The Solicitor General and Chair of Legal Aid Commission Office;
Commissioners and staff of the Legal Aid Commission;
My Fellow Fijians.
Bula vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all.
I’m delighted to be here today to officially open the Legal Aid Commission’s Office in Nasinu – close on the heels of opening a similar office in Nausori yesterday.
This is yet another facility I’m opening to give the Fijian people access to the justice system. As I’ve said before: I regard my Government’s provision of equal access to justice for all Fijians as one of our most important priorities.
What we are doing with these offices is opening up the legal system to many who have always found it inaccessible, intimidating and expensive. In these offices, ordinary people have easy and ready access to the best legal advice. And all the services here are free for those who qualify for legal assistance.
My fellow Fijians, I’ve chosen Nasinu today – in the heart of the most populated corridor in Fiji – to make a major announcement of importance to all Fijians and the future of our beloved nation.
As I signaled in my New Year’s message at the start of 2013, we need a new flag. But in the past two years, of course, we were consumed with the monumental task of holding our first genuinely democratic election in Fijian history – putting all of the pieces together to bring us to where we are today.
But now that our new democracy is in place, we can proceed with the program I flagged at the beginning of 2013 to adopt a symbol that is more in keeping with our national aspirations in the 21st century.
We need to replace the symbols on our existing flag that are out of date and no longer relevant, including some anchored to our colonial past. The new flag should reflect Fiji’s position in the world today as a modern and truly independent nation state.
The existing flag is widely loved and admired and I want to stress that this initiative is in no way a repudiation of it or the warm sentiments we all feel whenever it is raised. It has served us well since it was introduced at Independence in 1970.
Our United Nations peacekeeping troops have fought and sometimes died under it. Our sportsmen have stood before it as they achieved some of the greatest and most inspirational victories in our sporting history.
As a nation, we will never forget the image of Iliesa Delana –now an Assistant Minister in my Government – waving our flag before the vast crowd and the global television audience when he won Gold at the London Paralympics. And, of course, every Fijian has stood before it in our schools as they sing our national anthem with patriotism and pride.
So we honour our existing flag as an important link to our past and it will continue to have an important place during the transitional phase to our new national symbol.
But after 45 years, my fellow Fijians, it is time to dispense with the colonial symbols on our flag – the Union Flag of the United Kingdom and our colonial shield – and embrace a flag that is relevant to every Fijian today.
As a Government, we are not embarking on this change lightly. Indeed, you all know that I chose a stylised version of our “noble banner blue” for my FijiFirst political movement that won the September election.
But it is time for us all to embrace change. It is time to sever links that are no longer relevant. It is time to have a national symbol that reflects our present state as a nation. That has indigenous and truly Fijian symbols of identity. That we can honour as a truly authentic expression of our nation now and into the future. And that fills us with even more pride. Promotes even more unity. Because it is relevant and meaningful to us all.
The Union Flag belongs to the British, not to us. The shield on our flag has the British Lion and the Cross of St George – a British patron saint. What does this have to do with us? They are the symbols of the coloniser – Britain – a country with whom we are friends and will continue to be so. But they are not symbols that are relevant to any Fijian in the 21st century. And they should go. Honoured symbols of our past, but not of our future.
Fiji is not alone in wanting to update its national symbol to reflect the changes in its society since it became independent. There are only four Commonwealth nations that still have the Union Flag as part of their national symbols: Australia, New Zealand, Tuvalu and Fiji.
New Zealand has begun a process to change its flag and Australia is currently debating theirs. Fiji intends to the lead the way by adopting a truly authentic expression of who we are and where we are, rather than honour someone else’s flag.
My fellow Fijians, I am today outlining a process that will be inclusive and based on a general consensus to design a new flag. All Fijians, including school children, will be encouraged to enter a national competition for the design of this new national symbol.
We are also going to form a national committee chosen from a broad cross section of Fijian society to judge the entries and choose the most appropriate design.
This National Panel of Citizens – including nominees from the Leader of Opposition – will be set up and selected by Government. All Fijians expect that something so important should be apolitical. So I ask everyone to participate in this most noble of endeavours.
The competition and the formation of the National Panel will commence during this month of February. The competition will be open for two months. And the whole selection process has been designed so that we will be ready to hoist our new flag on the 45th anniversary of our Independence – October the 10th, 2015.
As well as this National Panel of Citizens, every Fijian will be given an opportunity to have a view on this issue and a vote on the final design via social media and text platforms. We urge every Fijian to take part in this process, irrespective of age, gender or socio-economic background.
Of course, the design of the new flag will also be considered by Parliament and I will make a ministerial statement when Parliament resumes next week.
We will all have our own ideas about what should be on the new flag. Through this process, those ideas will all be considered. And so, my fellow Fijians, please give full rein to your imaginations. You can all – including the very young – create a design and submit it.
Your idea may not be the final design, but maybe your idea inspires part of that design. So get involved in the process to create our new flag and our new democracy’s most important symbol for a modern, independent and strong Fiji.
As Prime Minister, I have an open mind about the final outcome. My preference at this stage is to retain the existing “Fiji blue” background – but without the Union Flag and Shield. But I’m excited to see whatever ideas the Fijian people come up with.
We want to encourage new designs and symbols, perhaps indigenous flora and fauna that are unique to Fiji. Designs and symbols that are authentically Fijian. We must all have an open mind about the final result, but it should be symbolic of the unity of the nation and instantly recognisable the world over as uniquely and proudly Fijian.
I call on you all to join me in this historic quest. It is 45 years since Independence. We are no longer the country we were in 1970.
We hold our heads high on the world stage – as a strong independent nation. We have an independent foreign policy of being enemies to none and friends to all. Our new flag needs to make us stand even taller and prouder than our existing one. And it will. Because we are genuinely independent and are standing taller and prouder as Fijians than ever before.
As I said at the start, I chose Nasinu for this announcement because I wanted to do it before an audience of ordinary Fijians. And in this most populous and vibrant part of our nation, nowhere is more appropriate for such a historic announcement.
I also have great pleasure in again formally opening an office of the Legal Aid Commission to benefit ordinary Fijians. And especially one to give them better access to justice.
As I said in Nausori yesterday, there is something especially noble about lawyers providing low income Fijians with access to the law. So I again urge everyone here – lawyers and office staff alike – to uphold my Government’s central ethos of service to the Fijian people. We deliver. We Serve.
My fellow Fijians, I’m now very proud to formally open the Nasinu office of the Legal Aid Commission.
Vinaka Vakalevu. Thank you.