SPEECH: HON. PRIME MINISTER JOSAIA VOREQE BAINIMARAMA LEADERS’ PLENARY STATEMENT AT THE MELANESIAN SPEARHEAD GROUP

Bula Vinaka and a very good morning to you all.

Mr. Chairman,

1. At the outset, I want to congratulate the Government of the Solomon Islands for assuming the Chairmanship of the MSG and your role in Chairing our Leader’s Summit. You have already demonstrated – in recent days – a strong sense of judgement and purpose. And I am confident that under your leadership over the next two years, we will be able to effectively achieve our collective goals for the benefit of all our peoples. I assure you of my own Government’s full cooperation and support.

2. I also express my sincere gratitude to the Government and the people of the Solomon Islands for the wonderful way in which they have hosted our gathering and for the many courtesies accorded to my delegation.

3. I also thank the outgoing Chair, Mr. Victor Tutugoro and FLNKS for their leadership over the past two years. The progress of the people of New Caledonia under the Noumea Accords forms part of our final communiqué. And Fiji commends you for the inclusive and collaborative way in which the FLNKS has worked to produce an outcome in 2018 that benefits every citizen.

4. Mr Chairman, my fellow leaders, our final communiqué is a testament to the way in which we have all worked in a positive manner this week to advance the cause of our organization and the position of all Melanesians. We have faced some difficult challenges in reaching a consensus on some of these issues. But I want to commend you all on behalf of the Fijian people for approaching these challenges in an atmosphere of cooperation and goodwill. Some difficult choices have had to be made. Some fine balances have had to be reached. But we conclude this gathering having confronted those challenges head on. And we have made decisions that are ultimately in the best interests of the Melanesian people as a whole. Choices that we genuinely believe are most likely to produce positive outcomes for the greatest number of our people and for the common good.

5. The most testing choices we faced this week related to the issue of West Papua. But we needed to be mindful of one thing and one thing alone. Which course of action is most likely to achieve a positive outcome for the people of West Papua as a whole. To improve their lives. To give them a sense of purpose and fulfillment. And in the case of the MSG, to bring them closer into the Melanesian family.

6. As our final communiqué details, we have elevated the sovereign power in West Papua – Indonesia – to Associate Member of the MSG. And we have also opened the door for the United Liberation Movement for West Papua to join us as an observer. In doing so, Fiji believes we are acting in the best interests of the people in West Papua, as well as maintaining the integrity of the principles on which the MSG was founded and that we must always uphold.
7. For our part, Fiji has been guided by a number of overriding principles in approaching the West Papua issue. The first and foremost of these is that Indonesian sovereignty over West Papua cannot be questioned. The province is an integral part of Indonesia. So that when we deal with West Papua and its people, the MSG has no choice but to deal with Indonesia and in a positive and constructive manner.

8. Furthermore, we are convinced that the best hope for improving the lives of the people of West Papua – our fellow Melanesians – is to work closely with the Indonesian Government. To provide encouragement and support in an atmosphere of cooperation and friendship. To encourage it in its current program to govern West Papua in an inclusive and enlightened manner. We cannot erase the history of West Papua and some of the negative aspects of that history, which we acknowledge include significant human rights violations. But the Indonesia that presided over those excesses is not the Indonesia we know today. It is now one of the most vibrant democracies in the world. And at a national level, Indonesia is also committed to righting some of the wrongs of the past and placing West Papua on a new course.

9. I want to commend the Indonesian President and his Government for the steps they are taking to improve conditions in West Papua for its Melanesian population. The Indonesian Government recognises the need to do so and the President has personally committed himself to this issue. So it is incumbent on the MSG countries to support him in this effort and engage with Indonesia on West Papua in a positive and constructive manner.

10. From Fiji’s perspective, the best way to achieve this is to bring Indonesia closer into the workings of the MSG. Which is why we have supported elevating Indonesia from observer status to Associate Member. By strengthening our engagement as an organization with Indonesia, we are also strengthening our joint cooperation on issues relating to West Papua. And strengthening our own engagement with the West Papuans themselves – the elected representatives of the Melanesian people within the Indonesian democracy. Fiji is convinced that this is not only the best way to improve the situation for our Melanesian brothers and sisters in West Papua. It is the only way.

11. Mr Chairman, my fellow leaders. At the same time, we also hope that as time progresses, those West Papuans who are outside Indonesia can also become part of that engagement. We acknowledge that the United Liberation Movement for West Papua represents a significant body of opinion in the West Papuan diaspora and also has the welfare of the West Papuan people at heart. So it is also in the interests of everyone that they also be brought into the process.

12. The ULMWP has now been granted observer status at the MSG. This may be a disappointment to those who were hoping for full membership. But our rules of membership made that impossible. The ULMWP is not the sovereign power in West Papua. It is an external, non government organization that may represent West Papuan interests and opinion. But the MSG simply could not give it the status it desired without compromising a fundamental principal. That non-government organisations cannot have the same status as governments in our organization.

13. I appeal to the ULMWP not to regard this as a defeat but an opportunity. You have now been brought into the fold. Use this privilege to also work with us for the betterment of every West Papuan. Working together – Indonesia, the MSG countries and the West Papuan diaspora – we can achieve much better outcomes for the West Papuan people. Let us turn our backs on the years of killing, hatred and suspicion and work towards a new era – one of engagement, cooperation and collaboration between all the parties to achieve a better outcome for the people of West Papua. It is the best way to improve their circumstances. It is the only way.

