Joint press conference with Fijian Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka

  • Transcript E&OE
Subjects: Pacific Islands Forum, launch of the Fiji Rugby Union 2023 Women's Rugby campaign, PacificAus Sports program, Australian assistance to rebuild cyclone-damaged schools.

Sitiveni Rabuka, Fijian Prime Minister: The Honourable Penny Wong, the Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs and members of the Australian Government delegation. And Tevita Tuiloa, CEO of Fiji Rugby Union, members of the press and the media. You excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, I'm pleased to share this stage with the Honourable Penny Wong. I asked deliberately, before, whether you mind people calling you Penny Wong rather than Penelope Wong.

Penny Wong, Foreign Minister: Penny is fine. Penelope is usually when my mother’s telling me off.

Prime Minister Rabuka: I’m happy to be sharing in this stage with the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs and be with you all this evening. You know the theme of this week's Special Leaders Meeting here is reflection, renewal and celebration. To that end, we have much to reflect on, to celebrate and also commit ourselves to renewing in our gathering this afternoon. The Pacific Island Forum has accomplished a great deal over the years, playing a wider role in promoting regional cooperation and integration, addressing common challenges and improving the lives of the people of the Pacific region. On reflection and in keeping with the meeting theme, I recall the enormous [indistinct] Fiji Rugby has made since its establishment in 1913. Today, I'm proud to celebrate notable achievement of Fiji Rugby Union and rugby's remarkable treasure trove of two Olympic gold medals, one bronze medal, one quarter-cup final at the Rugby World Cup and the Rugby Sevens Series champions and one Super Women's win and also one Prime Minister. Twice. I also acknowledge the accomplishment of the women rugby league teams in Fiji that, have against all odds, made a series of exceptional accomplishments in the last three years. Well done girls. That is, since it was launched in 2017, by winning the Super W in its maiden season, Olympic bronze medal 2021 and a silver at the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

You probably know, Excellency, that I carried the Fiji flag for the Commonwealth Games in 1974. Of course, I didn’t win any medal. I was only keeping the flag-bearing firm. The magnitude of our women's achievements has demonstrated to everyone in Fiji, and hopefully abroad, that Fiji’s national sports truly belong to everyone. This is incredibly important because all we want to do is make people aware that sports can contribute to the improvement of our health, improvement of our education systems and participation, creation of employment, stimulating economic development, realising human rights and gender equality. These are values we hold dear, here in Fiji and you also hold very dear in Australia. And everybody is beginning to sit up and listen when you talk about gender issues. Everyone present here today understands that and it's therefore very important. I'd like to acknowledge the incomparable support of the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia and the people of Australia. Thank you very much. Today’s gathering underscores the importance of our Vuvale partnership and I just clarified that concept with the Honourable Minister that Vuvale is not neighbourly. Vuvale is one home. Family. That's our people together. This is evidence of the immeasurable impacts that the Pacific Australian sports is making in ensuring that Pacific and Australian athletes are not only training and playing together at the highest level but also forging dizzying heights of excellence and friendship. I'm reminded of a significant event in 1952 when the Fiji Rugby – when Fiji Rugby rose to accept the invitation of Australian Rugby Union to Australia as part of fundraising event to assist the Australian Union – to assist in the revival of Rugby Union in Australia and reliably informed, Fiji stepped in, in order so that our international unions were incapable of accepting the invitation, and most remarkable is that the tour was a resounding success for both our Unions.

It was so important for Fiji that we brought back a soldier serving in Malaya to play. If you look at the Fiji Rugby Union world now, and [indistinct]you will see a striking Fijian Rubgy Player, that player was brought back from Malaya to represent Fiji in that tour. It was Joe Levula. A Chief from Nadi, the land that we stand on tonight.

The Government of Fiji is committed to seeing this partnership grow not only as an enabler for achieving sustainable development goals but more importantly, as Mandela said in 2000, “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to our youth in a language they understand. Sports can create hope where there was only despair.” Therefore, we must all continue that momentum of the kind of support that has made today possible. I'd like to acknowledge the local businesses who have stood in the depth for our women. ANZ – you recognise that – Australian-New Zealand Bank. CJ Patel Group of Companies, Royal Tea, Fun Flavour, and WeetBix brands, Fiji Airways, Fiji Gas, Rooster Chicken and Tropical Industries Limited. That we look forward and prepare for the enormous decade of sports and rugby ahead of us, we know that there is significant opportunity to progress together as one Pacific Vuvale. The Fiji Rugby Unionis keen to partner with Rugby Australia and PacificAus Sports in the upcoming tournament and competitions culminating in the 2032 Brisbane Olympics. In commemorating their journey – in commemorating their journey, let us continue to reflect on the lessons and achievements that we have experienced together as a Vuvale. Let us also take the time to renew our commitment to that Pacific Vuvale. Let us recognise that our unique cultures and traditions are what binds us together today. We've come together, this long, this far and we come together again to mark and celebrate together that which unites us and makes us strong. Thank you.

