongering — it is in action. Action with a vision. Under my leadership, Fiji is experiencing eight straight years of economic growth, and our unemployment rate is at a 30-year low. And we’ve achieved this unprecedented prosperity not by compromising the pristine beauty, from our beaches to our forests to our coral reefs to our mangroves, but by protecting it. While any new development will cause some disruption, we work to both minimalise any disturbance and offset it with even greater commitment to the health of the environment. I can assure you: no mangrove is removed unnecessarily, nor without a new one, or two, or ten, being planted in its place. And every mangrove that is removed and then replaced is done with the purpose of opening new areas and creating new jobs for as many Fijians as possible.

Ladies and gentlemen, sustainable development also means protecting our environment while being creative to ensure sustainable livelihoods for all Fijians.

In fact, our Green Growth Framework is dictated by that core mission: to create a better Fiji for all, keeping the people of Fiji at the centre of all development. I can proudly say that we have stuck to this mission, and with each passing year, both the Fijian people and the environment that surrounds them are in better shape than the year before.

And we have set out our game plan to keep Fiji on the great path of progress through our 5-Year and 20-Year National Development Plans. And I urge everyone to read those plans. They lay out every aspect of our development in the years ahead and capture our vision for where Fiji is headed, including our tourism industry. So that we can continue to grow our economy, and continue to make life better for the Fijian people.

Ladies and gentlemen,
2017 marked the best year ever for tourism in Fiji, with 842,884 visitors coming to our shores– an impressive 6.4 per cent increase from 2016, which held the previous record. We also saw the most-ever visitors coming from both the United States and New Zealand. It’s interesting to see that, in numbers, our tourism arrivals now nearly equal the entire population of Fiji– which, by 2017’s census count, stands at 884,887. This increased demand is being met with the need to increase supply, which also means new jobs, sustained jobs, new investment opportunities and the need to be responsive to emerging trends in the market.

Achieving record numbers of foreign visitors and attracting multi-million-dollar resorts is an accomplishment– and with every new resort that announces plans to invest in Fiji, all Fijians feel a sense of pride. We all cheer with each new opening because we have seen firsthand the benefits of these resorts in the form of economic impact. And while the resorts themselves are something to be proud of, my real pride comes with each Fijian job created, and with each Fijian family’s standard of living that is raised. My real pride comes from the tens of thousands of hard-working Fijians whose livelihoods are directly and indirectly tied to tourism. The tour guides, the maids, the nannies, the cooks, the groundskeepers, the farmers, the fishermen, the sales assistants, the taxi drivers, the craftsmen and craftswomen, the waiters and waitresses. These are the people in my thoughts every day. This is my driving passion– the betterment of every Fijian woman, child, man and our youth. And I thank those of you in this room for your role in helping lift up so many Fijian families by advancing our strong and growing tourism industry.

Ladies and gentlemen, tourism is already the largest single contributor to our GDP. But we must not sit on our laurels, as so much of our beautiful nation’s potential remains untapped. My Government is dedicated to finding new and innovative ways together with you to continue to grow Fiji’s tourism industry in a sustained manner.

This is why we assembled the Fijian Tourism 2021 development plan, which complements our National Development Plans. The tourism development plan sets out priority areas that will strategically bolster our tourism industry in a way that allows the most Fijians to see the most benefit.

My Government is steadfastly dedicated to bringing all Fijians into the fold, and now more than ever, that dedication is targeted at the tourism industry. My Government is dedicated to spreading the good benefits of a tourism-based economy to other parts of Fiji that do not directly benefit from traditional mainland tourist arrivals. We are also broadening our approach by looking at news ways of providing support to micro, small, and medium-sized tourism operators throughout our maritime and rural regions. By helping provide these potential operators with the tools and technologies to succeed, improving access to water and sewage treatment, and laying the proper infrastructure, we are creating the foundation that will allow more resorts of all sizes to attract more tourists to more remote parts of Fiji than ever before.

Our plans will also allow us to strategically identify ways to remove as many barriers and inconveniences as possible.

Fiji Airways is already increasing the frequency of its flights to Singapore and San Francisco, and will be open the route to Tokyo, connecting us to lucrative markets – and we need to take full advantage. We also need to go further, and tap new markets like India, China and the Middle East, and we need to accordingly provide training to our staff and respond to the needs of these markets.

Ladies and gentlemen, this growth would not be possible without all of you. And to continue on our sustainable and progressive path, we must continue to innovate, and work together to create an industry that will benefit all Fijians. And we must do so in a sustainable way.

Congratulations to tonight’s award winners and nominees, thank you to ANZ and other sponsors for their continued commitment to this vital industry, and thank you all for the warm reception.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

HON PM BAINIMARAMA AT THE 21ST ANNUAL ANZ FIJI EXCELLENCE IN TOURISM AWARDS

The Minister for Industry, Trade and Tourism, Honourable Faiyaz Koya;
Honourable Ministers;
Chairman of Fiji Excellence in Tourism Awards Trustees;
Chairman and Board of Fiji Excellence in Tourism Awards Trustees;
Our Keynote Speaker this evening, Sir Michael Jones and Mrs Jones;
Country Head ANZ Fiji Mr Saud Minam and Mrs. Minam;
Members of the Fijian Tourism Industry;
Distinguished guests;
Ladies and gentlemen,

Bula vinaka and a very good evening to you all.

I’m pleased to be here tonight on the heels of my tour of our Western Division, where I met with our fellow Fijians for consultations about infrastructure, growth, land use, agriculture, and the everyday issues that are the bread and butter of my Government. It was my chance to spend time with ordinary Fijians here in the West, many of whom rely on the health and growth of our tourism industry, and I’m very glad to be here this evening to celebrate achievement in an industry that is supporting so many of our citizens.

The theme of this year’s Excellence in Tourism Awards, “Sustaining Our Resources,” could hardly be more fitting. Earlier this week, Fiji’s Southern Lau group was struck by Tropical Cyclone Gita; yet another superstorm that ravaged our Pacific Island neighbor, Tonga. We were blessed to be spared the brunt of the storm’s wrath, but as Gita churned off our shores, nearly two years to the day from the horror and devastation of Cyclone Winston, Fijians were reminded of the force of nature’s fury that we are all too familiar with.
Once again, we are reminded of the urgent necessity for action to combat climate change through sustainability, while also fortifying our future by making Fiji more resilient in every way possible.

Sustainability has been at the core of my Government’s development agenda since day one. I have said time and time again, and I repeat tonight: no development in Fiji will be unsustainable. And, in the time that has passed since I was with you all at last year’s awards ceremony, our passion for sustainable development has been elevated and channeled in ways that, just a few short years ago, few would have imagined possible for a small island state like ours.

Since this time last year, Fiji has taken a global leadership role the issue of sustainability and resilience. We were proud to be co-Chair of the United Nations Oceans Summit, we hosted the World Wildlife Fund’s International Year of the Reef, and, most notably, we took the perspective of Small Island Developing States to the centre stage of international climate discourse, as we successfully presided over the United Nations negotiations on climate change as COP23 President.

And the global spotlight that Fiji earned over the course of the past year through our climate leadership will undoubtedly benefit our tourism industry. The exposure that we gained proved to be invaluable in many ways; most immediately, we have been able to attract international investments and grants to make Fiji’s infrastructure and development more sustainable. This assistance will help expedite my Government’s efforts to provide every corner of Fiji with access to sustainable infrastructure, clean water, and renewable energy sources. It’s also given us access to technical expertise and support so that we can make better informed decisions on sustainable development. It’s not just the hard investments that will reap the benefits of this increased exposure. I hear that the exposure gained through international media coverage has already inspired a spike in web traffic to Tourism Fiji’s website. And the “Bula Spirit” that was shared by our delegation in Bonn, Germany, the smiles and the stories that we shared, relayed a message not of helplessness, but of hope. And that Fijian fortitude, that happiness and warmth that we were able to showcase all the way in Bonn, will yield fruit for Fiji for years to come.

Ladies and gentlemen, my Government knows how to strike the delicate balance of sustainable growth. While our political opponents try to grandstand by latching on to any issue that earns them a headline, the proof is not in hollow words and empty promises, or fear mongering — it is in action. Action with a vision. Under my leadership, Fiji is experiencing eight straight years of economic growth, and our unemployment rate is at a 30-year low. And we’ve achieved this unprecedented prosperity not by compromising the pristine beauty, from our beaches to our forests to our coral reefs to our mangroves, but by protecting it. While any new development will cause some disruption, we work to both minimalise any disturbance and offset it with even greater commitment to the health of the environment. I can assure you: no mangrove is removed unnecessarily, nor without a new one, or two, or ten, being planted in its place. And every mangrove that is removed and then replaced is done with the purpose of opening new areas and creating new jobs for as many Fijians as possible.

Ladies and gentlemen, sustainable development also means protecting our environment while being creative to ensure sustainable livelihoods for all Fijians.

