Source: Prime Minister of Australia
Photo: AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts
PRIME MINISTER: Bula. Your Excellency Major General Konrote, President of the Republic of Fiji, who I had the honour of meeting earlier today.
Your Excellency Vice President with us tonight. Prime Minister Bainimarama and Mrs Bainimarama, can I thank you on behalf of Jenny and I and our entire delegation for the warm embrace with which you have met us today and on so many other occasions.
Prime Minister Bainimarama, it has been a wonderful start to our friendship over the past few months. We come here today together with Jenny and our delegation, you have expressed a warmth that has laid the foundation for everything you have just spoken about. Thank you.
The other Ministers who are here this evening to distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your attendance.
It is a great honour to attend the State Dinner tonight at this marvellous hotel. This venue and locality, for many of you I know, has a great place in the story of Australia.
Just over 90 years ago, the intrepid and fearless Charles Kingsford-Smith set out on the Southern Cross to make the first trans-Pacific flight.
The flight was to have three legs.
The first: California to Hawaii.
The second: Hawaii to Suva.
And the third was from Suva to Australia.
The longest leg was from Hawaii to Suva and during it Kingsford-Smith and his crew encountered storms, mighty storms.
They were in the air for about 32 hours and mid-flight it appeared for all intents and purposes there would not be enough fuel for them to reach Suva. According to their mid-flight calculations, they were short by about 170 miles.
Not good news. But they improvised, as Australians do and fortunately the weather and fate turned their way and luck was a bit on their side too.
And on that day, 90 years ago, thousands of Fijians waited patiently at Albert Park just next to this hotel.
But it’s not really the place to land a plane, particularly one that doesn’t have any brakes.
One of the crewman laid a rope that from the sky Albert Park was about ‘as large as a pocket handkerchief and not half as useful.’
And with fuel low, Kingsford-Smith flew close to the earth. So close, he scurried over the top of the roof of this very hotel and I suspect if he had hit this hotel you wouldn’t have invited an Australian Prime Minister to have dinner here.
But thankfully he cleared it.
On that fateful leg, one of the crew had a catastrophic wardrobe failure, a disaster. Let’s just say it was the result of the extreme turbulence.
It was so bad the crewman had to strip naked for the last part of the flight and so as they were landing the plane bounced on the ground and as it hit the ground so hard, that naked crewman fell out of the back of the plane.
He survived, but his pride, I suspect, may have been a little hurt. I can tell you though that Australian national pride wasn’t injured because of the naked crewman.
He was an America.
To this day, Charles Kingsford-Smith and his memory – and that of his crew – are revered in Australia and Suva played a pivotal role, a vital role in that ultimate achievement [inaudible] about Fiji and Australia and our peoples and our relationship.
And in this Fijian-Australian relationship there is another son I think we should revere tonight and he is Trooper Edgar Wright.
He is a son of Fiji and he is a son of Australia.
He was born in 1892 and home to Edgar was the lush green coconut plantations of Bua. He attended school in Levuka and Suva.
During his formative years he and his brothers made it to Australia.
And Edgar, with his brothers Maitland and George joined the Australian Infantry Force after the start of the First World War.
George landed in Gallipoli and was subsequently injured.
Edgar and Maitland fought in the Sinai as part of the 6th Light Horse.
On the 4th of August 1916, Edgar was in hospital having taken sick and he was in no fit state to be on the front.
But in hospital he heard that fighting had erupted at El Maler and that’s where his brother was and that’s where his mates were.
So Edgar left his sick bed, he obtained a horse, and he rode out to join his mates.
That day Trooper Edgar Wright was struck down by enemy fire.
He was just 24.
This son of Fiji and this son of Australia has written on his tombstone the words, “Not what I am but I do is my kingdom.”
Tonight we pay respect to our peoples, who demonstrate every day that it’s what we do that counts.
What we do as government, and indeed, Prime Minister, what we do as leaders of governments as we are demonstrating.
It should be for them, our peoples as our objectives are here together as we have met today and on other occasions.
Deeds more than words.
Our relationship is anchored by geography, but it is much more than that.
We are not just our geography, we are not just the sum of our deals or funding arrangement, our transactions.
We are the product of values that we share as peoples.
We are both island nations united by a love of family, of community, of sport, of faith, a deep respect for each other in the very proud words but very true words spoken by Prime Minister Bainimarama – that no Fijian is greater than another and no Australian is greater than another.
These are deeply-held values that we share as countries and that when we come together, we demonstrate as to how things should be done.
Our societies are shaped by these beliefs and common traditions and ours is relationship that is the result of deep respect and understanding.
