High Commissioner's speech at the Queen's Birthday Party

High Commissioner Roderick Drummond's speech at the Queen's Birthday Party

Your Excellency the President of the Republic of Fiji, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau. Hon Acting Prime Minister. Hon Chief Justice. Hon Government Ministers, Hon Members of Parliament, Commander RFMF, Police Commissioner, diplomatic colleagues, Heads of Regional Organisations and UN Agencies, leaders of civil society and the business community. Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends, welcome to our Queen’s Birthday Party, celebrating the 89th Birthday of Her Majesty the Queen.

Ni sa bula vinaka. Namaaste. As salaam alaikum.

My wife Yasmin and I would like to thank you all for joining us tonight to help us celebrate this special occasion, for us it is our second QBP in Fiji. We look forward to at least one more. We look back at an extremely positive year in the UK-Fiji relationship, with many events to celebrate together. My year was punctuated by important elections. I followed closely the elections in Tonga, Tuvalu and FSM. But two elections stood out, those in Fiji and the UK. I was amused to compare the opinion polls in both contests. In the UK there were hundreds of polls, and all the pollsters got their predictions wrong. In Fiji I recall only one opinion poll, which called the result correctly. Perhaps they used more scientific polling techniques from which the UK should learn? Anyway, congratulations to the Fiji Sun for predicting the result!

The 2014 general election in Fiji was more important than most, since it has enabled Fiji to reengage with its friends overseas in a new spirit, and to take forward economic and political reforms. The UK is playing a full part in this process: we supported last year’s election and we continue to support reforms in many fields, in a spirit of genuine partnership with the Fijian government, institutions and civil society. We do not have all the answers, and do not push solutions on Fiji, since the government and people of Fiji have to make their own decisions and find their own way.

However, the UK has a rich experience on which you can draw. For example, I hope that the Overseas Development Institute will soon second analysts to work in some of Fiji’s economic ministries, to help support reforms. I know that UK parliamentarians are keen to build on the links established by Madame Speaker’s recent visit to the UK, as Fiji strengthens its democratic institutions. There are other examples.

In Britain’s general election Prime Minister Cameron won an overall majority, after 5 years of leading a coalition. The new government is refreshing its approach, setting out its views on Britain in the World, conducting a new National Security and Defence Review, seeking major reforms in the European Union, and devolving new powers to our regions. We remain engaged in all regions of the world, on all major issues, as a responsible member of the UN Security Council with global interests befitting the 6th largest economy in the world - and the fastest growing major economy in Europe.

In Asia-Pacific the UK election result means continuity in foreign policy, with Mr Hammond reappointed Foreign Secretary and Mr Swire Minister of State for Asia-Pacific. The British government certainly looks forward to building on its relationship with Fiji and other Pacific Nations from the solid foundation we have now, and working together in international fora on issues of mutual interest, above all Climate Change. I hope Mr Swire will be able to visit Fiji soon, to follow up his London meeting with Prime Minister Bainimarama last November. The UK is closely engaged with Pacific regional organisations. And we are a supportive and active partner of the EU Delegation as it takes forward our shared objectives in the Pacific.

A top UK priority in this region and globally is Climate Change. Like Fiji and other Pacific Island Nations, we are pressing for an ambitious, legally binding deal at the Paris Conference in December. With our EU partners we have committed to 40% emission reductions by 2020. At the G7 this week we pledged to even higher emission reductions by 2050 and to work towards a zero-carbon world by the end of the century. The UK has committed £720 million to the Green Climate Fund, to help developing countries adapt to climate change and go low-carbon. As my Prime Minister said last year, “man-made climate change is one of the most serious threats that our country and the world faces. It is our duty to act.

Her Majesty’s Government is pleased that Fiji has resumed its links with the Commonwealth, in which we want Fiji to play a leading role. I am glad that the Prime Minister plans to travel to Malta in November for the CHOGM, and I am excited about the opportunities available to Fiji. The Attorney General recently travelled to London for the Commonwealth Cyber Forum, Fijian judges attended the Commonwealth Law Conference, and I hope that Fiji will rejoin the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association soon.

In the security field, I welcome my new Defence Advisor, Commander Burlingham, who will help take our defence and security relationship forward. In November we brought instructors from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst to deliver courses here. We recently organized in Nadi a regional course on Economic Exclusion Zones, and we are working with the RFMF and Fiji Police on various new projects. Military sporting ties have resumed – two British forces netball teams visited recently, and found the Fijian ladies to be formidably strong! In the other direction, an RFMF team will head to England for a military rugby competition in October. I know that the British Army and Royal Navy teams include some Fijian boys, so perhaps those games will be more even!

Ties created by those who serve and have served the Crown in the British armed forces remain very special - ties of honour, and blood. I was pleased that a few months ago the Prime Minister opened the British Forces Welfare Centre, which benefits current and ex-servicemen and women, and their families. My thanks to Royal British Legion Fiji and BRISFAF for their support through the year - and to Major Jim Hall – who is working in the UK this week.