In fact, our Green Growth Framework is dictated by that core mission: to create a better Fiji for all, keeping the people of Fiji at the centre of all development. I can proudly say that we have stuck to this mission, and with each passing year, both the Fijian people and the environment that surrounds them are in better shape than the year before.

And we have set out our game plan to keep Fiji on the great path of progress through our 5-Year and 20-Year National Development Plans. And I urge everyone to read those plans. They lay out every aspect of our development in the years ahead and capture our vision for where Fiji is headed, including our tourism industry. So that we can continue to grow our economy, and continue to make life better for the Fijian people.

Ladies and gentlemen,
2017 marked the best year ever for tourism in Fiji, with 842,884 visitors coming to our shores– an impressive 6.4 per cent increase from 2016, which held the previous record. We also saw the most-ever visitors coming from both the United States and New Zealand. It’s interesting to see that, in numbers, our tourism arrivals now nearly equal the entire population of Fiji– which, by 2017’s census count, stands at 884,887. This increased demand is being met with the need to increase supply, which also means new jobs, sustained jobs, new investment opportunities and the need to be responsive to emerging trends in the market.

Achieving record numbers of foreign visitors and attracting multi-million-dollar resorts is an accomplishment– and with every new resort that announces plans to invest in Fiji, all Fijians feel a sense of pride. We all cheer with each new opening because we have seen firsthand the benefits of these resorts in the form of economic impact. And while the resorts themselves are something to be proud of, my real pride comes with each Fijian job created, and with each Fijian family’s standard of living that is raised. My real pride comes from the tens of thousands of hard-working Fijians whose livelihoods are directly and indirectly tied to tourism. The tour guides, the maids, the nannies, the cooks, the groundskeepers, the farmers, the fishermen, the sales assistants, the taxi drivers, the craftsmen and craftswomen, the waiters and waitresses. These are the people in my thoughts every day. This is my driving passion– the betterment of every Fijian woman, child, man and our youth. And I thank those of you in this room for your role in helping lift up so many Fijian families by advancing our strong and growing tourism industry.

Ladies and gentlemen, tourism is already the largest single contributor to our GDP. But we must not sit on our laurels, as so much of our beautiful nation’s potential remains untapped. My Government is dedicated to finding new and innovative ways together with you to continue to grow Fiji’s tourism industry in a sustained manner.

This is why we assembled the Fijian Tourism 2021 development plan, which complements our National Development Plans. The tourism development plan sets out priority areas that will strategically bolster our tourism industry in a way that allows the most Fijians to see the most benefit.

My Government is steadfastly dedicated to bringing all Fijians into the fold, and now more than ever, that dedication is targeted at the tourism industry. My Government is dedicated to spreading the good benefits of a tourism-based economy to other parts of Fiji that do not directly benefit from traditional mainland tourist arrivals. We are also broadening our approach by looking at news ways of providing support to micro, small, and medium-sized tourism operators throughout our maritime and rural regions. By helping provide these potential operators with the tools and technologies to succeed, improving access to water and sewage treatment, and laying the proper infrastructure, we are creating the foundation that will allow more resorts of all sizes to attract more tourists to more remote parts of Fiji than ever before.

Our plans will also allow us to strategically identify ways to remove as many barriers and inconveniences as possible.

Fiji Airways is already increasing the frequency of its flights to Singapore and San Francisco, and will be open the route to Tokyo, connecting us to lucrative markets – and we need to take full advantage. We also need to go further, and tap new markets like India, China and the Middle East, and we need to accordingly provide training to our staff and respond to the needs of these markets.

Ladies and gentlemen, this growth would not be possible without all of you. And to continue on our sustainable and progressive path, we must continue to innovate, and work together to create an industry that will benefit all Fijians. And we must do so in a sustainable way.

Congratulations to tonight’s award winners and nominees, thank you to ANZ and other sponsors for their continued commitment to this vital industry, and thank you all for the warm reception.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

HON PM BAINIMARAMA AT THE SUGAR INDUSTRY AND I-TAUKEI LAND CONSULTATIONS HELD AT SHIRLEY PARK IN LAUTOKA

My fellow Fijians,

Bula vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all.

I have come here today to talk face-to-face with our cane farmers and with our landowners, to discuss how we can work together to find new ways to help build our growing economy.

Make no mistake, our game plan for our Sugar Industry is about keeping our cane industry at the heart of our economic growth. And our work with our iTaukei landowners is about giving you the tools you need to develop your land and get the most out of your land resources. So that all of you, our farmers and our landowners, can have the assurance and stability you need to do well by yourselves and your families.

I’d like to speak with all of you about a number of issues that affect our cane farmers and our landowners. I do so as your Prime Minister, and I do so because I am driven to make life better for my fellow Fijians; ordinary people like yourselves who deserve to know that when you work hard, that work will be rewarded and that you and your families will benefit.

My commitment extends beyond any one industry. It drives my Government’s entire agenda to give all of our people an equal shot at doing well in our growing economy. It extends to the protections we’ve put in place to give every Fijian equal status and equal protection under the law, and the chance to give their children access to even greater opportunities.

To improve the lives of every Fijian, my Government is spending a great amount of money on roads, on water, on electricity and other services. I know some of you may still not have access to electricity or piped water. But many of you now enjoy these services for the first time. And my Government will continue its program of extending them to as many people as possible across the country.

We have also provided a lot of money for education – free schooling, free textbooks and subsidised transportation to school. We’ve massively expanded access to scholarships and tertiary loans to enable many more of our young people – your children and grandchildren – to gain access to higher learning. Those scholarships are being granted on the basis of merit, and merit alone. So that any child — including the children of any farmer, anywhere in Fiji — can earn good marks and go on to university and earn qualifications to get better jobs, start their own businesses and participate in our wider economy.

I’d like to first speak directly to our cane farmers here today, I’d like to begin by recognising all of you for the work you put in every day to build this Industry. You are among the hardest working people in Fiji, and my Government supports you and stands with you – now and always.

When it comes to the Sugar Cane Industry, there was no question that it was in steady decline until my Government intervened to put it on a better footing. For example, the amount of cane needed to produce sugar has been drastically reduced by making the process more efficient. The TCTS just a few years ago was about 13 or 14. Last year it was just over nine.

We’ve set aside unprecedented funding towards capital programmes this financial year. In total, the Budget toward the Sugar Industry was increased to 60 Million Dollars, nearly double last year’s allocation. And with our support, cane production in 2018 is anticipated to reach close to two million tonnes.

Too often, we hear big promises from the Opposition, but we don’t hear real solutions. They talk about giving 100 dollars per tonne, but they never talk about how to bring down the actual cost base for your cane.

And that is the only way you’ll really see bigger profits, now and over the long-term. Only when we bring down the costs of production, can we put this Industry on a real path to a more sustainable and more profitable future.

That is why my Government has given wide reaching assistance that is seriously lowering your cost base. We are boosting cane production and improving extension services, transportation and harvesting. We’ve helped transfer new and better technologies to farmers. We’ve set aside nearly 16 Million Dollars for the Cane Replanting Programme, and that major funding increase has led to 5,671 hectares planted in 2017 compared to 3,900 last year. Still, our reports indicate that we have 30,000 hectares of land that remains idle or under-utilised, so I encourage all of you to take advantage of this grant to plant more cane.

My Government introduced the fertiliser subsidy in 2009, and in the last budget we’ve made that subsidy even more generous, lowering the price paid by our famers to only 20 dollars per bag, and we’ve seen a fertiliser sale increase of nearly 40 per cent since January last year. So keep taking advantage of this great subsidy.

I know many of you face ongoing issues with labour shortages. That is why we’ve made a big push towards mechanised farming. We assisted 21 co-operatives with 90,000 Dollars each deposit payments on mechanical harvesters. Already, we’ve increased the total percentage of cane harvested by mechanical harvesters from eight per cent last year to 18 per cent.

My Government also introduced a new, 6.3 Million Dollar Weedicide Subsidy program this financial year aimed at helping our cane farmers maximize the yield of their harvest through assistance in paying for the herbicides that are necessary to protect your crops. Now, our farmers are paying only 45 per cent of the total price.

Through our Sugarcane Rehabilitation and Small Grant Scheme, my Government has set aside 1 Million Dollars for supplies like fencing materials, pumps, and water tanks, all of which will allow our smaller sugar farms to keep pace in a rapidly-changing industry.

My Government has also continued to pay the Sugar Levy to the Sugar Cane Growers Council, taking the burden off of farmers by covering all of the Council’s administrative costs. And – as we promised – we covered the entire cost for all cane that was transferred from the Penang Mill area to the Rarawai Mill.
So, no farmer was unable to supply their cane — despite some very bold, and very false, claims from the Opposition.

We’ve made the Ministry more responsive to farmers’ complaints and concerns through the establishment of toll-free lines, and the FSC can be reached at 0800-6661972.

Friends, I’m the Chair of the TLTB, and, as many of you know, I have directed the TLTB and also the Lands Department to ensure that for all leases that are expiring, the lessee must be told five years in advance whether the lease is to be extended or not renewed. No longer will you be in danger of finding out just before the lease expires that you have to leave. This gives you certainty and enables you to make proper plans to find somewhere else to live. It is about giving leaseholders security and peace of mind – to enable them to properly manage their affairs and their lives.

