Keith Norrish OAM ... hero of Brigade Hill

Keith Norrish OAM

Keith Norrish OAM

We lost another remarkable Kokoda veteran yesterday when Keith Norrish OAM passed away in Perth aged 95.

 

Lt Keith Norrish, a Western Australian who served bravely with the renowned 2/16th Battalion, was wounded in the legendary attack at Brigade Hill.

 

He had previously fought with the 2/16th in the Middle East and was wounded fighting against the Vichy French in Syria. He recuperated in Australia before rejoining his unit for the Kokoda campaign.

 

At Brigade Hill, Keith was caught by a burst of Japanese machine-gun fire. He owed his life to a steel mirror his friend had given him shortly before the attack and to a wad of 17 letters he had received from his future wife Peg and his family that morning.

 

Keith stuffed the mirror and the wad of letters into his left breast pocket before the charge. When he ran into the machine gun burst, the mirror deflected four bullets down into his stomach muscles, another punctured his lung and damaged his pericardium and a six deflected into his bicep muscle.

 

That was the start of a remarkable six-day journey of survival as, after being patched up with field dressings, he was forced to walk back down the Track to safety, aided only by a young Fuzzy Wuzzy Angel.

 

Keith couldn’t lie down during the walk because his lungs were filling with fluid so he slept propped up against a tree or draped over a bush walking staff fashioned by his young Papuan ‘guardian angel’.

 

He eventually made it back to a Casualty Clearing Station where doctors operated and sent him on an arduous journey back to Australia.

 

Amazingly, Keith recuperated once again and transferred to the 2/22nd Battalion and saw further service in the Aitape-Wewak campaign in New Guinea.

 

Keith was Co-Patron of his beloved 2/16th Battalion and a revered figure in Perth at the Anzac Day march.

 

Lest We Forget.

HE NEVER LOST A FORWARD SCOUT

The old veteran's tears fall freely.
He has come to farewell his old comrade, a man who saved his life more than 70 years ago in the jungles of Kokoda.
They are manly tears and Owen Baskett sheds them unashamedly as he raises his arm to salute the passing casket of his old commanding officer, Capt Bede Tongs.
In November 1942, Owen Baskett was a 21-year-old Digger serving in the 3rd Battalion's 10 Platoon. Bede Tongs was a 22-year-old sergeant who had just taken command after his platoon leader was struck down by a Japanese sniper at Templeton's Crossing.
"I've idolised Bede ever since," says Owen. "He took such care of his men and never asked them to do anything he wouldn't do himself.
"Bede never lost a forward scout. That's a remarkable achievement in a campaign where their life expectancy was measured in days, not weeks."
Bede Tongs was such an outstanding leader that he was later commissioned an officer in the field and was awarded a Military Medal for his bravery at Templeton's Crossing.
There, typically, he refused to put his men's lives at unnecessary risk. Instead, under heavy fire, he crawled up to a machine gun which was holding up his platoon's advance and silenced it with a hand grenade.
Bede led his men through the rest of the campaign with similar care and compassion until he was eventually medically evacuated suffering from malaria, scrub typhus and dengue fever.
Both men returned to civilian life, married, raised families, played prominent roles in their communities and led rich lives into their nineties. They kept in touch and recalled those perilous days over quiet beers. In 2012, 70 years after the battles, they returned to Kokoda together and farewelled their long-departed comrades.
Now Bede finally joins his mates and Owen bids him Godspeed with a soldier's farewell.

 

Captain Bede Tongs OAM MM, Kokoda hero & Kokoda Track Foundation Ambassador

Captain Bede Tongs OAM MM, who passed away peacefully yesterday morning aged 94, was one of the heroes of the WWII Kokoda Campaign in PNG in 1942.

In recent years, as an Ambassador for the Kokoda Track Foundation (KTF), Bede worked ceaselessly to keep the Kokoda story alive and to improve the lives and futures of the descendants of his beloved Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels, his comrades during the Kokoda campaign.

