Fiji Fundraising Dinner

Speech in the ACT Legislative Assembly

8 June 2016

I would like to speak this evening about an event that I attended at the end of May organised by the Fiji Australia Association and the Migrant and Refugee Settlement Services of the ACT to raise funds to help rebuild Fiji following the devastation caused by Cyclone Winston. Ms Lawder also supported the cause through her attendance.

Cyclone Winston was the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall in Fiji and the South Pacific Basin in history. Striking Fiji at category 5 intensity on 20 February this year, Winston inflicted extensive damage on many islands and killed 44 people. Communications were temporarily lost with at least six islands, with some remaining isolated more than two or three days after the storm’s passage. A total of 40,000 homes were damaged or destroyed and approximately 350,000 people— roughly 40 percent of Fiji’s population—were significantly impacted by the storm.

The level of devastation caused by the cyclone is beyond imagination, and the images that we saw during the evening were truly extraordinary and certainly brought home the need for fundraising.

I was inspired by the way that the Fiji Australia Association and MARSS rallied to help make a difference for those impacted by the cyclone. Lady Cosgrove, as patron, and the Governor-General attended the dinner as guests of the chief executive officer, Ms Dewani Bakkum. Other attendees included the Fiji High Commissioner, the Argentinian ambassador, the High Commissioner for Sri Lanka and numerous other dignitaries.

The evening featured a number of excellent performances by the Fijian community, the Tongan High Commission, Bollywood Dance, the United Nesian Movement—Pacific cultural group—of Pacific Island Tradies, and by the ACT Tibetan community. The performances demonstrated that the Fijians are vibrant and optimistic people with many friends, both near and far.

Despite the extraordinary devastation and loss of life, the resolve to rebuild and re-establish communities is truly special and inspiring. Whilst I know the Australian government committed over $30 million to help rebuild, there is so much more that needs to be done.

Today I would like to commend MARSS for the work that they do. Of course, there is the regular or everyday work that they do, which often goes unnoticed. There are also the extra things that MARSS does which go above and beyond, like their support for events to help communities in need. If the work of MARSS and Dewani Bakkum were to be delivered by government, it would cost considerably more than it does. They operate on a shoestring budget and they do a magnificent job.

I would like to commend the supporters of the event, including the Fiji High Commission, the Tongan High Commission, the Belgian High Commission, the Hellenic Club Woden, the Pacific Island Showcase, Legal on London, Dan Murphy’s, Soychic Candles, Fantastic Furniture, Island Breeze, The Good Guys, Pacific Island Tradies, Fofoanga—the Tongan kava group—the ACT Tibetan community, Ruchi South Indian Cuisine, Nic Manikis, Pamela Bennington, Christine Shaw, Toa Takiari, Isaacs and Friends from the New Zealand community, and, of course, Dewani Bakkum and her team at MARSS.

I know that the Fijian people are happy and faithful people and that Fiji will surely rebuild. The funds from last month’s event and other fundraising activities will surely help enormously.