As you all know, we are now in an election year. But you also know, my commitment to each of you doesn’t depend on what’s on the political calendar. I’ve always been right here — at the grassroots level — with you, our cane farmers, hearing you out, updating you on what’s happening and about where this Industry is headed. My commitment is unwavering, and it doesn’t depend on anything; it is my own personal commitment to you, your families and our beloved Fiji.

Unfortunately, we can all expect that in the lead up to the Elections, my opponents will come with their same doomsday predictions for this Industry and their same false promises. They don’t have belief in your potential or in this Industry, they don’t have real plans and they don’t have real interest in your well-being. For them, it’s all politics; it’s all about how you can help them, and never the other way around.

Remember, securing a future for this Industry isn’t about smiles and sitting around the grog bowl spinning fantasies. It is about leadership. It is about having a strategic vision and plan for this Industry. It is about being honest, telling the situation as it is and being clear about what is necessary moving forward. I’ve always been honest, and I always will be. I’ve always been here for you, and I always will be. And I’ve always had a plan for this Industry, and we are steadily realising my Government’s vision.

I’d also like to take time to speak directly to our landowners.

My Government is dedicated to not only preserving and protecting native iTaukei land, as we have enshrined in our Constitution, but also to promoting new ways for it to become a stream of income for you, your children, and your grandchildren to rightfully enjoy.

And we are making good on our promises; more iTaukei lands are steadily being reverted back to iTaukei land owning units, more land is being freed up for farming and development, and in effect, more money is in the pockets of tens of thousands of Fijian farmers and landowners.

Government continues to support the CBUL initiative, which was set up specifically in 2010 to assist farmers in the renewal of their agricultural leases while, at the same time, providing incentives to landowners to give their unutilised land for leasing. CBUL has turned out to be a clear win-win relationship for not only our farmers and landowners, but also the Fijian economy.

Just this week, Government released a CBUL payment of 3.72 Million Dollars to the iTaukei Land Trust Board to be distributed to a total of 1,479 land owning units, and 138,899 individual members’ bank accounts, at Yavusa, Mataqali and Tokatoka level who have given their consent to renew agricultural leases under the CBUL initiative.

This most recent payout adds on to an impressive total: since 2010, Government has paid out more than 50 Million Dollars, and the impact is clear: the renewal rate of agricultural leases has increased from 47 per cent just seven years ago to over 80 per cent as of December 2017.

I am also pleased to note TLTB’s recent progress in facilitating the return of Schedules A & B lands to the iTaukei landowners who need them. After proper due diligence, this initiative has now been fast-tracked and is nearing completion. TLTB has already allotted a full 95 per cent of Schedule A lands, and 87 per cent of Schedule B lands, to their landowning units.

We are here to help determine how to best help our landowners make the most of their land. But the only way we can do so is through an open and facilitative dialogue. We are here to learn, we are here to listen, and we are here to help you grow both yourself, grow your businesses, and by extension, grow all of Fiji.
With your constant input, we are working to lay the groundwork for a system that is fair, predictable, and allows both landowners and tenants to plan for the future.

Friends, I hope that through this consultation session this afternoon will bring us both progress and clarity. We have gathered a capable team here today, and they are at your disposal — please take advantage of this valuable opportunity.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

HON PM BAINIMARAMA SPEECH AT THE LAUNCH OF THE SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS EXHIBITION

Your Excellency, the United Nations Resident Co-ordinator
and other UN staff in Fiji,
Your Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Representatives of civil society and the private sector,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Bula vinaka and a very good evening to you all.

When we talk about the importance of implementing the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs, it’s very easy to see them as someone else’s agenda. A set of targets agreed to by the member nations of the UN in far-off New York that have little bearing on our day-to-day lives here in the Pacific. And that’s the importance of this exhibition that I have the pleasure to open tonight – that it brings home to all of us the relevance of these SDGs to everyone living in vulnerable parts of the world such as Fiji. And their critical importance in sustaining all 7.5 billion people on Planet Earth. Ensuring our very survival.

I want to congratulate the organisers at UNDP Pacific and urge as many Fijians as possible to come to the Fiji Museum to see it. Because it transforms the 17 SDGs from words on a page – a bold statement of principles – into compelling images to which we can all relate. We can all appreciate.
And these images underline why the comprehensive plan of action the SDGs entail to improve the state of our world is so important for every Fijian.

I had the great privilege last month to be co-host – with the Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden – of the World Ocean Conference in New York. This was a gathering of the nations of the world to put the spotlight on the importance of implementing SDG 14 – to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources”. And to take urgent steps to combat the pollution and over-fishing that is degrading our oceans and seas the world over and poses such a threat to our planet and the livelihoods and well-being of our people.

It was a wonderful conference, not only because we achieved so much agreement on the need for decisive action but because, as co-host, we brought the special Fijian “Bula Spirit” to New York.

To be able to hold a yaqona ceremony and tabua presentation before the main podium of the UN General Assembly was a very special moment. Every Fijian in that great auditorium swelled with pride at the sight of the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, downing his bilo in one hit. And also hearing him praise Fiji for its rich cultural tradition and its service to the world.

Diplomats at the UN are usually a pretty unsentimental bunch. But a distinct wave of emotion also swept the vast room at the end of the conference when the entire Fijian delegation invited our Swedish partners to come forward and join us in the singing of “Isa Lei”.

The UN auditorium has seen many memorable moments over the years. The Russian President, Nikita Khrushchev, banging his shoe on the lectern. Yasser Arafat waving his pistol in the air. Fidel Castro giving the longest speech in UN history – Four hours and 48 minutes. But those present had never seen dozens of Fijians singing their hearts out and others joining in with them. And it was a special moment that none of us who witnessed it will ever forget. And, of course, made us all very proud to be Fijian.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the reason I am telling you this story is that SDG 13 also commits the global community to “take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts”. As you all know, Fiji has the privilege to be the incoming president of COP23 – the ongoing UN negotiations on climate change. And when we go to COP23 in Bonn in November, we will also be stamping the event with the Fijian “Bula Spirit”. As well as the concept of talanoa – of the world coming together to discuss the challenges we all face in the Pacific way – in a spirit of genuine dialogue, co-operation and mutual respect.

As the incoming President, I can tell you that we are going to need all the collective strength we can muster to keep these negotiations on track. To preserve the multilateral consensus for the implementation of the Paris Agreement for decisive action on climate change that was agreed at the end of 2015.

As you all know, President Trump has – very regrettably – decided to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and has set the American Government on a collision course with the rest of the world over this issue. I’m still hoping that the President will change his mind. And as I’ve said before, the door is always open for him to re-join the rest of us in staying committed to the reductions in heat-causing greenhouse gases we all agreed to in Paris.

But in the meantime, those of us who remain committed and are leading this campaign – including me as incoming COP President – are going to stick together. Because we simply cannot afford to drop the ball on decisive climate action. Our very survival in the Pacific depends on it, as I have said so many times before.

I was in Kadavu early on Friday morning when I got a phone call from President Macron of France. And in that call, he gave me the heads-up and sought my support for the announcement he made this past weekend of a special summit of global Leaders, which will be held in Paris on December the 12th to mark the second anniversary of the Paris Agreement.

The President invited me to be there and of course, I will be. Because it will be concentrating on one of the issues that is of most concern to me as COP President – access to finance to do what vulnerable nations need to do to adapt to the terrifying new world that awaits us. To build our resilience to the rising seas levels, extreme weather events and changes to agriculture caused by climate change.

It will be just over three weeks after COP itself in Bonn. But I agree with President Macron that we need to keep up the momentum. And the more we can focus global attention on this the better. Because as the new French Leader has said: There is no plan B other than decisive climate action because there is no Planet B.

I very much appreciated President Macron telling me that he fully supports me in the Presidency of COP23. And that France fully supports Fiji as it builds a Grand Coalition of governments at all levels – civil society, the private sector and global citizens everywhere – to keep this process on track. I regard the new French Leader as a very important partner and we hope to forge a much closer relationship with France in the lead-up to COP and beyond.

As Incoming President of COP23, I welcome the statement by the G20 Leaders who have just met in Hamburg that whatever the position of the US Government, the “Paris Agreement is irreversible” and must be fully implemented. Pacific Island Leaders’ meeting in Suva last week for our Climate Action Pacific Partnership event were looking for a strong statement from the G20 and we were pleased to get it.

Because we cannot afford to give any ground at all on our collective plan of action, which is to limit the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial level and pursue efforts to keep it to 1.5 degrees.

To do that, we need net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 at the latest. So among other things, this means every country striving to emulate France’s lead in banning petrol and diesel powered vehicles after 2040.

But, Ladies and Gentlemen, as I keep saying, national governments alone cannot achieve the transformation needed. Which is why the Grand Coalition that Fiji is leading is so important. Because decisive climate action must also come from state and local governments throughout the world, from civil society, from business and citizens everywhere. We all have a role to play and we must play it.