Bede spoke at schools, RSLs, clubs and functions around Australia – always accompanied by his beloved and devoted son Garry – and visited PNG many times, always taking a keen interest in the work of the KTF and delighting in meeting Papuan New Guineans of all ages.

 In 2013 at the age of 93, Bede brilliantly delivered the 2013 Ralph Honner Leadership Oration in front of a 350-strong capacity dinner in Sydney.

Bede was a wise and compassionate man with a remarkably active and nimble mind right to his final days. I have never met a Digger to match Bede’s extraordinary detailed recall, not only of his time on the Kokoda Track - where he remembered actions down to the minute - but also right through his final years when he retained an amazing capacity to remember people’s names and their personal stories.

Born Bede George Donald Tongs at Narrandera NSW on 27 June 1920, he worked as a burr cutter and rouseabout before completing an apprenticeship as a carpenter in Canberra. He joined the 3rd Militia Battalion in February 1940, the unit that spent the longest time serving on the Kokoda Track.

A 22-year-old Sergeant during the Australian advance at Eora Creek-Templeton’s Crossing, Bede took control of his platoon after its officer Lt-Col Richardson was hit in the chest and was evacuated.

Bede positioned his men for an attack based on ‘fire and movement’ and ordered them to fix bayonets. Rather than expose his men to a frontal attack on the Japanese positions, Bede crawled along an enemy fire lane alone and destroyed a machine-gun position with grenades. His action opened the way for his men to take the Japanese position and earned him the Military Medal for bravery.

Bede led his men through to see the Australian flag flying again over Kokoda, arriving there on 6 November 1942. He served with the 3rd Battalion through the battles for Oivi and the beachheads before Bede was evacuated from the beachheads back to Moresby suffering from malaria, scrub typhus and yellow fever. He recovered and, after the 3rd Battalion was disbanded in 1943, Bede joined the 2/3rd Battalion, rising to the rank of Captain. He served in Korea in 1953.

In his Ralph Honner Oration Bede said: “I landed in PNG on 27th May 1942. I met these lovely Papuan people. There has been an evolution in the meantime, but all the time to me they are such lovely people and we can never thank them for how they helped us and died for us in those grim days of the Kokoda track campaign and beyond.”

Bede was an accomplished poet and wrote many poems commemorating the sacrifices of his comrades and the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels who fought and died alongside them.

Bede will long be remembered for his many kindnesses and his great understanding of the people of PNG. The Kokoda Track Foundation will name a wing of the Kokoda College Teaching College after him.

Vale Bede.


High Hopes ... Patrick's latest inspirational book

Small changes can transform our lives.

Patrick's publishing company, Lime Tree Books, has released his latest inspirational title, High Hopes, available nationally through book and gift stores and through BrumbySunstate.

It's the fifth in his It's Never Too Late series of inspirational books and continues his theme of aiming to provide a way for readers to put their lives on pause so they can find some perspective.

"Most of us race through life, unable to enjoy the present because we’re weighed down by the past or worried about the future," Patrick says. "High Hopes offers insights that will allow you to slow the daily rush and enjoy your life, moment by moment.

"High Hopes prompts us to lift our spirits by simplifying our lives, embracing our humanity, sparking our imaginations and inspiring ourselves and those around us."

High Hopes contains simple suggestions, supported by quotes of timeless wisdom, which give readers a chance to break out of their busy lives and lift their spirits.

Each page reminds us that we have the power to take control of our lives, to gather mindful moments, to listen to our heart’s whispers and to bestow kindness freely.

The best portion of a good man’s life is his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love.
— William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

High Hopes gently helps us to examine where we’ve come from and to decide where we want to head. It offers thoughts that create surprising ripple effects in our lives, allowing us to make the small changes that can transform our futures.

As with all of Patrick Lindsay’s inspirational books, High Hopes shows that it’s never too late to live the life we’ve always dreamed of or to be the person we’ve always wanted to be.

