Extending the Fiji-New Zealand partnership: Sitiveni Rabuka reflects on Fiji's longstanding ties with New Zealand and predicts closer co-operation in future.

AuthorRabuka, Sitiveni

It is without a doubt that the bilateral relationships that Fiji has with New Zealand have been strengthening over the years, especially with the signing of the Duavata Partnership. Duavatu is oneness. Dua is one and vata is together. We are one together and in partnership. Partnership means duavata and duavata means partnership. It has extended our scope of co-operation. We know it will be for our mutual benefit. It was entered into by my predecessor government, though the coalition government I lead is the beneficiary of the signing of the deal. But the signing of the deal was not a beginning. We have always been partners. In Wellington I mentioned that we had managed to rise to the highest echelons of citizens in New Zealand. You cannot go higher than the All Blacks--and we have had Fijians playing in the All Blacks. Then next to that you can become governor-general and we have also had a Fijian rise to that.

We have come through the Covid-19 pandemic. We are now in the period of restating our positions, reinvigorating our economies and re-establishing our relationships. It was my honour during the immediate period of restoration and recovery to be able to send to New Zealand a very small and humble contingent to help out with the Cyclone Gabrielle rehabilitation work. The previous government was able to send some fire fighters and rehabilitation workers to Australia. And we were able, with your help, to send a small detachment to Vanuatu. Some say it was magnanimous action on our part. But, in fact, we were just giving back what we had received from our international partners and friends over the years.

New Zealand is home to a large and robust Fijian diaspora. My grandson is at Kelston High School; my daughter-in-law is a civil servant in the Ministry of Health; and my son recently got his post-graduate diploma from Massey University and is working for Voda-fone. We have a lot of successful Fijians living here in New Zealand. In addressing them in Wellington two nights ago, I emphasised the importance of becoming very good and respectable citizens of New Zealand. Only then can we hope to continue to have good bilateral relationships with New Zealand.

So when you talk international affairs you are talking about international relationships, people-to-people, government-to-government and whatever bilateral relationships you can develop to enhance co-operation as we march together forward into the international arena of relationships.

There have been turbulent events in Fiji. I am not guilty. That is what people who stand up in the box say: not guilty; the judge thinks you are guilty, the police who did the investigation think you are guilty, but you are the only one who stands up there and says, not guilty, sir. You have you own verdict on what has happened in Fiji.

My confidence in international relationships has been greatly enhanced by the way Australia and New Zealand have responded to our difficult periods and episodes at home. [In 1987 Prime Minister David] Lange said, do not go to Fiji. If we go we are going into a war situation. But very quickly your government reassessed, and decided to co-operate. And we are rebuilding. I believe we have rebuilt back to the level before our so-called mishaps at home. I urge the current government to say 'when you come back'. I have been talking to other people who have been saying the same thing. They are asking me to tell them 'when you come back', when I tell her 'when you come back', when I tell her Opposition 'when you come back', that is conducting international relationships. Some people think it is deceitful when you are building relationships. You want to inspire confidence in everybody you talk to. When they go back they can say, whether this government stays in or a new one comes in we have a good international relationship with New Zealand, whoever is driving that ship.

Huge contribution

I go back to our diaspora. They have contributed a lot to Fiji in remittances. At last calculation it was $1 billion in the calendar year 2022. That was more significant because of the period we were going through. We were experiencing the effects of Covid-19 and entering into the era of the conflict in Ukraine, which pushed cost of living prices up. The remittances helped their families at home, and their families would have helped the super markets. So it was a great help and boost to our economy.

Like all other prime ministers, as the prime minister of Fiji my main priority is the development of all Fijians, at all levels, in all places, to ensure that Fiji reaches its full potential. We took up our mandate on 24 December last year. We are now in our first six months. It has not been easy. It is never easy to become a government. I have three members of my coalition who have been in Parliament. None in my coalition and in Cabinet had ever been in a Cabinet...

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