We must also put a human face on the impacts of climate change and the other SDGs. This is not some abstract thing that exists in charts and graphs. It is a real-world challenge affecting the lives and livelihoods of people around the world. Which is why an exhibition like this is so important in highlighting the urgency of implementing all of the SDGs and especially SDG 13. Because as I have said repeatedly: no sustainable development is possible without decisive action of climate change.

As I urge every Fijian to try to see this exhibition, I also want to use the opportunity to announce a photographic competition of my own specifically related to climate change.

At COP23 in November, we want delegates to be confronted with powerful images of the impacts of climate change on our region and on our people.

And so the incoming Presidency is launching a competition for both professional and amateur photographers to submit photos that show the human and environmental impacts of climate change, and how individuals and groups are mobilising to counter this threat.

To enter, participants must be over the age of 18 and reside in the Pacific. The full details, including the rules of the competition, are available on the COP23 website. And I encourage all those who are passionate about this issue, and have an interest in photography, to consider entering to help us tell our stories to the world.

And with that shameless plug of my own, Ladies and Gentlemen, I now have the great pleasure to again thank the organisers at UNDP Pacific and formally open this exhibition on the 17 SDGs.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

HON PM BAINIMARAMA – PARLIAMENTARY ADDRESS IN REPLY TO THE 2017 BUDGET

Madam Speaker, I rise to make my own response to the 2017 Budget. And I do so with great pride. Because the FijiFirst Government has kept its promise to the Fijian people to govern in the interests of everyone. To manage the economy responsibly. And as I also shared with the people from Kadavu last week, that as the economy grows, to share the benefits as widely as possible and especially with those who need them most.

With this budget, we have again kept the faith with our people – every Fijian worker and especially the young, the elderly and the vulnerable. We have produced a blueprint that is in their interests above all else. And I want to pay tribute to the Honourable Attorney General and Minister for Economy and his hardworking team for their dedication and commitment. Because I think the 2017 Budget isn’t just imaginative. It is brilliant. It is a brilliant budget. And because so many people are telling me the same thing, I know that much of the nation shares that view.

Madam Speaker, before I continue, I especially want to congratulate the AG and his wife, Ella, on the arrival on Friday of a new member of their family – a baby girl called Iman. It is obviously the happiest of times for the entire family and I am sure that every member of Parliament joins me in wishing them well.

That family includes the new baby’s grandfather opposite, the Honourable Viliame Gavoka, who has an even bigger grin on his face this morning than usual. Hopefully his excitement will mean that his own contribution to the budget debate will be a lot more positive than usual. But also Madam Speaker, we also want to wish him a happy birthday. He celebrated his birthday last Saturday. So, congratulations. So, I understand Madam Speaker the Attorney-General was full of celebration because of the two events.

Madam Speaker, our political opponents are saying this is an election budget. But Madam Speaker, every budget is an election budget. Because, Madam Speaker, we govern at the behest of the Fijian people. And we are in the business of being re-elected to continue the transformation of our beloved nation to take its rightful place in the world. Everyone knows Fiji required true transformation and this transformation must continue.

Madam Speaker, our people are already standing tall and proud in the knowledge that their living standards are better than those of their forbears. And they want this transformation to continue so they can be sure that the living standards of their children and grandchildren will be better than theirs.

This is not on the back of one budget but successive budgets over the past decade. Each of them building blocks that we are putting in place year by year to achieve our vision of eventually becoming a fully-fledged modern nation state. You see Madam Speaker, we have a vision. The other side of the House don’t have one. We have a vision for our country and the direction we should take to become a fully-fledged modern state. The other side has no vision at all. If they have one Madam Speaker, its only at the end of their noses. Because their vision Madam Speaker is to move from there to here. And when they get here Madam Speaker, God will help us all.

We are not fixated on short-term political gain like those opposite, except those on the opposite right corner. We have a plan to place Fiji in the best possible position to achieve greatness. And we have been doing that. One nation, one people, moving forward together and leaving no-one behind. And I will again be going into the next election with the AG and Minister for Economy by my side with the rest of the 49 candidates asking the Fijian people to enable us continue to lead that journey.

It is the same successful team that has produced the transformation of the past decade. Stability, confidence, consistency, innovation, genuine progress and empowerment. And, of course, our success in managing the economy will be a cornerstone of that campaign.

Madam Speaker, when the Fijian people put their trust in us again in 2018 it will be because each year, the budget has built on the achievements of the last. And they can look back over the past decade and see that the government’s reforms have made a real difference to their lives, the lives of their families and the life of our nation.

We have now had eight successive years of economic growth in spite of the natural disasters that have caused so much heartbreak for ordinary Fijians. Eight years in which the national pie has grown steadily bigger so that we can give everyone a larger slice. We are set to grow the economy this year by 3.8 per cent. And we are on track for a record decade of growth, something that has never happened before in post independent Fijian history. But that can only happen if FijiFirst wins the next election.

So, yes, Madam Speaker, when that election eventually comes around, I will be going to the Fijian people and saying: Don’t take my word for it. Look at the facts. The evidence all around you. And decide for yourselves when you cast your vote who is best placed to ensure your future economic security. Who is best placed to guarantee a viable future for our nation in an uncertain world. Who is best placed to move Fiji forward.

Madam Speaker, we have united our country after decades of uncertainty and turmoil. We have given everyone a common identity, a sense of belonging. We have guaranteed the rights of everyone under a constitution that is a model for other nations. We are empowering more Fijians than ever before, building a more inclusive society.

We have provided free schooling and scholarships and tertiary loans for our young people to achieve their full potential. We have strengthened the safety net for the disadvantaged, the sick, the disabled, our pensioners, our women, our children and our youth. For the first time, individual iTaukei landowners are assisted to develop their own land. For the first time.

Madam Speaker, we are transforming our infrastructure – our roads, ports and airports. Access to electricity and water systems has increased exponentially. We have enhanced our mana in the world and are leading the fight to save our oceans and the campaign of global action on climate change.

And underpinning all of this is the responsible management of our economy. Because as Bill Clinton – the former US President – once said when someone asked him about the key to political success: “it’s the economy, stupid”. Without sound economic management, without economic empowerment of individual citizens, no nation can function properly and achieve its full potential. And the main reason Fiji is functioning better now than in the entire period since independence is that this government has the economic settings right.

Madam Speaker, we understand how a modern economy works. We understand finance. We understand commercial potential and realities. And we are eager to draw on the best possible advice of others. Because global conditions are changing all the time and small nations can be very vulnerable to those changes. So we are also working closely with all our development partners. And they have endorsed our general economic direction, including the level of our national debt.

Our opponents say that debt is too high. Well it is not. And this is also according to many including the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the ratings agency, Moody’s. These are experts in such matters, not those from the opposite side or the Fiji Times, the Opposition Times as it is called now.

Madam Speaker, unlike previous governments in Fiji, we are only borrowing to build for the future. We are borrowing to invest in new infrastructure or improve the infrastructure we already have. And all over the world, targeted infrastructure spending is acknowledged as a key generator of economic growth.

Madam Speaker, I will leave it to the AG and my other ministers and parliamentarians to respond in detail to the Opposition’s sniping at aspects of the Budget. The inconsistencies in their arguments. The irrelevancy of their arguments. Their unrelentingly negative approach. But as I’ve witnessed the responses of opposition figures over the past nine days, I’ve come to realise that they just don’t get it. They have no idea how a modern economy works.

All they can do is home in on the inconsequential with no appreciation for the bigger picture. Picking out small things to quibble with instead of viewing the Budget as a whole. And understanding how every moving part relates to the other and contributes to the effectiveness of one big machine moving our nation forward.

Madam Speaker, it’s a bit like someone who looks at a beautiful baby girl and says “oh her left eyebrow is crooked”. So what? She’s still a beautiful little baby. These critics pick at the margins and contribute nothing in the way of constructive input about how our economy could be managed better. No alternatives. And instead of examining their own abysmal records as economic managers or their proposed economic policies, their supporters in the media and, I’ve heard on the blogs slavishly parrot their complaints.

That’s OK, Madam Speaker. That’s democracy. You can’t legislate against stupidity. But all I ask the Fijian people to do is to examine our record. Examine the facts.

I’ve said it before and I say it again. Unlike my political opponents, I have a fundamental respect for the intelligence and common sense of the Fijian people. I don’t lie to them. I don’t spread false rumours or prey on their fears. I don’t seek to divide and rule. I trust their judgement. And I know that when it comes to choosing who is best to govern them next year, they will exercise that judgement and make the right choice.

When they read the details of this budget or have it explained to them honestly, they can form their own opinion. But the one thing I respectfully ask them to ask themselves is this: Am I better off now than I was ten years ago? Do I have more opportunity now than I had ten years ago? Do my children have more opportunity now than ten years ago? Is Fiji in a better position than ten years ago? Are we all being treated equally and with dignity? And I believe the resounding answer to that is a big“yes”.