The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.
— Carl Jung (1875-1961)

PNG'S NEXT GENERATION OF LEADERS

Mr James Hall, Minister-Counsellor, representing the Australian High Commissioner to PNG, Her Excellency Ms Deborah Stokes, today announced the recipients of the 2014 Archer Leadership Scholarships in Port Moresby.

The six winners of the year-long scholarships will benefit from an intensive suite of activities and programs in PNG and Australia, aimed at developing their leadership skills and abilities.

The scholarships, funded by a grant from the estate of the late Fred P Archer and managed by the Kokoda Track Foundation, aim to identify and foster an annual cohort of promising PNG leaders and will provide a range of opportunities and resources to enhance their leadership skills.

“The Kokoda Track Foundation has been providing scholarships to primary, secondary and tertiary students in the Kokoda catchment area since 2003,” its Chairman, Patrick Lindsay, said.

“The Archer Scholarships have allowed us to offer opportunities to students across PNG in our quest to help to find the next generation of the nation’s leaders.”

“The calibre of the applicants for the 2014 Archer Scholarships was again outstanding. We received applications from across PNG and the recipients were selected from a shortlist of 9 candidates, who were interviewed individually in Port Moresby,” Lindsay said.

 “Candidates must be between 18 and 35 years old, be PNG citizens and of PNG heritage and be in their final year of tertiary study.”

 The 2014 Archer Scholars are:

Masanu Debbie Akane, (Morobe, UPNG, Law)

Morrison Garth,  (Markham, PAU, Environmental Science)

Theresa Gizoria, (Aitape, UPNG, Environmental Science)

Stephannie Kirriwom, (Madang, UPNG, Law)

Bruno Siare,  (Central, PAU, Environmental Science)

Frederick So, (Kavieng, UPNG, Law){C}

Big year for Kokoda Track Foundation

2013 has been one of the Kokoda Track Foundation's most eventful years. We have made record progress on many fronts: our scholarships, our projects in education, health, community development and microbusiness, and our fundraising.

In particular, the Ralph Honner Oration Dinner was a sellout and raised a record $120,000. We are very grateful to all to came along and made the night such a success.

We awarded another 330 scholarships and supported 40 schools with the educational resources they need to operate. We built the Naduri Elementary School and Enivilogo Elementary School and are now working on new classrooms in Buna, Sanananda and Manari which will take us over into the next year. Our 25 committed elementary teachers have continued to operate the schools along and around the Track – keeping them open and giving children in remote communities access to a high quality education. Likewise, our extraordinary health workers have operated the aid posts along and around the Track providing vital healthcare to very remote communities – often for the first time ever. Our programs in microbusiness, agriculture, food security and solar lighting have all grown throughout 2013 thanks to the generosity of our supporters.

But at the same time we've encountered some testing obstacles, particularly in our efforts to build the Kokoda College. A combination of logistic bottlenecks, dysfunctional bureaucracy and weather have temporarily slowed our progress in constructing the College campus.

Nevertheless, our selfless and tireless team - led by Gen and supported by Vera, Petra and Jonathan in Australia and Saii, Wampy, Grayson, Theo, and Elijah in PNG - has met the challenges. I must single out the wonderful work of Petra Arifeae and her husband Charles on the ground at Kou Kou village. They answered our call at the eleventh hour to rush to Kou Kou to take command of the College campus creation after the unforeseen withdrawal of our project manager. They drew on their wide experience - Petra as a school principal and Charles as an engineer - and they performed magnificently under great pressure. We owe them a great debt of gratitude and as the team now withdraws for the wet season we are optimistic with the progress that we have made in spite of the challenges and what 2014 holds.

The year in prospect is an exciting one. 

We are determined that the College will be constructed and operating by the end of 2014 and we are on track to take our first cohort of teacher trainees in the middle of 2014. We will push ahead with building the campus while we continue to deliver our other vital programs.

