Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all.

What a pleasure it is to be here with all of you to officially open the first-ever High School to service this community – the new Jeremiah College. Today is a tremendous occasion for the people of Tacirua and all of its surrounding settlements, as it marks the start of an educational journey that will carry your children and the many generations to come into a new era of knowledge and prosperity.

Thank you for the welcome you have afforded me and my delegation. I’ve said it many times, that to be here among all of you – to see the smiles of your children and to work with you to help build a better Fiji – is the highlight of my job as Prime Minister.

This new school is one of many developments throughout Fiji that my Government is working hard to bring into our communities – so that every Fijian has an equal shot at bettering their lives, and my Government is working equally hard on the global stage to protect all the progress we have already achieved in that regard.

Last year, I spent many days abroad encouraging all nations of the world to change the wasteful and irresponsible behaviour that is warming our planet and causing severe weather events – like Tropical Cyclone Winston – and other disasters. Some of the consequences of that behaviour cause immediate devastation, like severe storms or the droughts that threaten our crops and our ability to sustain ourselves. Others cause great damage continually over time, like the warming of the oceans that threaten coral reefs and marine species. But immediate or gradual, they all cost much pain and suffering. And to be here with you all serves as a reminder of everything I am fighting so hard to protect – your future, your children’s future and Fiji’s future – and for me personally, there can be no greater motivation than that.

So my Government will be continuing that fight in the year ahead. Fiji is assuming the Presidency of the 23rd conference of parties, known as COP 23, which is the governing body of the United Nations negotiations between countries to deal with climate change. And we plan to use our presidency to do whatever it takes to reverse the global course on greenhouse gas emissions and protect all vulnerable nations – Fiji included – from the climate-related catastrophes already at our shores.

And here in Fiji, we will continue the good work that has brought us unprecedented levels of success and given Fijians from all walks of life access to essential services, infrastructure and education like never before. Because we cannot afford to take even one step backward. We cannot be fearful of what is to come. We have to keep advancing our country, bringing opportunity into the lives of our people and building a nation and society we can one day be proud to pass on to our children.

Here in Tamavua, you are a part of the largest population centre in our nation – the Suva-Nausori corridor. Through your efforts, this community has made major strides over the past decade and has attracted Fijians from all over the country. And in order to keep pace with your rapid development, the next generation needs to come equipped with skills and knowledge that meet the demands of the 21st century.

I know that the opening of this school has been a long time coming, that for the last 30 years, your community has sought to establish a high school here, in your community, and end your children’s ordeal of travelling great distances to get the education to which they are entitled. Past Governments failed to make your community a priority, but let me assure you all that those days are over. Because my Government doesn’t simply talk about the importance of education, we make access to quality education a reality.

Through our free education initiative for Years 1 to 13, our free text books and free fares for travelling students, all across our islands students have been able to attend school without burdening their families with financial worry. We have delivered on our promises, and there is no greater evidence of that than in the confident smiles of schoolchildren all throughout our islands.

Access to education is expanding all over Fiji. Just last week, I was in Ba opening a new secondary school, and now we are gathered today to celebrate the birth of this new high school. My Government has made the expansion of education options for our young people a top priority, and we want the next generation of Fijians to have every possible chance to succeed and do well. We want our schools to be in the communities they serve. We want our teachers to live among you and know the families of the students they have been entrusted to teach. And we want every Fijian – regardless of where they call home—to have access to the resources they require to better themselves and their communities.

To our pioneer students of Jeremiah College, congratulations on making history. This school belongs to you and your community – care for it, respect it and do your duty in paving the way for the generations of students that will follow.

I’m excited for what this new institution will allow your community to accomplish and look forward to seeing your young people work hard and find success.

Thank you again for your warm welcome. It is now my pleasure to officially declare the new Jeremiah College open.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.