Speaker: Thank you very much the Honourable Prime Minister. Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, if I may, very briefly. The PacificAus Sports program, administered through the Australian Government's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, has been instrumental in catapulting women's rugby in Fiji, particularly through the Oceania Sevens in 2021, which made a platform for bronze medal win for Fijiana Sevens at the Tokyo Olympics. The Rooster Chicken Fijiana Drua 2022 successful campaign resulting in their winning the Super W in their maiden – maiden season. Who can forget? Maybe there are Waratah fans in the room, but yeah, none of us has forgotten the historic win over the Waratahs, 32-36. It was the first time the Fijiana Drua were playing in the competition and they went unbeaten while the Waratahs had won the previous four times and were unbeaten until they met the mighty Fijiana Drua. And the third is, of course, the campaign, the Rooster Chicken Fijiana Drua 2023 campaign to defend the Super W competition. With that, I now give the floor to the Honourable Minister for Foreign Affairs of Australia.

Foreign Minister: Well, that's quite an introduction isn’t it. These are the ways in which we're going to be better than you at Rugby. Prime Minister Rabuka, can I thank you deeply for the discussion we had, for your generosity in receiving me, and for your leadership not only of your new government, and we congratulate you on your election, but also in hosting, bringing together this Special Leaders summit for the Pacific Island Forum. And I'm very honoured to be here in Fiji again representing Australia. We have an enduring relationship, we have a long-standing relationship that covers many aspects, from sport, to education, to climate, to defence and security, and that's as it should be. And I thank you for your words of wisdom about the meaning of VuvaleOne home, family? Yes, one home. And your expression of hope for renewal and strengthening the relationship. We share that. We share that and I hope we can work to those objectives in the weeks and months ahead. We're committed to building on our shared priorities. One of those, obviously, is climate. And I did want to take the opportunity to have the first announcement in relation to that strengthening and renewal, which is an additional $10 million from Australia to help rebuild schools in Fiji's Northern Division that were devastated by the tropical cyclones in 2020 and 2021. This is additional funding on top of an existing program which will enable us to rebuild all nine schools, that were destroyed or damaged, but most importantly, not just rebuild them, but rebuild them to a higher standard so that they are category-five cyclone-proof. We also will work to ensure that they are sustainable using renewable energy and importantly for Fiji, that we use local sources, local content, because we want our engagement to not just deal with this problem, but also to improve the capacity of your people and your community. That’s what we want to do, we want to work with you.

But of course, the big news today is the launch of the 2023 Fiji Women's Rugby season. And it's a happy event isn’t it. It's a happy event. It's a real privilege to be here and we're very pleased to support some of this through PacificAus Sports, although I did say to my staff as we were driving here, “So let me get this clear, we help them get better so they beat us more?”. I said, “Is that really going to go down well in Australia? What do you think?”

Well, the Prime Minister spoke much more eloquently than I could about what sport means, the way it brings people together from all walks of life. And you know that if you go to those big sporting events. There are more people from different parts of the community than at any other event you go to except, possibly, meetings of faith. And it's a wonderful thing. And if I may, on participation of women, which is really - the trajectory of popularity and engagement has been fantastic, so congratulations. We want – Australia wants to support the full participation of women in society because we believe the community benefits from that. So, yes, I believe in gender equality. We were talking about that. But it's actually about a stronger community. It's a stronger community if you get the benefit of all of the skills and talents of your society. And that means the full participation of women and girls. And one of the ways in which you do that is through sport. It's empowering and it demonstrates that participation. So I'm very grateful for the opportunity of being here and I wish you luck, but not too much luck.

Finally, if I may just mention a couple of little things about that Pacific Island Forum special leaders meeting, I want to again acknowledge that Prime Minister Rabuka’s leadership as Chair, and I look forward to working, of course, with the Cook Islands as well, when they assume the forum Chair. I want to again place on the public record, my deep appreciation of Prime Minister Rabuka, and all leaders, including President Maamauand the Micronesian President Summit, in demonstrating leadership at a time which I think it was important, and to say again how a strong and united Pacific Islands Forum is in all of our interests. Thank you for your part in that. So thank you very much for the opportunity to be with you today.

Speaker: Thank you very much, Honourable Prime Minister and Honourable Minister. We will have an opportunity to ask questions now, I can see members of the media already looking in my direction. We will limit our questions to maybe four or five please. We'll see how things go. But if we could start with the questions now. Thank you. No questions?

Foreign Minister: That never happens in Australia!

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