Our Executive Director, Dr Gen Nelson, will be taking maternity leave from late January. We wish her and James well as they welcome their baby daughter. Gen plans to take a six-month leave period and then return to her role. It's a well earned break as Gen has managed her pregnancy during a tumultuous period for the Foundation. She has handled the pressure with aplomb.

We will miss her leadership and in her absence Bernie Egan will take the reins with our team all stepping up to share additional responsibilities.

Thank you to everyone who supported the Foundation in 2013. Your generosity has once again kept the spirit of Kokoda alive and in action. I wish you all a happy and peaceful Christmas and a healthy and prosperous 2014.

IS HMAS PERTH IN DANGER OF BEING LOOTED?

Starting to hear very disturbing rumours that of Chinese scrap-metal teams may have been looting WWII sunken ships in the Sunda Strait.

These ships, which include the Light Cruiser, HMAS Perth, the American cruiser, U.S.S. Houston, and a Dutch submarine, have been war graves since they were sunk during the Battle of the Sunda Strait on 1 March 1942.

The Perth was commanded by the great Captain Hector Waller who went down with his ship after it was torpedoed by Japanese subs. Of the Perth’s crew of 686, only 218 would eventually return home after the war, the rest were either killed during the battle or in its aftermath or died as POWs.

One persistent rumour has it that the Houston is already reduced to a pile of metal and the Perth is in imminent danger of join ing it.

 Surely our senior Naval officer, Admiral Ray Griggs must pull out all stops to make sure the final resting place of so many gallant seamen remains a hallowed war grave.

MAKE THE MOST OF YOU

I’m excited because I’m waiting to hear that the first print run of my latest inspirational book, Make the Most of You, has arrived at the distributors.

It’s the start of a new approach to publishing: my version of what the Australian Society of Authors calls ‘authorpreneurship’. It’s my response to the changes in the publishing marketplace, in Australia and around the world.

Make the Most of You is the fourth book in my series of inspirational books. The first three - It’s Never Too Late, Now Is The Time and Be Happy - were published in Australia by Hardie Grant Books. The latest will be published by my company Lime Tree Books.

I’m well aware of the risks of going out on my own. The move is aimed at giving me more creative control and greater power to adapt in the changing publishing environment.

These books are sold in both bookstores and in gift stores here and overseas. They’ve sold more than 120,000 copies in Australia and a similar number offshore.

The books all try to give readers a chance to put their busy lives on pause so they can reflect on where they’ve come from and where they’re heading.

They also pose some deep questions: Who are you? Where are you headed? What could you yet become? What holds you back?

I’m hoping that I’ll be able to work with my distributor to spread the word on Make the Most of You so it can emulate the success of the earlier titles.

LET OUR NGOS DELIVER OUR AID TO PNG

The Australian Government should direct more of its Papua New Guinea Aid Budget through established NGOs operating there to improve its effective delivery to the people who need it most, according to the Australian-based Kokoda Track Foundation.

“At present the vast bulk of our PNG Aid is filtered through commercial consultants and intermediary companies,” says Kokoda Track Foundation Chairman Patrick Lindsay.

“The locals call it ‘Boomerang Aid’ because so much of it returns straight back to Australia in costs and fees. There is no doubt that an unacceptable proportion of our aid to our nearest neighbor fails to reach the ground there.”

Lindsay believes most NGOs work more closely and harmoniously with local communities and have honed their operations to deliver projects and services in the swiftest and most cost-effective ways.

“For example, our Foundation doesn’t receive any funds from either the Australian or PNG governments”, Lindsay says. “Instead, we rely on the generosity of philanthropic and corporate donors and the Australian general public to fund our programs in PNG and consequently we are attuned to making every dollar count.”

It’s hard to find a good news story on Papua New Guinea. But, after a decade of working in PNG, Lindsay believes the Kokoda Track Foundation has one and hopes it will encourage others to support its work in the fascinating Land of the Unexpected.

