As we celebrate Australia Day 2013, I would like to extend greetings from the Australian High Commission to all of the people of Fiji.
Observed on 26 January, Australia Day allows Australians to celebrate our past and recognise our unique Indigenous heritage as well as the diverse, multicultural Australia of today.
In Australia and overseas, Australians will spend the day with friends and family, celebrating in their homes, local parks and beaches with barbecues, backyard cricket, music and fireworks.
At the same time, our newest Australians will be welcomed at citizenship ceremonies throughout Australia and embassies all over the world.
As we celebrate our national day, our thoughts remain with those recovering from the destruction of last month's cyclone.
For many Fijians, this is a time of rebuilding after a devastating year of natural disasters.
I have witnessed the devastation of the back to back floods in February and April as well as the destruction caused by Cyclone Evan, and have seen the impact wreaked on schools, farms, business, and communities. What impressed me was the resilience of the communities and how quickly Fijians were able to rebound.
I am proud that Australia, as a Pacific neighbour and friend, was able to assist Fijians in rebuilding homes and livelihoods, that we were able to help communities repair schools so children could quickly resume their studies, and that we were able to assist farmers to rehabilitate their lands and plant new crops.
In the aftermath of the floods, Australia committed more than $13 million to provide for essentials and again, following the devastation of the cyclone, Australia has worked to help those affected through a package of assistance worth close to $6million.
Australia's swift and substantial response to these crises is indicative of the special and enduring relationship between the people of our two countries. Around 300,000 Australians travel to Fiji each year to visit the beautiful islands and enjoy the warm hospitality, while more than 2,000 Australians have chosen to make Fiji their home. Here in Fiji, everywhere I go I meet Fijians with connections to Australia whether through business, family or study. More than 50,000 Fijians now call Australia home and these Fijian-Australians make a valued contribution to our society, helping to build ever stronger people-to-people links. For two sports loving countries, nowhere is this more evident than in the sports arena with Fijian-Australians such as Lote Tuqiri, Petero Civoniceva and Nic Naitanui cheered on by Australian crowds on a weekly basis.
As ever, Australia is committed to supporting the welfare of the people of Fiji and remains Fiji's largest development partner. Recognising the persistent challenges facing Fiji, Australia will increase its assistance to close to $100 million each year by 2013-14.
Our development assistance programs focus on improving access to quality education, enhancing economic opportunities in the poorest communities and strengthening primary health services, including the provision of vaccinations.
Last year I was proud to be at the handover of three new vaccines to the Fiji Ministry of Health: Pneumococcal vaccine, Rotavirus vaccine and Human Papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine.
These vaccines will ensure that Fiji's children are protected from pneumonia, diarrhoea, sepsis and cervical cancer. Fiji is the first country in the world to introduce these three vaccines simultaneously and the handover represented a major milestone in Australia's support of the Fiji's health sector. More importantly, it will have a long-lasting legacy of saving lives.
Australia, along with our regional partners and the international community, continues to encourage Fiji's return to democracy. Australia welcomed the Fijian Government's March 2012 announcement on a process for constitutional consultations in preparation for elections in 2014.
Australia has since committed $4.9 million to support Fiji's constitution and election preparations including the Electronic Voter Registration program, the Constitutional Commission and civic education programs. Australia will continue to support efforts to prepare for and conduct free and fair elections.
Australia's relationship with Fiji remains underpinned by our long-standing and substantial bilateral trading relationship and in many ways sustained through the our strong people-to-people links.
Australia remains the largest foreign investor in Fiji, with an estimated $3 billion worth of investments in 2011. Australia remains Fiji's principal export destination, receiving over 20 per cent of Fiji's exports including gold and clothing.
Australian companies continue to seek out business opportunities here in Fiji, particularly in the banking and mining sectors and we expect more Australian companies will look with interest to Fiji as it continues its transition to democracy.
To all our friends in Fiji, I extend to you my best wishes for Australia Day.