By RNZ reporters and Rachael Nath of RNZ Pacific
Fiji Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka was welcomed to the New Zealand Parliament yesterday while on his first official trip to Aotearoa since being elected as PM in December.
New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins announced just over NZ$11.1 million in climate change support for Fiji.
Hipkins said he had “an inspired discussion” with Rabuka on how they could further cooperate on combating the effects of climate change.
He said it remained the single greatest threat to lives and livelihoods in the Pacific region.
Rabuka welcomed the finance boost saying it would support the implementation of renewable energy projects, infrastructure resilience, and climate policy.
Hipkins noted both nations regularly collaborated on climate disasters.
“I want to take this opportunity to publicly thank Fiji for their defence and emergency personnel assistance following Cyclone Gabrielle,” Hipkins said.
“We are connected by long-standing people-to-people, sporting, economic and cultural links, and through the Fijian communities who have made New Zealand their home.
“We are connected by the depth of our cooperation across a broad range of sectors including defence, policing, health, trade and industry, education, fisheries, climate change and disaster management to name a few.
“I know that New Zealand and Fiji, alongside other Pacific Island Forum leaders, share an ambitious vision for the social, cultural and environmental economic resilience of the region where we are strong, prosperous and secure.
“We know we are stronger when we combine our efforts and focus on Pacific regionalism and the priorities of the Blue Pacific continents.”
In response, Rabuka acknowledged the traditional owners of the land and paid respect to elders past and present.
He said his visit was to discuss ways forward for both countries, following covid-19.
“Exactly a month ago, the WHO declared covid-19 over as a global health emergency. Seven million deaths later, the global economy is still recovering,” Rabuka said.
‘Serious’ about Fiji economy
“The people’s coalition government that I lead is serious about growing our economy and my engagement here reflects that.”
He said the Fiji government was keen to work harder to boost its export capacity to New Zealand and pleased to see bilateral relations had continued to strengthen over the years.
The official visit also comes 25 years after Rabuka last visited the country in an official capacity when he was previously Prime Minister.
The visit is also signifcant for the Fijian community as they had welcomed a Fiji prime minister for the first time in 16 years.
More than 500 Fijians in Auckland turned up to the Mahatma Gandhi Centre to welcome Rabuka and his wife, Sulueti, where they were accorded a full traditional welcome ceremony.
Community thanked for support
Rabuka thanked the community for its ongoing support for Fiji.
“You have left Fiji but continue to play an important role in Fiji. Thank you for keeping Fiji in your lives,” he said.
Rabuka informed the community that their financial support had contributed greatly as Fiji battled its unprecented economic crisis, with the World Bank reporting its debt levels reaching 90 percent of GDP last year.
In 2022, Fiji received more than F$1 billion in remittances which prove to be a saving grace during the height of the pandemic which caused great financial strain for Fijians.
Rabuka spoke about the success of national events such as Girmit Day and the reconvening of the Great Council of Chiefs and Ratu Sukuna Day.
Krish Naidu, president of the Fiji Girmit Foundation, thanked Rabuka for honouring his promise to the community.
Girmitiya holiday promise
“When the Prime Minister visited us last year, we asked for a public holiday to mark the contributions of the Girmitiyas, and told us if he made [it into] government he would do that.
“He lived up to his words. He is an honourable man.”
Naidu added that Rabuka’s visit was extremely crucial to the Fijian community.
“We look forward to this week with the Prime Minister building the much-needed aroha, loloma, and love between Fiji and NZ, which has been lost for 16 years,” he added.
The Fiji Prime Minister returns to Fiji today.