The Foundation runs its vital education, health, community development and microbusiness programs in 40 villages throughout the Kokoda catchment area, from Port Moresby to the northern coastal areas of Buna and Gona.

“We are making real progress,” Lindsay says. “Every village along the Track now has access to an elementary school run by a dedicated and qualified teacher and all villages are in walking distance of an aid post that is operating.

“And this year the Foundation is set to bring a game-changing project to fruition: the creation and construction of the Kokoda College - a state-of-the-art training facility based in rural Kou Kou village, near Kokoda plateau,” Lindsay says. “The College will train urgently-needed teachers and community health workers who will operate the schools and aid posts in remote areas across the nation, providing these vital services where they are most needed.”

Kokoda Track Foundation CEO, Dr Genevieve Nelson, believes the organisation’s success stems from the way that it works with and in local communities and from the strong relationships it has built over time.

“We work in partnership with the local communities. Our staff on the ground in PNG are locals and they know their people’s lives and their main needs,” says Nelson. “Adults seek improved futures for their children and we work together to build these new futures through business, creativity, partnerships, and knowing and understanding the people’s rights.

“To date the Foundation has supported more than 1,400 students on Fuzzy Wuzzy Angel Scholarships, giving them access to an otherwise unattainable education. And we have provided 40 elementary, primary and high schools with educational resources, curriculum materials, 
teacher resources, and stationery,” Nelson says.

“In addition, we have built a number of classrooms along the Kokoda Track; delivered 80 classrooms worth of school furniture and 100 hospital beds; supported 25 teachers and 10 community health workers to operate the schools and aid posts along the Track; trained over 60 elementary and primary teachers and 14 community health workers for the region; delivered 4,500 solar lights to every adult along the Track; and continued our life-changing work in community development, agriculture and microbusiness in over 40 communities in the region.”

Since Independence in 1975, PNG’s population has more than doubled and is now more than 7 million people. Yet in those 38 years, many of PNG’s services and infrastructure have withered and thousands of schools, health centres and aid posts have closed, fallen apart, or have no adequately trained teachers or health workers. PNG’s remote areas often languish without access to the most basic education and healthcare systems and as a result PNG has some of the poorest health and education indicators in the region.

The Kokoda Track Foundation was founded in 2003 by a small group of people who had all walked the Track and wanted to give something back to the people who inhabit it. From small beginnings, it has grown into a thriving and effective organisation that has won respect throughout the Track communities and beyond.

“We aim to repay the debt of honour our nation owes the beloved ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels’ for their selfless help to Australia during WWII,” Patrick Lindsay says. “We’re doing that by helping to improve the lives and futures of their descendants. And we’re constantly heartened by the generosity of Australians and Papua New Guineans who donate money, contribute supplies, or volunteer their time.

“So many people have been touched by the Spirit of Kokoda,” says Lindsay. “Whether they have walked the Track, have a family connection to PNG, or are simply concerned by the disparity between our neighbouring countries, they want to lend a hand. And there is much more to do.

“We know that Oro Province currently only has 40% of the elementary teachers it needs to offer universal primary education. We know that thousands across our catchment area still do not have access to the most basic healthcare and that women continue to die in childbirth and many children will not see their fifth birthday,” says Lindsay.

To find out more about the Kokoda Track Foundation or to get involved, please visit: www.kokodatrackfoundation.org  All donations to the Kokoda Track Foundation of $2 or more are tax deductible in Australia.

 

FIJI Foreign Minister rebuffs PNG Asylum Seeker Plan

A powerful and reasoned rebuff to the Rudd Government's PNG Asylum Seekers Plan by Fiji's Foreign Affairs Minister at the 20th Australia-Fiji Business Forum yesterday:

 SPEECH

20th Australia Fiji Business Forum,

July 28-30, 2013.