Madam Speaker, there are so many positive aspects in this budget but let me concentrate on a few. What we have done as a government to directly improve the lives of ordinary Fijian families. The hard-working men and women who are the backbone of our nation. As well as their children – the many tens of thousands of bright-eyed young people striving to reach their own potential and in whom the hopes of all us rest for a better Fiji.

Madam Speaker, with this budget, we have put more money into the pockets of ordinary Fijians – ordinary households – than at any other time in our history. And we have done it by raising the tax threshold – the point at which people pay any income tax at all – from $16,000 a year to $30,000 a year.

This almost doubling of the tax threshold dramatically improves the disposal income and consequently the living standards of our lower income earners. I don’t know if they understand that. It means that a single income household can keep every cent of any amount up to $30,000 that the breadwinner earns. And in two income families, every cent up to $60,000. No tax. All yours.

More money in peoples’ pockets to spend as they choose. And as they use that spending power to buy more goods and services, the positive effective multiplies. The demand they generate generates more power in the wider economy. More demand, more growth, more wealth. More small to medium businesses. Which also means more people leaping over the income tax threshold, contributing to the nation’s coffers and enabling us to expand our social programs to assist those who are most in need.

Madam Speaker, to meet our social obligations, we require greater social responsibility on the part of some of those on higher incomes. So we are saying to those who earn more than $30,000 a year – and especially our top earners – that we expect you to meet your tax obligations to enable us to fund our programs. Very simple.

Whether you are an individual or a business, you must pay your rightful share. And if you want to rip off your fellow Fijians – whether by avoiding tax or charging more than you should be the items you sell – we intend to hold you to account. Which is why I am especially proud of those measures in the budget that are designed to protect ordinary consumers from the predatory practices of selfish and dishonest business owners.

When a supermarket chain is penalized for $53-million dollars for tax evasion, it says a lot about some people’s values. But it also says a lot about this government’s values when those people are brought to account for ripping off their fellow Fijians.

Because above all, Madam Speaker, we believe in fairness. A fair go for every Fijian, no matter who they are or where they come from. And at every level, we are striving for fairness in the system so that people aren’t ripped off. They aren’t disadvantaged.

Madam Speaker, no-one would like to see the basic hourly pay rate for unskilled workers rise more than me. In this budget, we have taken it from $2.32 an hour to $2.68 an hour. The sectoral wages in other areas have also been increased. These figures, Madam Speaker, have been arrived at after widespread public consultations, the input of professionals and taking into account the numerous types of direct and indirect assistance my government provides to low income earners. These minimum rates are what we can afford as a nation at our current stage of development.

Madam Speaker, raising the minimum wage too much would actually result in a loss of jobs, as well as higher inflation. Many people might not be able to afford domestic help, for example, and small businesses may not be able to retain staff, let alone hire new ones. It would also drive up costs for many self-employed people and the 130,000 Fijians in the informal economy – those who drive taxis, own micro-enterprises, sell goods in the markets or sell coconuts and other produce by the roadsides. They have no way to offset those costs and raising the minimum wage too much would actually do them great harm.

Madam Speaker, a responsible government must be concerned with the effects of a wage rise on everyone in society and try to do what benefits the most people and disadvantages the fewest. And that is what we have done.

Again, ordinary Fijians understand this even if some of the opposition parties don’t. Ordinary Fijians also know that many are now paid way above the minimum wages in the different sectors due to the high demand, for example, in the construction sector. And they can also see the great things this government has also provided to relieve some of the cost of living pressures on ordinary people – the free schooling, increased subsidised electricity tariffs, free water, the free medicine, the subsidised bus fares and all those things that weren’t there when this government took office. But that people now take for granted.

Even if they haven’t had the benefit of a proper education – as their children have been able to get for the first time- our unskilled workers have always had common sense and the ability to think for themselves. And they certainly know the difference between a handout and a leg-up. A handout that doesn’t have a lasting impact. And a leg-up that does. Your government providing you and your family with opportunities to improve your living standard as well as encouraging you to capitalise on your own sense of enterprise. Your own hard work. This is the key to moving Fiji forward and we intend to continue this approach all the way to the next election and beyond.

It is the philosophical principle behind our Micro and Small Business Grants Program. That by giving many thousands of ordinary Fijians a leg-up to start their own businesses or improve the ones they already have, we are building an enterprise culture in Fiji. We move away from the idea that government exists to provide handouts and replace it with the notion that government exists to help people help themselves. And having lit that flame of enterprise with these grants, ordinary men and women all over Fiji are responding. Eager, with the assistance of government, to work as hard as they can to improve their lives and those of their families. And contribute to the growth of the Fijian economy.

Madam Speaker, I’m very proud that in this budget, we extend that leg-up to our energetic young people, with the $2-million allocated to assist enterprising young Fijians with their businesses. YES – or the Young Entrepreneurship Scheme – will offer grants up to a maximum of $20,000 to Fijians between the ages of 18 and 30 to develop or expand innovative business ideas.

These applications will be determined by a panel headed by the CEO of the ANZ Bank and I am very pleased to see the private sector partner with us in this venture. As the AG says, we want young Fijians to be job creators not just job seekers. And this is yet another example of the government empowering our young people, as we have also done in this budget with our Commercial Agricultural Scholarships and the recruiting of youth community workers through the Ministry of Youth and Sports.

Madam Speaker, another breakthrough I want to highlight are the pay increases for civil servants – some of them very significant – that are part of our civil service reforms. We are increasing the pay of civil servants because we want to make a career in government service an attractive option for a lot more gifted Fijians. Those who might otherwise go into the private sector or civil society, where pay scales have often been more attractive.

And Madam Speaker, it is also about lifting the performance standards of civil servants so that they serve the public better. Now that we have the base salary and the structure sorted out, going forward, pay rises will be dependent on individual performance-based assessments. Anyone on the public payroll will have to demonstrate that they deserve them. They need to be able to behave professionally, to perform their duties to the highest possible standard. Non-performance will not be tolerated.

Madam Speaker we want those who commit themselves to government service to be treated with the best possible remuneration and with respect. We want them to have a conducive environment to perform to the maximum of their capacity and develop themselves individually through access to increased training and technology. But we are insisting that, in return, they must treat the public with more efficiency and respect as they carry out their duties as servants of the Fijian people, as required by the Constitution.

And so, Madam Speaker, those are some of the values of the FijiFirst Government that underpin this Budget. Above all, the teamwork that we have brought to the governance of our nation, including the great partnership I forged a decade ago with the architect of the budget – the AG and Minister of Economy – whose own commitment and professionalism I salute. Along with that of my entire team.

Just as we passionately believe in fair play as a nation on the sporting field, the government passionately believes in fair play in our national life. And, Madam Speaker, above all this budget is fair. It balances the needs of everyone. It empowers more Fijians than ever before. And it builds on the achievements of previous years, setting us on a path for renewed growth in 2018 and beyond. So that by the time the 50th anniversary of independence comes around in 2020, Fiji will not only have enjoyed an unprecedented period of stability but of prosperity and a fairer deal for all.

I commend this Budget to the House.

Thank you, Madam Speaker.

HON PM BAINIMARAMA CLOSING ADDRESS AT THE CLIMATE ACTION PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP EVENT

Your Excellencies, heads of state and governments, Honourable ministers,
Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Bula vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all.

I apologise for being absent for part of today as much of the nation gathered on the other side of Viti Levu for the funeral of a wonderful lady and one of our most respected chiefs – Adi Laite Koroirua, Na Marama Na Tui Ba.

But as we bring our deliberations to a close, I want to warmly thank all of you for the commitment that you have brought to making this conference a success.

We have been newly reminded of our vulnerability in the Pacific not only to climate change but our transport links. Problems with an aeroplane prevented two important people from joining us – the current chair of the PSIDS, His Excellency the President of Nauru, and the leader of one of the more climate vulnerable of our members, President Heine of the Marshall Islands.

But I’m sure that you will all join me is sending our greetings to them and the people of Nauru and the Marshall islands. And to thank them for their own commitment to the struggle against climate change.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, the feedback that I have got about our meeting has been very positive. I think there was an expectation on the part of some delegates that much of the sessions would be pretty dry and technical. But several people have remarked to me that they were pleasantly surprised to find that they got so much out of the presentations in the way of practical information. Information that was news to them and can really make a difference.

We ranged across many subjects, from climate adaptation funding and insurance to ways in which we can boost our food security in the face of climate change. And I know there was certainly a great deal of interest in the issue of agriculture, such as the way the use of compost can transform our ability to grow crops on even the most isolated and sandy atolls.

So to all of our speakers – no matter what your area of specialist knowledge – vinaka vakalevu, the biggest of thank yous – for contributing that expertise to the bank of knowledge we so badly need in the Pacific as we build our resistance to climate change.

To my fellow island leaders, thank you once again for honouring me with your presence, not only as Fijian leader but as incoming President of COP23. We all bring a particular perspective to these discussions based on personal experience and the experience of our peoples. And there is certainly nothing wrong with having differences of emphasis and even differences of opinion about the best way forward.