14. Mr Chairman, my fellow leaders. For Fiji, the issue of climate change is of singular importance. As you all know, every Pacific country is affected in one way or another. And in the case of three nations – Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands – their very existence is threatened by the rising seas. We have our opportunity later this year to get the industrialised nations to finally sign up to the dramatic cuts in carbon emissions that the scientists say are needed to avert catastrophe. And it is an opportunity that we must all take.

15. Fiji intends to work with its Pacific neighbours to lead the charge at the World Climate Summit in Paris at the end of November. This issue, of course, has been at the heart of our deliberations this week. But I want to again urge you all – my fellow Melanesian leaders – to join me in a concerted effort to make the world finally sit up and take notice. The time for talking on climate change is over. The time for radical action is now. And we must all make sure that the entire world recognises this seminal issue for our wellbeing and survival in the Pacific and finally take the necessary action.

16. We have less than six months to get this crisis – from our perspective – on the global agenda. And I urge you all to put it at the top of your own agendas and make your own voices heard. Loudly. Fiji wants to work with you all to coordinate our planning for the Paris summit. And while we are still to gain the appropriate attention of some of our bigger neighbours – notably Australia – we have solid support across the world from others such as the member countries of the European Union.

17. It is not only the rising sea levels that are already threatening our communities. It is the extreme weather events that are accompanying global warming. We have all suffered from these to a greater or lesser extent. And our hearts go out to the people of Vanuatu, in particular, for the recent suffering they have endured because of Cyclone Pam. We have rightly sent our collective sympathy to the Ni-Vanuatu this week. Fiji, for one, has been proud to be part of the relief effort and we will continue to assist Vanuatu in its valiant effort to recover from this terrible disaster.

18. As we have discussed this week, we must all intensify our efforts in the area of climate change resilience at the same time as we try to persuade the global community to act. Fiji is making resilience a national priority. And those efforts are already showing clear signs of paying off. These cyclones, of course, are events over which we have no control. But we can control our responses to any onslaught. Our national disaster plans need to be increasingly sophisticated. We need effective close coordination between the various arms of state, our civil society organisations and ordinary citizens. But by working together, we can definitely reduce the impact on our people of these terrible events. We thank God in Fiji that when we were hit by Tropical Cyclone Evan two years ago, we suffered no loss of life. But it was not only the hand of God that spared us. It was proper planning. And Fiji stands ready to assist you all if you would like to learn from aspects of our experience.

19. Mr Chairman, my fellow leaders, the measures to promote business activity and cooperation between the private sectors within the MSG countries is an important part of our final communiqué. The meeting of MSG Finance Ministers that concluded in Nadi, Fiji, yesterday was a great success. And I urge you all as leaders to encourage this growing engagement between our various governments at an economic and financial level for the benefit of all our peoples. As Melanesian countries, we will always need our development partners to join us in our effort to improve the lives of our people. But we can also do a lot more to help ourselves. And this growing engagement between our Finance Ministers and the economic apparatus of government is a hugely positive thing.

20. The same applies to the growing engagement between our respective private sectors. Trade between the MSG countries has never been so healthy. But there remain significant opportunities that are yet to be fully exploited. And anything we can do as leaders to encourage trade links should also be at the top of our list of priorities.

21. Mr Chairman, my fellow leaders, I want to close by paying tribute to the resilience of our member countries and the resilience of our unique organization. Since we last met, successful national elections have been conducted in Solomon Islands, New Caledonia and, of course, in Fiji. We are extremely proud – in my own country – about the peaceful and successful conduct of our own election last September that introduced the first genuine democracy in Fiji’s history of one man, one vote, one value. This election was endorsed as credible and free by a multinational group of observers led by Indonesia, India and Australia. And it has heralded in an unprecedented era of prosperity and optimism in Fiji.

22. Our economy is currently in the throes of the most sustained period of growth since Independence 45 years ago. And in the past three years, we have attained annual growth rates of four per cent or more. So Fiji is on the move. Fiji is open for business. And I urge you all to take advantage of the opportunities that presents for your own private sectors in terms of trade and investment.

23. The lesson for all of us is this: That with national unity, a sense of purpose, good governance and equality, opportunity and substantive justice for all, nothing is impossible, even for small nations such as our own.

24. Mr Chairman, my fellow leaders, we end this gathering on an extremely positive note. Our organization may have its challenges and we have had some very testing moments this week. But we are more cohesive, more united and more determined than ever to work together to improve the lives of Melanesian people everywhere. We welcome both Indonesia and the United Liberation Movement for West Papua in their new roles in our organization. And we pledge to work with them not only to improve the position of the people of West Papua but every citizen in the MSG countries.

25. We also pledge to redouble our efforts in those other areas of concern to all of us – trade, the free movement of people across our borders and our collective response to the challenges of terrorism, to name but a few. While the West Papua issue may have grabbed most of the headlines, this has not been a “one issue” summit and all of these other matters we discussed are of vital important to the collective security and wellbeing of Melanesians everywhere.

26. Mr Chairman, my fellow leaders, thank you again for your cooperation, collaboration and friendship. Thank you again to you, Mr Chairman, and the people of Solomon Islands for your wonderful welcome and the friendship you have extended to all of us. We leave Honiara with some wonderful memories and I look forward to seeing you all again.

Vinaka Vakalevu