The Honourable Matt Thistlethwaite, Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs  

The Honourable Julie Bishop, Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade

The President of the Australia-Fiji Business Council, Mr. Greg Pawson

Members of the Australia-Fiji and Fiji-Australia Business Councils

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

Ni Sa Bula Vinaka and Good Morning.

At the outset, please allow me to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today and pay respects to their elders, both past and present.

I’m delighted – as Fiji’s Foreign Minister – to be here today for this important gathering of those of you who drive the economic links between our two countries and contribute so much to our prosperity. It’s especially pleasing to see the Australian Government represented here at a senior level by the Pacific Islands Minister, Senator Thistlethwaite. Relations between Australia and its Pacific neighbours are at a critical juncture and we have much to discuss While Senator Thistlethwaite is relatively new to his portfolio, I am sure he has a keen understanding of the issues we face and I look forward to continuing our constructive and friendly engagement.  

Ladies and Gentlemen, the ties that bind Australia and Fiji are clearly greater than the issues that sometimes divide us. Our people are genuinely fond of each other and nothing is more important to Fiji than continuing to welcome the hundreds of thousands of Australians who visit our shores every year.

As you all know, there are also tens of thousands of Fijians living in this country, adding the richness of their culture to the great multi-cultural melting pot that is modern Australia.

Certain Fijians are even enriching the life of Senator Thistlewaite, who’s a keen supporter of the South Sydney Rabbitohs in the National Rugby League. I think I can confidently say that without Apisai Koroisau, the Fijian hooker for the Rabbitohs and the other Pacific players at the club, the Senator’s weekends wouldn’t be quite so enjoyable.

Of course, there are Fijian players throughout the NRL, as well as in the Kangaroos and Wallabies. I’m sometimes amused at the way your sports commentators mangle the pronunciation of their names but there’s no doubting the affection in which they’re held by the fans. Or the way in which Australia’s international sporting reputation so often depends on them.

The point is that our relationship runs very deep – certainly way beyond our business ties – and, person-to-person, is overwhelmingly one of mutual affection. As our Prime Minister said in an interview with the New Zealand media on Friday, “Fijians love Australians. Always have, always will”. We are neighbours and we are friends, which also means that we have our differences from time to time and also need to treat these with openness and candour. Which brings me to being candid this morning about some aspects of our relationship that we feel need addressing.

As you will have gathered from the Prime Minister’s comments on Friday, the Fijian Government is decidedly less than happy about Australia’s plan to move asylum seekers seeking to settle in Australia into Melanesia – into our neighbourhood.

For an Australian problem, you have proposed a Melanesian solution that threatens to destabilise the already delicate social and economic balances in our societies.

The Australian Government has used its economic muscle to persuade one of our Melanesian governments to accept thousands of people who are not Pacific Islanders, a great number of them permanently.

This was done to solve a domestic political problem – and for short-term political gain – without proper consideration of the long-term consequences.

This was done without any consultation, a sudden and unilateral announcement, which is not the Pacific Way and has shocked a great many people in the region.

Why – you may ask – is this any of Fiji’s business? This was a deal with Papua New Guinea, a sovereign government surely entitled to make its own arrangements.

Well, we regard it as our business because we see ourselves as part of a wider Melanesian community through the Melanesian Spearhead Group.

We are striving for more cohesion, more integration in the MSG, including the formation of a Melanesian Common Market with a free flow of goods, services and labour.

This deal – and those mooted with Solomon Islands and Vanuatu – clearly threatens our interests by altering the fundamental social fabric of any member country that accepts a deal with Australia.

We are deeply troubled by the consequent threat to the stability of these countries – and the wider Melanesian community – by the scale of what is being envisaged.

Indeed, we are alarmed to read some of the accounts of what is evidently being canvassed in Australian policy circles.