What’s important given the immensity of the challenge we face to persuade the world to act on climate change is to stick together. Because we are going to be far more effective if we speak with one voice – the voice of the Pacific, the voice of the some of the most vulnerable, demanding action and demanding to be heard.

I want to thank my fellow island leaders for the sentiments they expressed about the importance of Fiji’s presidency of COP – this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to put our case. And let me close this conference by repeating that I see this as a Pacific presidency and want all of you beside me as we make our case.

I will again see many of you at the Climate Action Week in New York in September and the annual gathering of the UN General Assembly. But the date I would really like you all to put in your diaries is the Pre-COP in Nadi on October 17 and 18.
This is a critical event a month out from COP itself that will refine our collective position and set the tone for our overall approach in Bonn. So I ask you all to be present as honoured guests. We are also inviting a number of leaders from outside the region to join us in a collective act of solidarity with the Pacific and other vulnerable nations. And some of the biggest global names in climate activism have also accepted our invitation to be there.

Excellencies, as you all know, COP23 – unlike previous COPS – does not include the usual gathering of world leaders. Our prime task is to advance the implementation guidelines for the Paris Agreement – the Rulebook – and lay the groundwork for more decision climate action in the Facilitative Dialogue of 2018. Yet right from the start, Fiji wanted Pacific leaders to be the exception. And we were able to secure the agreement of our German hosts for you to all be present in Bonn – the Pacific presenting a united face alongside Fiji as president to remind the global community of what’s at stake. And remind it of its obligations to pursue decisive climate action.

So again, please set aside November 6 to 17 to be in Bonn as honoured guests and to be with me as COP president as we pursue our collective agenda. As I’ve already said, I want to use your mana as leaders individually and collectively. As well as the mana of former Pacific leaders who have been at the forefront of the climate struggle over the years and whose experience and wisdom we also want to tap. And I appeal to all of you to come.

I also want to make special mention as we wind up our conference of our two distinguished guests from our larger neighbours – the Australian Minister for International Cooperation and the Pacific, who is still with us, and the Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand, who has already returned home. As incoming COP President, I very much appreciate the high level engagement of our friends – the Kiwis and Aussies. Geography binds us together in perpetuity. And while we may have our own differences of emphasis and opinion, we have a shared destiny that also binds us together. And the island nations especially look to you for leadership on climate change. Not only to preserve the multilateral consensus for decisive action but to build our resilience.

I want to say to both countries again how much we in Fiji appreciated the way your wonderful servicemen and women came to assist us in the wake of Cyclone Winston last year. We know we can rely on New Zealand and Australia to come to our assistance at times of grave emergency due to the extreme weather events cause by climate change. And we also hope that you can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with us as we work to persuade the world to tackle the underlying causes of those events. It’s been great having both ministers gracing us with their presence here in Suva.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, as you know, we have been working on a joint statement to wrap up the CAPP Event. But right now, it remains only for me to again thank you all warmly for your participation. And until we gather together again in Nadi in October and Bonn in November, to wish you all a pleasant and safe journey home.

My thanks go to the entire team that has dedicated so many hours to making this gathering a success. To the head of the COP23 Fiji Secretariat, John Connor, and his hard-working staff. And especially our Climate Champion – my minister and friend, the Honourable Inia Seruiratu. He has shown great energy and commitment crisscrossing the world pursing the action agenda. And as you know, has played a very important role in these proceedings.

I now have the pleasure to formally close the Climate Action Pacific Partnership Event. And until we continue our talanoa elsewhere,

Vinaka vakalevu. And moce mada.

HON PM BAINIMARAMA OPENING ADDRESS AT THE CLIMATE ACTION PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP EVENT

Your Excellencies my fellow Pacific Island leaders,
The Honourable Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand,
The Honourable Australian Minister for International Development and the Pacific,
The Chair of the CAPP event – our Climate Champion, the Honourable Inia Seruiratu.
Distinguished representatives of governments and regional organisations,
Representatives of civil society and the private sector,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all.

The next 48 hours are an extremely important opportunity for us all, as we come together to do what we can, here in the Pacific, to advance the global climate action agenda.

We face an unprecedented threat to our way of life from the rising sea levels, extreme weather events and changes to agriculture brought about by climate change.

No one living in the Pacific can be left in any doubt about what is at stake. As the incoming President of COP23 – the ongoing UN climate negotiations – I still get some people saying to me: Why are you doing this? Why are you spending so much time travelling the world when you have a job to do in Fiji? And my simple answer is this:

As Pacific Islanders, we are fighting for our very survival. For all we hold dear. For all that God has given us and has been entrusted to us by our forebears to care for and pass on to generations to come. And for some of our number, their very existence as sovereign nations with land and coastlines hangs in the balance.

I want to particularly welcome and honour the leaders of two of our neighbours who are most at risk – President Maamau of Kiribati and Prime Minister Sopoaga of Tuvalu.

Excellencies, you carry the grave responsibility of trying to save your nations and your peoples from existential threat – the prospect of the islands you love and the resting place of your ancestors disappearing beneath the waves altogether.

Of all the vulnerable nations of the world, you are the most vulnerable. Of all the moral force we can muster to remind the world of its obligations, you have the greatest moral force of all. Because to allow sovereign nations to slip beneath the rising seas altogether to preserve the economies and lifestyles of others would be an act of unparalleled selfishness and injustice. And any global citizen who believes in justice has no moral choice other than to side with you in your struggle.

On behalf of everyone in this room, I ask you to convey to your people that we rededicate ourselves to that struggle today. We are with you. We are doing everything we can to stand up for you in the great forums of the world. We will never abandon you, just as we will continue to fight for justice for every single vulnerable person on earth.

And even if the battle to keep your islands above the water is lost, we will continue to stand shoulder- to-shoulder with you. Fiji has offered to give permanent refuge to the people of Kiribati and Tuvalu, our closest neighbours under threat. And we expect the United States to do the same for the people of the Marshall Islands – who share your plight – because of their long-standing historical ties.

In a worst-case scenario, we know that there will be climate refugees throughout the world. But the people of Kiribati and Tuvalu will not be refugees. We Fijians will embrace you and take you into our homes and our hearts. That is our solemn promise to you as Pacific neighbours and friends. And we ask other countries to offer the same hospitality to anyone who is displaced by climate change. Because ultimately, we are one world, one people. And as the new French President said so aptly the other day: there is no plan B other than decisive climate action because there is no planet B.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, I also offer a special welcome to our distinguished guests from our larger neighbours – the Honourable Paula Bennett, the New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Climate Change Issues and the Honourable Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, the Australian Minister for International Development and the Pacific.

I often say that our best chance of achieving lasting change in any sphere is to tap the energy and resourcefulness of our women. So it is wonderful to see the leadership role that these two women are taking on the issue of climate change. We in the Pacific Islands look to Australia and New Zealand for leadership in helping us to highlight our own challenges. And we very much hope that both countries can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the PSIDS leaders by supporting the position we adopt here and throughout Fiji’s Presidency of COP23.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, in this room today are the various Pacific elements of the Grand Coalition I am helping to forge across the world as incoming COP President to step up the momentum for climate action. Representatives of governments, regional organisations, civil society and the private sector – all focused on the huge task that lies before us.

We are not pointing our fingers at the rest of the world and saying “it is your responsibility to solve this problem”. We recognise that it is the collective responsibility of every global citizen to contribute to a solution.

In this spirit of collective responsibility, I was honoured, on Fiji’s behalf, to formally endorse the “Under2 Coalition” and appoint the Governor of California, Jerry Brown, as my Special COP23 Envoy to the States and Regions. This important initiative has mobilised nearly 180 sub-national governments around the world to do their part to tackle climate change. And you will hear from Governor Brown shortly.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, today we bring together some of the best minds, biggest investors, and most committed climate action campaigners in our own region to examine what we can do. A fresh exchange of ideas, a search for innovation, for solutions that we can pursue here in the Pacific that can be part of a global solution. And that can even inspire others to pursue greater ambition and action elsewhere.

As many of you already know, this Climate Action Pacific Partnership Event – CAPP – is part of the program of activities of the High Level Champions appointed under the Paris Agreement. They include our own High level Champion, The Honourable Inia Seruiratu – Fiji’s Minister for Minister for Agriculture, Rural and Maritime Development and National Disaster. And I want to warmly thank him for the energy and commitment he is bringing to this role.

Our agenda over the next two days includes a number of interactive sessions with contributions from Pacific leaders, civil society and the private sector. All of you have a great deal in the way of skills, knowledge and experience to add to our collective ability to design solutions to the challenges we face.

As incoming COP President, I want to stress the importance of three basic principles as we examine the various options.

First, any potential solutions we embrace must be transformative. They must be able to make a real difference and be game-changers.

Second, they must also be practical and affordable enough to be embraced on a greater scale. So that something that works in Fiji can also work across the Pacific.

And finally, they must be able to be replicated. Something innovative that happens in one community can also happen in communities across the region.