I want to pay respect in particular to Prime Minister Bainimarama’s international leadership on climate change and oceans, I should also note. And your earnestness and passion about this this evening and it was that same passion you took into the leadership of the whole process over the past 12 months.
But not just on behalf, I know, of Fiji, but as a true leader in the Pacific.
So in coming together in the way we’ve done over these months, I’ve come to recognize not just the Prime Minister and leader of Fiji who has shown exemplary leadership and the achievements he’s been able to deliver for his people for so many years.
But a leader in the Pacific, a leader that other leaders of the Pacific look to as well.
Now we also respect Fiji’s service as peacekeepers in some of the most challenging parts of the world.
Jenny and I earlier this evening had the real honour to be able to go and pay our respects to those Fijian servicemen who have laid down their lives in the cause of peace, whether it was in Lebanon, Syria, the Sinai.
Few Australians would know just how many Fijians have made the ultimate sacrifice for world peace in each of these missions, at very difficult times.
It was a great honour as Australia’s Prime Minister to be able to be able to pay our respects, not just for their service but also those Fijians who served in conflicts in World War I, World War II, Malaya and serving in many other nation’s militaries.
But still defending the same values and beliefs they held so dearly and motivated their service.
We pay respect to your government’s ambitious programme of economic reforms. We both have a strong view about a strong economy.
Because without a strong economy, as Prime Minister Bainimarama has been able to lead here for nine years, then you can’t deliver on the health and education services and many other things that progressive societies need to ensure they can deliver for their people.
And we respect – or I should probably say fear – the prowess of Fijians on the sporting field.
For many Australians including me, the links between Australia and Fiji are deeply personal.
360,000 Australians visit Fiji every year.
Jenny and I are often two of them and with Lily and Abbey, four of us.
We’re also proud to be home in Australia, to 70,000 Fijian-born Australians and it’s because of these deep and enduring personal links that Australia and Fiji are more than partners or neighbors.
We are family: vuvale.
One of the risks of close relationships is that sometimes they can be taken for granted and there are periods in our past where that has been the case.
Not now and not in the future, if there’s anything my Government has to do with it.
One of the risks is we take it for granted and we cannot allow those risks to be realised.
Which is why tonight, I announce that Prime Minister Bainimarama and I have agreed to enhance our bilateral relationship through the Australia-Fiji Vuvale Agreement, as we announced earlier also today.
The agreement will add structure to our bilateral relationship.
We will establish those mechanisms, those annual leaders meetings, so these events are not one-offs. That they are part of a process of how we manage our relationship together as family.
The agreement will identify new areas to expand our trade and our investment relationship.
To build our personal connections, including those between our schools and churches and expand our cooperation in areas like peacekeeping, policing and border security.
The agreement will be negotiated by officials in the coming months and we look forward to signing the agreement later in the year, when I have invited Prime Minister Bainimarama and Mrs Bainimarama to visit Australia as our official guest.
Through our Vuvale Agreement we will continue the enormous progress that has been made on the Australia-Fiji relationship.
It will further cement the relationship between our two countries.
Many years ago when I came to Fiji, I learned a word.
I’ve learned many Fijian words over time, I’m not that great at languages, so there must be something special about Fijian and our relationship with the Fijian language.
I was just checking it again today with the Prime Minister, because it does summarise how I feel about what Fiji means to me; it’s wananavu.
Now, I’m glad people knew what that meant because that could have been very embarrassing.
I had a friend here many, many years ago who used the word all the time and he would express it with such passion. Everything was wananavu.
And that I think, demonstrates the passion for life and the passion for family, for friendship, for fun and for sport, for togetherness, for fellowship that is so much expressed in the Fijian way of life.
That is something that I think Australians find and indeed I find, completely intoxicating.
It is a way of life that is a real lesson I think to people around the world, when we look at the simple appreciation of the most important things in life, you find that with the families and the people of Fiji.
Prime Minister, it’s been our pleasure to be able to come and share in this few days with you here and with the people of Fiji, as we have built on what I know will continue to be a great relationship.
So I thank you for your leadership and thank you for your hospitality, I commend you on your achievements and particularly on your recent re-election as Prime Minister.
I’m hoping a bit of that rubs off on me while I’m here before I go back to Australia.
But it’s demonstrated that you’re achieving in this country what Australia wants for Fiji and all the nations of the Pacific; independence, sovereignty, prosperity, a bright future, peace and stability.
To see a smile on our children’s faces, it doesn’t get any better than that.
So thank you very much. Vinaka vakalevu.