In the words of the respected Foreign Editor of The Australian newspaper, Greg Sheridan, Quote: “Imagine what the South Pacific would be like in five or six years’ time if there were 50,000 resettled refugees in PNG, and perhaps 10,000 in Vanuatu, 5000 in Solomon Islands and a few thousands elsewhere in the Pacific.

These refugees would be Iranians, Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis, Palestinians, perhaps some Sudanese and Somalis, and most of them getting some Australian financial support.

This population would constitute a recipe for social instability and a significant security problem for the region ”. Unquote.

Very similar sentiments have been expressed by Indonesia, the Salvation Army and a growing number of Australian interest groups. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees has warned that settling subsidized asylum-seekers in PNG under the deal could spark local resentment among a population already suffering significant disadvantage, thus leading to instability. History has shown us that such instability will have far reaching ripple effects for not only PNG but the rest of the region. As business people you are well aware of the potential for the negative spillover effect of this Australian Government policy throughout the region, given that our Pacific economies are inextricably connected.

So Ladies and Gentlemen, it IS our business and before this goes any further, we want thorough regional consultation. We want – no, we demand – to have our voices heard.

It is not our concern who wins the coming Australian election. That is a matter for the Australian people. But we are deeply concerned about the impact of Australian politics on our own affairs.

We are deeply concerned about the impact of Australian politics on the welfare of future generations of Pacific People. As Pacific Islanders, we share the horror of many in the international community at the deaths of more than one thousand asylum seekers trying to reach Australia. It is a terrible human tragedy and our hearts go out to the families of those involved. But we cannot remain silent when the current Australian Government dumps this problem – which is arguably of its own making – on our doorstep. Regrettably, from Fiji’s perspective, this deal continues a pattern of behavior on the part of the Australian Government that is inconsiderate, prescriptive, highhanded and arrogant. Instead of treating the Pacific nations as equals, your decision-makers too often ignore our interests and concerns and take it for granted that we will accede to their wishes and demands.

Australia is a vast landmass with vast resources and is thus much better placed than the small and vulnerable nations of the Pacific to address this problem. The question must be asked as to why Australia did not engage with the other Forum members before it embarked on its latest Pacific Solution for unwanted asylum seekers? From where we sit, we suspect the answer is that the Australian Government doesn’t particularly care what we think. Fiji therefore appeals to the current Australian Government to face up to the responsibilities to your neighbours.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the nature of the schism between Fiji and Australia over the events of 2006 is well known and doesn’t warrant elaborate detail here.

But we remain deeply disappointed that instead of constructive engagement, Australia chose to punish Fiji for finally addressing the deep divisions in our society, the lack of equality and genuine democracy and the corruption that was destroying our country from within.

Our doors were always open to you but you chose not to enter.

Next month, we will unveil a new Constitution that guarantees, for the first time, political, economic and social rights for all Fijians, including access to basic services. Next year, we will have the first genuine democracy in Fiji’s history of one person, one vote, one value. And the legal enforcement of our people to vote along racial lines will finally be a thing of the past.

We imagined – perhaps naively – that our bigger neighbours – Australia and New Zealand – might at least try to understand what we were trying to achieve. But they turned their backs on us and set about trying to damage the country in the hope that they would destroy our reformist government.

It is not easy to forget Australia’s efforts at the United Nations to bring an end to our three-decade long commitment to UN peacekeeping. It is not easy to forget the Australian Government’s action in severing our access to loans from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. It is not easy to forget the travel bans that are still in place and have led to inconvenience and heartbreak and deprived us of the ability to attract the best people to run our government departments and even serve on the boards of our public enterprises and utilities.

Even now, Australia has refused a visa for our Minister for Trade and Industry to attend this gathering. So the Minister who can most assist you all in your efforts to expand that trade cannot be present in this room.

This is an unconscionable impediment to free trade, just as it was unconscionable for Australia to ban entry to the former head of our national airline, an American citizen punished for assuming the job of Chairman of Tourism Fiji while he pursued the interests of an airline part owned by Qantas.

