On 10 October 1970, the tiny Pacific nation of Fiji gained independence from Britain and a parliamentary democracy was established.
Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara was the first Prime Minister. He is considered by many as the founding father of modern Fiji. Fiji's independence and subsequent break from monarchical reign is a proud achievement. Fiji has faced great challenges and, at times, upheaval in its short independent history.
In the past, democratic freedom in Fiji has been a source of contention and concern. In September 2014, we saw the country take part in its first democratic election since the military coup of December 2006. It was a privilege for me to be part of the observer delegation for that election—my first visit to Fiji.
On the weekend, I had the privilege to attend the 2017 Fiji Independence Day celebrations at Liverpool. It was a great opportunity for me to catch up with friends old and new. Many dignitaries and consular officials also attended. Prime Minister Bainimarama and his wife were special guests again this year.
Like last year, the Prime Minister spoke of his vision and hopes for his beloved Fiji. His emphasis was on education and opportunity. He spoke about the introduction of free education for primary and secondary students. He acknowledged that education was the key to future job prospects. He spoke about his government providing opportunities for all Fijians to further their skills and enhance their employment opportunities, regardless of their cultural or religious backgrounds. The Fijian civil service, he said, will no longer be a place where employees are at an advantage because of their family name, tribal standing or who they know. Recruitment processes will be based on merit and transparency. He spoke of telecommunications driving investment.
As with last year's speech, the Prime Minister spoke passionately about his country, his government and his people. He emphasised that no-one should be discriminated against or disadvantaged. I was impressed with his vision and conviction in ensuring his Fiji is one that is committed to standing side by side to forge ahead as a powerful and fair Pacific nation. The Prime Minister didn't want Fijians to feel they had to leave their homeland to broaden their skills and provide their families with greater opportunities.
I've spoken in this place about my own Fijian heritage. I spoke on the day about the contributions that many Fijian Australians have made to our great nation. Many families migrated to Australia to provide their children with better education, access to health care and stronger employment prospects. To hear the Prime Minister speak of his administration's mandate to provide all Fijians with such opportunities irrespective of race, gender or religion was extremely heartening. I also spoke of the Fijian consular officials based here in Australia and the hard work and commitment they have displayed representing their country so passionately and professionally.
This year's Fiji Day was bigger than last year, with thousands of people from all cultures attending and celebrating the warm, vibrant and generous culture of the Fijian people. Congratulations to the organisers for their efforts and hospitality. It is a credit to you how well attended the day was. To the many families who ran stalls, I say a hearty vinaka vakalevu; and Sota Tale: I look forward to seeing you next year.