Your Worship the Mayor of Liverpool,
Members of the Council,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Bula vinaka and a very good evening to you all.
Precisely a year ago, I was here with you all in Liverpool as I made my first visit to Australia in nine years to attend our local Fiji Day celebrations. You gave me the honour of a Mayoral reception then and you are giving me the honour of a Mayoral reception now. And for that I am deeply grateful.
I’m delighted to be here this evening with my wife Mary and other members of the Fijian delegation and also delighted that this shows signs of becoming a tradition. And I would like nothing more than to forge even closer ties between Fiji and Liverpool. Because there are so many things about this place that represent the very best qualities of Australia and the Australian people.
Your vibrant and cosmopolitan city and its satellites have become the new home to citizens of a great many nations, including my own. The 42 suburbs that make up the Greater Liverpool Area are the heartland of the Fijian diaspora in Australia – the more than 50-thousand former residents of Fiji who have taken up new lives in Australia. And as they have connected with their new neighbours – many of them from other parts of the world – they have joined hands to build one of the most dynamic centres in Australia.
That is why I am proud to be here tonight in Liverpool, rather than Canberra or Macquarie Street. Because this is where so much is happening. And especially for my own people, who I have urged to do everything they can to help build a better Australia, while retaining close ties to their homeland.
Your Worship, Ladies and Gentlemen, Liverpool truly represents the triumph of the Australian ideal – to forge one nation, one people with the contribution of people from many other nations. Some of these people have had the means to freely choose Australia and to embrace the Australian way of life. Others in more difficult, sometimes desperate, circumstances have been given refuge from areas of conflict. But they are all determined to try and build a better future for themselves and their families. And in doing so, Australia is harnessing their drive and energy to build a better nation.
The Australian spirit is a powerful force. And while we acknowledge that the early settlement of Australia was marked by injustice and the marginalisation of your indigenous people, which needs to be addressed in good faith. Your values of unity through diversity, of mateship and a fair go for everyone are values that are not only treasured by your own people. But are strongly admired by the people of other nations, including Fiji.
I had the honour to welcome your mayor, Wendy Waller, to our Fiji Day celebrations at the Whitlam Centre on Saturday. And she would have heard me warmly thanking Australia, not only for giving refuge to so many of our people after the coups of 1987 and 2000, but for setting a standard for Fiji to follow.
Because in Fijian eyes and in the eyes of so many ordinary people around the world, Australia is a beacon – a shining example of how to build a successful nation. To bring together people of different backgrounds and perspectives and to use their experiences to create something special. Modern Australia – unified, tolerant, outward looking and cosmopolitan.
To become an Aussie doesn’t mean complying with the customs of any one ethnic group or religion, or to be forced to drink beer or play cricket. The one stipulation is to embrace tolerance, fairness and adherence to the rule of law. And it is on that basis that Australia has become a standard bearer for any nation with aspirations to be successful, including Fiji.
Your Worship, Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m pleased to report that Fiji is finally following in Australia’s footsteps. Putting behind us what I have called the lost years – the years since our Independence 46 years ago in which we argued as a nation about who among us deserved more. Rather than working together to provide more for every citizen, irrespective of ethnic or religious background or place of origin.
Four years from our half century as an independent nation, we too are finally one nation, one people and like Australia, have also set our sights on achieving greatness.
With our new-found unity and an education revolution that is opening up paths of learning for even the most disadvantaged Fijian, we have embarked on an ambitious program. And that is to steadily transform ourselves from a developing country into a modern nation State.
We intend to make the Fijian people respected the world over, for the quality of the goods and services they produce and their service to the international community. Brand Fiji and its clever, hardworking people a byword for excellence and a beacon – like Australia – to our smaller neighbours in the region and every developing country in the world.
Your Worship, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is an ambitious goal but we have made a strong start. And we especially appreciate the stronger relationship we are now forging at a government-to- government level in Australia to match the close personal ties we have always had between our people. Fiji wants a full and equal partnership with Australia and New Zealand to pursue our common interests in the region and the world. And I’m gratified that we have done so much in recent months to advance this agenda. Especially in my meetings with my fellow prime ministers – Malcolm Turnbull and John Key.
You all saw our World Champion Rugby Sevens team crush Great Britain and take Gold at the Rio Olympics. Well, we are harnessing the spirit of that win to try to take us to the next level in everything we do. And I appeal to everyone in this room to also do what you can to assist us in this quest.
We are especially keen to persuade business people in places like Liverpool and all over Australia to consider investing in Fiji. We are open for business across the board with a range of attractive investment incentives and some of the lowest corporate and personal taxes in the region.
We are the Hub of the Pacific, with unrivalled connectivity to other markets and state of the art telecommunications. And we are investing heavily in new infrastructure, including new roads, airports and dramatically more efficient ports.
More importantly, we have an educated, English speaking workforce gaining more and more skills all the time. Through our three universities and a network of technical colleges that are giving Fiji a stronger skills base that at any time in its history.
Our economy is also buoyant. Despite the terrible setback of Tropical Cyclone Winston back in February that killed 44 of our loved ones and left many thousands of people homeless, the Fijian economy is still expected to grow by three per cent this year. And we are in the throes of our seventh successive year of expansion – the longest in our history.
So Fiji has a great future and I urge you all to spread the word about the opportunities that are available. I know there are some great entrepreneurs in Sydney’s West, inside and outside the Fijian community. And you all have the opportunity – through our people at Investment Fiji – to examine the various options. And to be in the vanguard of forging closer economic ties between the Greater West and Fiji.
I want to close by thanking each and every one of you for being friends of Fiji, and especially those who contributed to the relief effort in the wake of Cyclone Winston. I look forward to a long and continuing association with Liverpool and its people and again, thank you for doing me the honour of hosting me here this evening.
Vinaka vakalevu, thank you.