I wanted to touch on a few points with a cultural theme. In the UK we believe that culture is integral to our society, and to our success in the world. It feeds our education system, our talent for creativity, our innovation in science, our entrepreneurial spirit, and our love of sport. You will see some of our GREAT campaign banners around the room picking up those themes. I would argue that cultural creativity is equally vital for the Pacific Nations including Fiji. You have rich traditions that support your tourism and your fashion industry. Your culture could be channelled in other ways too. . In honour of tonight’s cultural theme I would like to recognise Alice Hill, of Hot Glass Fiji, who created the glass art work – the driftwood lamp - in the hallway. Alice is a British artist living and working in Sigatoka. Her work, inspired by the colours and beauty of Fiji, is certified Fijian Made – and contributes to the tourism and fashion industries. She also mentors a young Fijian artist, Pita Vibose, a real talent for the future. Alice is a living example of the value of cultural industries. As well as featuring her work tonight, we were glad to host a successful public exhibition of her work last week.

Continuing the cultural theme I salute the recent winner of an award for Commonwealth Short Stories – Mary Rokonadravu from Fiji. Her work is thought-provoking, relevant and finally getting the recognition that Pacific authors deserve.

Some of you were at USP on Monday, to see the Globe Theatre company perform Hamlet. I thought it was amazing, full of energy and very moving. To celebrate Shakespeare’s 400th Anniversary they are taking Hamlet to every country in the world. Fiji was country #105 on their tour, Tuvalu yesterday was #106. If you missed them in Suva, they will be in Samoa, Solomon Islands, Kiribati and Tonga this month. [My thanks to Fiji Police for the loan of four swords – which were thankfully undamaged after the climactic fight scene]. This month Fiji’s own Oceania Dance Group is in Norway, Scotland, and then Belgium to perform for the European Parliament and Commission. Their performance of Ala Moana: The Rising of the Seas, will amaze and delight audiences, and help galvanize opinion to take action on Climate Change.

Today marks 100 days to the start of the Rugby World Cup 2015. Fiji will of course play a starring role in the first match against hosts England. I hope you have cleared your diaries and that some of you have secured tickets. I would like to mention a young Fijian lad who will be there at Twickenham on 18 September. His name is Manueli Rauqeuqe. Manueli won a DHL competition, and he will carry onto the pitch the first matchball – and then watch the match with his mother. As most of you know, I will struggle to remain neutral on 18 September – for obvious reasons. Toso Viti.

I also salute tonight a winner of the Queen’s Young Leaders Award – Alzima Elisha Bano. Her community leadership in Fiji has been recognized and she heads to London soon to undertake a programme of training, mentoring and networking. She will also collect her award from Her Majesty the Queen.

Almost 20,000 Britons visit Fiji every year. Amongst them I would highlight the several hundred British volunteers who give their time and energy to communities in Fiji, working in the most remote areas and islands for months at a time. I have seen for myself, in Rewa and Koro Island, the tremendous impact they have on local schools and communities, and I am encouraging more UK universities to send volunteers here. Some of our volunteering organisations are represented here tonight: Think Pacific, Projects Abroad UK and Lattitude. I also commend the work of other British universities, civil society groups and charities for everything they do in Fiji. Physionet UK continue to send equipment for disabled people, working with their partners in the Fiji Spinal Injuries Association. Margaret and David Long at Children of Fiji continue to support kindergartens and other educational projects. Top British Universities like UCL and Imperial College are collaborating with USP and other partners to develop technologies and approaches to fight climate change. Pacific specialists from St Andrews and East Anglia are working on EU programmes to develop more joint research between Europe and the Pacific.

These are just a few examples of the cultural ties that sustain vital people-to-people links between Britain and Fiji. There are many more.

I am pleased to say the British Government is doing more to support exchanges in education. Our official scholarship scheme, Chevening, has tripled in size for the Pacific. My team recently completed interviews in Suva and 17 young Pacifikers will go to the UK in September to start Masters Studies in various fields. 7 of the 17 are young Fijians, the others hail from Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu. We believe this is the best investment we can make in the future leadership of the Pacific – just as past scholars have gone on to become leaders in their fields.

A quick plug for Social Media. If you want to know more about what we are doing, check us out on Facebook - ukinthesouthpacific. Or follow me on Twitter - @RoddyDrummond. We try to show we are doing across 10 countries - and we will reply to comments or questions. Yasmin and I owe a real debt of gratitude to all Suva High Commission staff for their support over the year - and for the preparations for tonight’s event. Thank you all, and a welcome to 3 new members of the team, for whom this is their first QBP.

Before offering you the Toast, and to give you time to charge your glasses, I must mention our event sponsors. There are three, each important members of the private sector in Fiji – and outstanding examples of the kind of world class companies that I want to see more of operating in Fiji.

Firstly, thanks to Vodafone, the leading British telecom provider. The UK’s most recognizable brand, the 2nd largest telecom company in the world, and No1 in Fiji. I was impressed this year to see them expand in this region, and sustain the highest levels of service in Fiji. They are also key sponsors of Fiji sport, with an active community programme. Secondly, DHL, with whom Rugby World Cup are working very closely to help deliver - excuse the pun - the spectacle of sport in England and Wales later this year. Lastly, Landrover. An iconic British product. You can see parked on my lawn a stylish Range Rover Evoque, alongside my Discovery flag car. Bob Niranjan tells me that the new Discovery Sport is coming soon – I myself will visit JLR’s world class factory near Liverpool in July, to see the Disco Sport and Evoque being made.

My thanks again to all three sponsors, fine examples of GREAT British businesses, innovation and world class service.

And vinaka vaka levu to the Fiji Shangri La Resort for their very fine cake. To conclude, I would ask you to join me in the Toast. I give you, the President, the Government and the People of the Republic of Fiji.