When Australia stops trying to damage Fiji – which it is still doing – only then can we can begin to rebuild the political relationship, including the restoration of full diplomatic ties. But it will be a different relationship. The events of the past seven years have made it so.

When it comes to global and regional politics, we have taken a different path and forged new relationships with countries that proved to be more understanding and less prescriptive, who understood what we were doing rather than telling us what to do.

Fiji no longer looks to just Australia and New Zealand as our natural allies and protectors, we look to the World. Jolted from our complacency by the doors that were slammed in our faces, we looked North – to the great powers of Asia, especially China, India and Indonesia and more recently to Russia. We looked South, to the vast array of nations, big and small, that make up the developing world and we currently chair the G77, the biggest voting bloc at the United Nations. And we looked to our Melanesian neighbours, to forge closer ties with them and use our collective strength to make our voices heard in global forums and secure better trading deals for us all.

So while whoever wins the Fijian election next year will doubtless find a more accommodating attitude in Canberra, on the Fijian side our attitudes have changed irrevocably. We are keen to rebuild the relationship but not on the same basis. We want mutual understanding and respect and to be regarded as equals, just as we pursue all of our international relationships under our overarching policy to be “friends to all”.

And so, Ladies and Gentleman, Fiji renews its call today for the Australian Government to engage more constructively with it and with the other Melanesian countries, all of whom – to a greater or lesser extent – share our view that current Australian attitudes leave a lot to be desired.

It is, in turn, fuelling a growing belief that the current frameworks for regional cooperation are not serving our needs. In Fiji’s case, our continuing suspension from the Pacific Forum has convinced us that Australia and New Zealand have a disproportionate influence over its affairs that is clearly to our detriment and sometimes the detriment of our neighbours.

So Fiji wants to rearrange the furniture with a regional body that more properly reflects the concerns of Pacific island nations.

Next week in Nadi, Fiji is hosting the inaugural Pacific Islands Development Forum. 23 Pacific countries will be attending, as well as 10 countries with observer status. At this meeting, Australia and New Zealand will be observers, not members. And the island countries will be able to discuss their own challenges and formulate their own solutions free from outside interference and the prescription of their larger neighbours.

When it comes to our bilateral trade relationship,Ladies and Gentlemen, of course, Australia is still Fiji’s biggest partner and our healthy trading relationship continues. You will hear in greater detail about the challenges and opportunities from Mr. Shaheen Ali, our Permanent Secretary for Trade and Industry Mr. Truman Bradley, Chairman of Investment Fiji and Mr. Inia Nayasi, Deputy Governor of the Reserve of Fiji, later on in the Forum, not only about our political reforms but our increasingly healthy trading environment, of the lowest corporate and personal taxes in the region, large incentives for investment and significant improvements in infrastructure such as roads, ports and telecommunications.

Fiji remains open for business, as the theme for the 20th Australia-Fiji Business Forum and Trade Expo states and I encourage you all to seize the opportunities that our reforms in Fiji are producing.

As a Government, we believe in creating a conducive environment for trade, investment and business. We are convinced that the best way to raise living standards is to create and sustain jobs. That means a strong collaboration between the public and private sectors and a strong collaboration between workers and businesses.

In conclusion, I wish to leave you with the following considerations:

·     The Government of Fiji urges the Government of Australia to take cognisance of the effect of its domestic policies on its Pacific neighbours and work towards an alternative asylum-seeker solution.

·     Bilateral relations between Fiji and Australia at the political level can only ever be restored on an equal footing, with mutual respect for sovereignty

·     In spite of our political differences, the Government of Fiji remains committed to facilitating and encouraging Australian businesses to

reach their fullest potential in Fiji. As we keep saying, we are building a new and better Fiji and that means new and better opportunities for the business community flowing from our reform programs.

Fiji is indeed open and always ready for business.

Thank you for the invitation to address you and I wish you well in your deliberations. Vinaka vakalevu