TRANSCRIPT: Opening of Blackrock Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief camp

E&OE

Great to be with you. I want to start by thanking you very much for that extraordinary welcoming ceremony. It is an absolute delight to be back in Fiji after my visit in November of last year, and I’m very honoured to be representing the Australian Government at this event, the official opening of Blackrock Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Camp.

First and foremost, I acknowledge Prime Minister Bainimarama, who set this redevelopment in motion in 2018. It’s great to see you and great to be with you. I also acknowledge a number of honourable Ministers, most particularly Minister Seruiratu. Under his stewardship, the partnership between Fiji and Australia on defence and security has gone from strength to strength. And I acknowledge other dignitaries: the men and women of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces, the Australian Defence Force, dedicated officials from both governments, and the many private contractors who have brought this project to completion.

This is a great day. Prime Minister Morrison and Foreign Minister Payne send their warmest personal regards to the Government and the people of Fiji. But for the devastating floods across Australia’s east coast, I know both would have liked to have been here in person. I also acknowledge the hardship and suffering endured by Fijian communities from floods caused by tropical cyclone Cody in January. My sympathies to all affected.

Ladies and gentlemen, the partnership between the Republic of Fiji Military Forces and the Australian Defence Force has delivered a facility of immediate utility and historic significance. For more than 40 years, Fijian peacekeepers have served and sacrificed in peacekeeping operations around the world. Fiji’s longstanding contribution to international peace and security has done the region proud. Blackrock’s new training and accommodation facilities will help Fiji develop more peacekeeping capability for the future, and these facilities will allow you to share Fiji’s peacekeeping expertise with our region.

The disaster response facilities here are also world-class. Fijians have long contended with cyclones, earthquakes, tsunamis and floods, as have Australians. Volcanic and seismic activity is a constant risk in the region, and we know that climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of weather events as well. The facilities here at Blackrock will make an immense contribution to regional, humanitarian and disaster response efforts, and this facility is a symbol of our shared values and interests.

Our countries share faiths and the principles which underpin those faiths – love thy neighbour, do unto others as you would have them do unto you – are cornerstones of our shared world view. This is what Australians mean when we refer to Pacific nations as a family. Through thick and thin, families stick together.

Let me acknowledge here the invaluable contribution that Fiji is making to the response to the floods in Australia. The most prominent, but by no means only, example is the group of 45 Fijian abattoir workers who saved aged-care residents in Lismore. Their selfless heroism is a potent symbol of the values our people share. Prime Minister, I thank you for your agreement to reassign 43 RFMF personnel to Australia’s Operation Flood Assist 2022. They will work alongside 5,000 members of the Australian Defence Force. This builds on Fiji’s support to Australia’s bushfire recovery in 2019–20.

Our partnership extends across our region. Our forces have been working together in the Solomon Islands alongside those in Papua New Guinea and New Zealand to restore law and order and support the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force. We’re working together on disaster relief in Tonga as well after a devastating earthquake and tsunami has done so much damage there. Our regional cooperation is particularly important at a time when the international rules‑based order is under serious threat.

The challenges to the rules‑based international order have been brought into stark relief in Ukraine. I want to thank Fiji for its robust and principled international position on Russia’s unjustified invasion of Ukraine, and I acknowledge the collective position of the Pacific Islands Forum in response to this crisis. In our own region, the coercion, disinformation and foreign interference are [indistinct]. None of us here today wish to see the region undermined or destabilised. Last week, we committed to increasing our Defence Force personnel by 30 per cent, bolstering our numbers to 101,000 personnel by 2040, and this is why Australia is working with Fiji and other Pacific partners to build sovereign resilience and support the rule of law in our region through collaboration on humanitarian responses, through coordination on international diplomacy and protection of human rights and through military-to-military cooperation such as the facility we are launching today.

I want this facility to stand as a symbol of the values that we share – values such as transparency, respect and freedom. These complement long-held Australian military values of courage, endurance, mateship and sacrifice. These are values we have seen rise to the surface in Fiji’s support to Australia – our shared values of protecting international rules‑based order under which our nations enjoy sovereignty to choose our own paths. As Prime Minister Morrison has said, we believe in these values for their intrinsic merit but also for their ability to deliver better lives.

[ENDS] 

SENATOR THE HON ZED SESELJA 
Minister for International Development and the Pacific