After my speech here this morning, I’m going to open something that ticks all of these boxes – one of the biggest companies in Fiji, Coca-Cola Amatil, embracing solar energy to help power its local plant in Nasinu. Almost 4000 solar panels have been installed across almost 11-thousand square metres of roof space to generate 40 per cent of the site’s energy requirements. The plan is to take this to 80 per cent and extend the solar program to plants in Lautoka and Labasa. But already, the company is saving 415-thousand litres of diesel every year, along with 975 tonnes of carbon.

I certainly encourage other companies and investors to follow this lead. Because it’s a practical and highly effective way in which the private sector can make its own contribution to the fight against climate change.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, as we embark on our discussions this morning, I want to emphasise the critical importance of teamwork, not only within nations and regions but the entire world. The various strands of the grand coalition each of you represent must be fully committed to working collaboratively together and be totally focused on the mission ahead.

I have said before that we are all in same canoe, not just the island nations but the whole world. No-one is immune to the effects of climate change. All 7.5 billion people are in the same boat. And to symbolise the critical importance of the “one world” concept, we are going to have an ocean-going Fijian canoe – a Drua – in the main foyer in Bonn when we gather for COP23 itself in November. There’ll be a taste of this when another Drua sails past us here at lunchtime. And I hope you all enjoy the spectacle.

It is to remind everyone that we need to fill our sails with a collective determination to move the climate agenda forward. To not only maintain the course that was set in Paris at the end of 2015 – to fully implement the historic agreement we reached – but speed up the process. Because if we don’t, the world – and especially our precious island homes – face certain catastrophe.

We all know the challenge the world faces because the American Government has abandoned its leadership on this issue. But we must do whatever we can to encourage America to resume that leadership. The door is always open to President Trump. But in the meantime, we must support those Americans who remain committed to climate action. And we must fortify every other nation to stay the course.

So on behalf of us all, I want to send the strongest possible message to the leaders of the G20 Group of Major Economies – including President Trump – who will gather for their summit in the German city of Hamburg later this week.

Please do not abandon us, we in the Pacific who are among the most vulnerable to climate change. Please commit yourselves to showing solidarity with vulnerable nations around the world. Whether it is embracing more decisive climate action. Or giving developing nations readier access to adaptation finance and insurance that builds greater resilience and cleaner economies. Or to work more closely with the private sector and investors to do both.

To the leaders of the G20: We have not caused this crisis, your nations have. As our opening prayer this morning put it, we have trodden lightly on the earth whereas you have trodden heavily. And those carbon footprints pose a threat to us in the Pacific and to all humanity.

The vulnerable nations expect you to genuinely work towards the objectives you agreed to in the Paris Agreement – to keep global temperatures well below 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial level and pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5 degrees.

We expect you to meet the initial climate action commitments you have already made. But we also ask you to go a lot further, because what we have all committed so far is simply not enough to deal effectively with the scale of the crisis the world is facing.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, as COP President, my formal role come November will be to continue to develop the implementation guidelines of the Paris Agreement – the Rulebook – and prepare for more ambitious climate action through the Facilitative Dialogue of 2018. But it has become very clear to me as incoming President that what is considered ambitious now isn’t nearly ambitious enough. We must all make a greater effort, and it is simple logic, basic science, that the biggest carbon emitters must make the greatest reductions of all.

The full implementation of the Paris Agreement is a critical first step and every nation must fulfill the Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs they have made. But it has become clear since Paris that the pace of climate change is even faster than was thought at the time and its impacts are far more serious.

So let me leave you with some of the very latest information that has alarmed me and ought to be of grave concern for every global citizen, and especially those of us in the Pacific.

The current NDCs fall well short of what is needed to achieve the objective of the Paris Agreement – again – to keep global temperatures well below 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial level and pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5 degrees. In fact, even if all of the commitments are honoured, the global temperature will be on track to be just under three degrees. And this would be a disaster for the whole planet.

It would mean that Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands are doomed, along with a great many other atolls as well. It would intensify the extreme weather events like Cyclone Winston and Cyclone Pam that have caused so much havoc for Pacific nations. And it would make it virtually impossible for our agriculture to be able to continue to feed our people.

The scientists are now telling us that with the disappearance of the summer ice around the North Pole and the eventual melting of the Arctic and Greenland, the global average sea rise would be a terrifying seven metres. Which means this room would be flooded to the ceiling.

Much of Suva, as we know it, would be under water, and so would large parts of every coastal city in the world. And given that 80 per cent of the world’s cities are on coastlines, the global economy would be devastated. And along with that, the living standards of people throughout the world.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, on the best scientific advice, that is the nightmare scenario we face. So to anyone who questions my own commitment to making this a priority I say: What would you do? When the survival of your capital city is at stake, much of your own country and the very existence of some of your neighbours.

That is why I am doing what I have to do. That is why Fiji has taken on the COP Presidency. To show leadership and guide the world towards a solution to undoubtedly the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced.

On the best advice, we must by 2020, fundamentally turn the current position around. We must not abandon our Paris target of 1.5 degrees above the pre-industrial age however difficult it may be to reach. We must also achieve net zero emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gasses within a few decades. That means shifting away from fossil fuels altogether and embracing renewable energy. As well as taking carbon out of the atmosphere through such means as planting forests and mangroves.

I must also be very frank with my own people and other Pacific islanders that in some instances for us, it is already too late. We are already one degree above the temperature of the pre-industrial age. And with that, we are already seeing the destruction of some of our reefs through coral bleaching, with all that entails for our food security, our tourism, our entire way of life.

And so Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, there is an urgency about the task ahead that cannot be overstated. I ask you all to use these next two days to continue to put the Pacific on a leadership footing as we alert the world to the challenges we face. Help make the Pacific story one of investment and innovation, not one of destruction and despair.

I have said all along that Fiji has taken on the role of incoming President of COP23 on behalf of all Pacific Islanders, as well as the citizens of vulnerable nations everywhere. This is very much a Pacific Presidency, an inclusive process in which you all have a role to play. So I thank you all for honouring us – honouring me – with your attendance. I wish you well in your deliberations and as always, encourage our visitors to enjoy your interaction with our people, our environment, and our world famous Fijian hospitality.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

HON PM BAINIMARAMA REMARKS TO PSIDS LEADERS AT BREAKFAST MEEETING ON COP23 UPDATE

Your Excellencies, my fellow Pacific Island leaders,
Honourable Ministers and officials,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all.

I have said all along that Fiji has taken on the role of incoming President of COP23 on behalf of all Pacific islanders, as well as the citizens of vulnerable nations throughout the world. So I’m honoured to have the opportunity to give you a progress report on what we are doing to make our leadership of the ongoing UN climate negotiations an unqualified success.

I very much see this as a Pacific presidency – an inclusive process in which I ask you all to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Fiji as we give voice to the concerns of our own countries, our own region. And because we are among the most vulnerable to climate change, to also lead the fight on behalf of every vulnerable person on earth.

As you all know, the stakes for all of us are extremely high. And especially for our friends from Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Marshall Islands, whose very existence is threatened.

It is an absolute imperative for all of us that the Paris Agreement of 2015 is fully implemented. And that we try to persuade the rest of the world to embrace even more ambitious action in the years to come. Because we all know that even the current national contributions to the Paris Agreement are not enough to save us.

We are all, quite naturally, bitterly disappointed by the decision of the Trump Administration to abandon the Paris Agreement. Not only because of the loss of American leadership on this issue of critical importance to the whole world. But because it may also encourage other nations to either back away from the commitments they have made or not implement them with the same resolve.

But something wonderful is also happening. The American decision is galvanizing opinion around the world in support of decisive climate action. Other nations and blocs like China, the European Union and India are stepping forward to assume the leadership that Donald Trump has abandoned. And within America itself, there is a widespread rebellion against the decision the President has taken. Dozens of state governors and city mayors are banding together with leaders of the private sector, civil society and ordinary citizens to redouble their efforts to meet this challenge. So while the Trump Administration may have abandoned its leadership on climate change, the American people haven’t.

Next week, I will go to California to meet the Democrat Governor Jerry Brown and sign up to the climate action initiative that he is spearheading. I am also in contact with his Republican predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who shares Governor Brown’s commitment. The point is that on both sides of American politics, we have friends who are standing with us in this struggle. And I am inviting both Governor Brown and the famous Terminator to come to our Pre-COP gathering in Fiji in October, where we hope they will join us in a gesture of solidarity with the vulnerable just before COP23 itself in Bonn the following month.

Excellencies, my message to all of you today – my kai vata as we say in Fiji, my Pacific brothers and sisters, is this: As incoming president of COP23, I want you by my side all year at the big events leading up to Bonn in November. This is not just about Frank or about Fiji but every Pacific leader, every Pacific nation, every civil society group, every private sector body, everyone who represents the ordinary men, women and children in the Pacific who look to us for leadership on this issue of critical importance to our collective future.

I want your input. I need your input. And I want every Pacific leader beside me as we demand decisive action to protect the security of our people and those in other vulnerable parts of the world.

I want to issue a warm personal invitation to you all to come to Suva next month – on July 3 and 4 – for our Climate Action Pacific Partnership event. This is where Pacific leaders will join members of civil society and the private sector to hammer out an agenda that we can collectively pursue as the year progresses. And that we can take to our Pre-COP in Nadi in October and to Bonn the following month.

We will also be discussing a number of legacy items – programs and projects that can be of lasting benefit to the Pacific after COP23 has ended. And we also seek your input on that. We have the funding to pay for the attendance of all PIDS leaders plus one other official and I appeal to you all to set aside those dates to be with us in Fiji.

I also invite every Pacific leader to again join me in Denarau for the Pre-COP on October 17 and 18. This is a critical event a month out from COP itself that will refine our collective position and set the tone for our overall approach in Bonn. As I mentioned, we are also inviting a number of leaders from outside the region to join us in a collective act of solidarity with the Pacific and other vulnerable nations. Again, we have the funding to bring every PSIDS leader plus one official to Nadi.

Excellencies, as you all know, COP23 – unlike previous COPS – does not include the usual gathering of world leaders. Our prime task is to advance the implementation guidelines for the Paris Agreement – the Rulebook – and lay the groundwork for more decision climate action in the Facilitative Dialogue of 2018.

We will not have the usual round of speeches from world leaders because they won’t be there. Yet right from the start, Fiji wanted Pacific leaders to be the exception. And we have secured the agreement of our German hosts for you to all to be present in Bonn – the Pacific presenting a united face alongside Fiji as president to remind the global community of what’s at stake. And remind it of its obligations to pursue decisive climate action.

Again, please set aside November 6 to 17 to be in Bonn as honoured guests and to be with me as COP president as we pursue our collective agenda. I want to use your mana as leaders individually and collectively. As well as the mana of former Pacific leaders who have been at the forefront of the climate struggle over the years and whose experience and wisdom we also want to tap. Again, funding assistance is available through the UNFCCC to enable you to be in Bonn. And I appeal to all of you to come.

In the meantime, please use your influence to get your own climate-related stories told. Fiji has set up a dedicated website – cop23.com.fj – to promote our presidency and we are especially keen to get contributions from our Pacific neighbours. Just go to the contact page on our website to begin the process.

Excellencies, let me briefly explain how we intend to run the Bonn event from Fiji’s perspective. It will be very much a team effort – Fiji’s presidency, not just my own – and I will be relying heavily on the great team we have already assembled – our Chief Negotiator, Ambassador Nazhat Shameem Khan, our Climate Champion, Minister Inia Seruiratu and our Climate Ambassador, Ambassador Deo Saran. Plus a wider team of officials and advisors, most of them Fijian and others with globally acknowledged expertise in climate policy and experience of previous COPs.

The way I see the Fijian team operating in Bonn on a day-to-day basis throughout the proceedings is this: Our Climate Negotiator, Ambassador Shameem Khan, will do the detailed negotiations in the plenary sessions. And as President, I will have a roving brief, presiding over the main events and having the ability to intervene at other times. To give encouragement where needed and especially to use my authority and powers of persuasion to iron out any impasse. To keep people focused and hold the show together.

At the same time, I seek the assistance of all Pacific leaders to enable me to fulfill an important undertaking that I have made. To bring the two zones in Bonn closer together – the Bula Zone where the formal government-to-government negotiations take place. And the Bonn Zone some distance away, which will be the climate action zone for non-state actors. Whether they be representatives of state or local governments around the world, NGOs, other civil society organisations and interfaith groups, the private sector and ordinary citizens.

I want you to join me in spending a great deal of time in this climate action zone, interacting with the various players and ordinary people. We will have a pavilion in which you can base yourselves. And we can take our inclusive Pacific way of doing things – of listening to others and genuinely respecting their views – and transpose it onto the global scene to advance the cause of climate action.

In Fiji’s case, we intend to bring our Bula Spirit to Bonn – to showcase our unique culture and way of life. And we are also harnessing the Talanoa Spirit – a word we share with our Tongan and Samoan neighbours – to promote the concept of dialogue on climate change that is inclusive, respectful, non judgmental and achieves concrete results.

I was amazed at the recent Petersberg Climate Dialogue in Berlin how much other delegates reacted positively – even with excitement – to my explanation of the Talanoa Spirit. They began using the term in their own speeches. And I am convinced that the world is receptive to some of our Pacific ways of doing things – of genuine dialogue rather than being prescriptive. Of each nation, each person, gaining a genuine appreciation of the challenges faced by others. And working together in a genuine spirit of cooperation to find solutions to undoubtedly the greatest challenge the world has ever faced.

So Excellencies, please join me as we set out on this voyage together. I said in Berlin that we are all in the same canoe. We are all in this together. Climate change spares no-one, not even Donald Trump. We are all affected. We are all at risk. And as a symbol of the challenge we face together and the journey we all need to make, we will be placing a large Fijian ocean-going canoe – a Drua – in the main foyer in Bonn.

Amid all the talanoa, there will also be a great deal of Fijian singing and dancing, thanks to the generosity of our German hosts in paying for our cultural branding of COP23. And I would encourage all of you to also bring your own performers, if you can find the means, to give the entire event a wider Pacific stamp.

One word of caution. It’s going to be very cold in Bonn in November. As I told the European media the other day, don’t expect to photograph me without my shirt. But what we lack in terms of the weather, we intend to make up in terms of personal warmth.

So, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, let’s infuse COP23 with the spirit of Pacific friendliness and hospitality and make it the best COP ever. One that will live forever in the memories of those present and showcase our region and its people to the world.

We had a very successful initial session in Bonn last month. Working with the Moroccan Presidency of COP22, we made solid progress on the implementation guidelines and the Facilitative Dialogue. And we agreed that the process should be about confidence building, empowerment and encouragement, not about finger pointing and punishment.

But as I have said to my own people, teamwork is paramount if we are to make COP23 a success. Like our world champion, Olympic medal winning Rugby Sevens team, Fiji cannot afford to drop the ball on climate action. The Pacific cannot afford to drop the ball on climate action. We need to work together as a team to persuade the world to get points on the board if we are to ensure our own security and the security of generations of Pacific Islanders to come.

Now more than ever, given the Trump Administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, the whole world will be watching. And I look to my fellow Pacific leaders to get into the scrum with me, get that ball out and move it forward. With a team that includes governments, civil society, the private sector and billions of ordinary people around the world, all trying to win one for ourselves and for our planet.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

HON PM BAINIMARAMA OPENING REMARKS AT “A BLUE COMMONWEALTH” – HIGH LEVEL ROUNDTABLE AT THE OCEANS CONFERENCE

Your Excellency, the Secretary General of the Commonwealth,
Your Excellency the Vice President of the Republic of Seychelles,
Distinguished participants from other Commonwealth nations,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Bula vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all.

The Commonwealth continues to play a leading role in global affairs and I’m delighted to be given the opportunity to open this important side event – a high level roundtable on what the Commonwealth can do to support the implementation of SDG14.

I particularly welcome the emphasis on maximizing innovation and economic opportunities in the development of blue economies. I made the point when I addressed an event for the ACP countries this morning that many of us are already making great strides in this area.

We may be powerless to prevent the degradation of our seas and coastlines by other nations. But for the areas we do control, some of us have already developed policies that are making a difference. And I urge you all to embrace the principle that Fiji has embraced. That no development on land or at sea must take place if there is any risk to the environment whatsoever. It is a central tenet of our Green Growth Framework and national development plans. And – as I said this morning – we are very proud as a nation to have drawn this responsible line in the sand.

I also welcome today’s emphasis on mobilizing partnerships within the Commonwealth – this unique organisation that binds us all together – and on fairness, equity and the empowerment of women. Because we all know that when women are empowered, they become powerful agents for change, wherever they are in the world and in whatever capacity they are able to direct their talents. They are the backbone of our societies and in many places, are already leading the way to a more sustainable future.
No-one knows this more than our distinguished Secretary-General, Patricia Scotland, who hails from a Small Island Developing State in the Caribbean and is a living embodiment of the leadership women can provide with empowerment. More than most, she also knows the challenges we all face in the SIDS countries because of the steady degradation of our oceans and seas. And we certainly look forward to hearing her proposals for the development of a ‘Blue Charter’ – a set of guiding principles for sustainable, fair and equitable economic development of our oceans based on the Commonwealth Charter. Once again, Baroness Scotland, we thank you for your leadership on this issue and many others.

The wonderful thing about the Commonwealth is the strength we all derive from our ability to share our experiences and learn from each other. And we all look forward to hearing about the challenges and successes of developing blue economies from a range of speakers who also embody the diversity of our organisation. From Bangladesh, Barbados, Cyprus, Grenada and Fiji’s close neighbour and friend, Tonga. As well as representatives of the Commonwealth Foundation and UNCTAD.

Welcome to you all and thank you for your own commitment to the great task before us this week, which is, quite simply, to save our oceans before it is too late.

Our thanks go to the Government of the Seychelles and the Commonwealth Secretariat as our hosts. And I now have great pleasure to declare this high level roundtable on a Blue Commonwealth open.

Vinaka vakalevu, Thank you.