Mister Speaker, let me begin by acknowledging a sobering reality: There has never been a time when Fijian women and girls have been spared the brutality of domestic and sexual violence. It may be painful to accept, but that is a tragic and indisputable fact of our history, and – indeed – the history of all of humanity.  And that scourge of violence and abuse perpetuates to this very day. Anyone who rejects that truth stands in denial of the very real suffering of women across generations, and the survivors of abuse today.
Only by acknowledging the age-old nature of these crimes do we stand a chance at eradicating them entirely. Only by treating domestic violence as that national problem that it is can we address it properly, at all levels of society, and in every Fijian community. And only by taking this problem head-on and pursuing real solutions that embody the truth can we give women and girls in Fiji the opportunity to live free from the lurking threat of violence and abuse.
Mister Speaker, I’ve met with Fijians who have spent nearly their entire lives helping lead the campaign to end domestic and sexual violence in Fiji. I’ve given those leaders my total commitment to ending this longstanding plague on Fijian society. I’ve raised awareness in communities on the resources available to women who have survived abuse. I’ve demanded that the men of Fiji join me in taking ownership of this issue. Because, like it or not, it is men who perpetrate the vast majority of these crimes, regardless of their ethnicity, as some still say, and regardless of their social status, the province they come from, or whether they worship in church, at temple or in a mosque. Abuse knows no colour nor creed. And the abuse of Fijian women will not end until all men make the effort to condemn this sort of violence, condemn abusers, and speak out in defence of the women and girls of this country.
The nature of these crimes can make them incredibly difficult to combat. Physical and mental abuse often go hand in hand, and victims can be manipulated into thinking that they are to blame for the crimes committed against them. Victims can be intimidated into silence. Crimes go unreported, and abusers go unpunished. What’s worse is that entire communities sometimes turn a blind eye to the abusers and do not report such crimes to the Police. They accept and expect a certain level of abuse against women and girls. That culture of tolerance is the ugly underbelly of Fijian society that stretches back as far as history records, and that has made accounting for the true scale of this issue all the more difficult.
Mister Speaker, the patriarchal mindset of men who commit abuse doesn’t always manifest in violence. We see that same mentality in men who think women ought to be brewing tea in the boardroom rather than leading the meeting; the men who think women belong in the kitchen making dinner, rather than going to work and earning a pay check to support their families; and the men who believe they rank above women – even in this very parliament –  simply by virtue of being male. Those men all share the same backwards mentality. Those men all feed into the same culture of abuse in our society. In my view, those men are all cowards.
Mister Speaker, Hon. Mosese Bulitavu proved himself to be such a man when – in response to an horrific act of violence committed against a Fijian woman – he gave voice to an ugly and insufferable lie on his social media.
I rise today to condemn that statement.
I hesitate to even read Bulitavu’s words aloud. The language is offensive and unbecoming of this august Parliament. But it’s important we state exactly what was said so that we can ensure it is never repeated.
On 4 July 2019, Bulitavu posted a message on his Facebook that contained the following:
“Murder and stabbing in the past were only done by Fijians who are descendants of the indentured Labourers from British India and was never part of Fijians who are iTaukeis now slowly sharing some itovo vulagi, meaning foreign behaviour.”
Mister Speaker, those were the first words out of Bulitavu’s mouth upon hearing news of a murder of an innocent woman. His first instinct was to blame an entire race of people for the evil actions of a sick and twisted individual. But it didn’t end there. He went on to stereotype Indo-Fijian women as being promiscuous. He claimed that iTaukei men only beat iTaukei women because they are bigger than them. Worse, he insinuated that iTaukei women should be thankful these beatings aren't carried out with weapons.  
Every word was a slap in the face to the victims of domestic abuse and a step backwards for our campaign to rid our country of these terrible crimes. But I think what Bulitavu didn’t say is just as despicable as what he did say. He didn’t condemn the individual actions of that abuser and killer. He didn’t call for an end to domestic violence in all its forms, against women of all backgrounds. He didn’t raise awareness of the resources available to women who are suffering from domestic violence. He didn’t mention number 1560 – the helpline available to all women 24/7 where they can report domestic violence and seek assistance.
He didn’t choose to lead. He didn’t choose to be decent. He didn’t choose to actually try helping women in need. Instead, he chose to give voice to a divisive lie. Make no mistake: there were no good intentions behind his post. It came from a place of hate. Bulitavu took a ghastly crime and used it as ammunition in his campaign to drive his divisive “us versus them” narrative – the same narrative he’s pushed his entire political career.
Mister Speaker, today it has fallen upon all of us to do the job that the Leader of SODELPA and its new president should have done long ago, not only by condemning Bulitavu, but by speaking the truth and undoing the damage he’s done to the national effort to rid Fiji of gender-based violent crimes.  
The tragic reality is that murder – in all communities, all over the world – is as ancient as Cain and Abel. And women have historically been disproportionate victims of such deadly abuse.
We can’t view our past through rose coloured lenses. The notion that iTaukei society was a utopia, free from gender-based violence, or that weapons weren’t used to deadly effect, is nonsense. The historical record is clear: iTaukei people waged war, they committed murder and they perpetrated acts of deadly violence against women. As did the ancestors of Indo-Fijians, as did the ancestors of the British, the Chinese, the Nigerians, and every other people on earth. And – sadly – descendants of all of those communities still commit such crimes, and women far too often remain the victims. Since the dawn of humanity, the root cause of those atrocities has been a struggle for power and economic dominance, coupled with a misogynistic mentality that sees women as inherently unequal and as possessions that can be used and abused at will. 
When we make up ridiculous justifications for domestic violence in our society, we give those men an excuse for their actions. It is people like Bulitavu who give those abusers the chance to blame their despicable behaviour on someone else. Frankly, I find the idea that iTaukei men aren’t responsible for their own actions to be insulting. The truth is, no one forces any man to be an abuser. No one forces any man to murder innocent women. Evil men decide to commit those cowardly acts all on their own. What we should be demanding is that those men take responsibility for the crimes they’ve chosen to commit; regardless of their ethnicity, religion, province or status in society.
Mister Speaker, I realise Bulitavu has since tried to superficially distance himself from his statement. But anyone who has read his so-called apology will know that he wasn’t genuinely seeking forgiveness. No sooner had the words “I apologise” left his lips than he doubled down on his totally unfounded argument. That’s not a real apology. That’s not a real effort at seeking reconciliation. And anyone who pretends otherwise is deluding themselves, intentionally or otherwise.
Mister Speaker, were any member of the FijiFirst party to ever make such statements, that day would mark their last day in this party. That’s the standard by which this government operates. That’s the high level of responsibility to which we all adhere. And it is shameful that the Leader of the Opposition and the President of SODELPA have allowed Bulitavu to remain among the party’s ranks. It’s shameful that he still sits in this parliament.
And it’s shameful that you, and so many on that side of the house, have refused to stand up against Bulitavu, you have refused to stand up for the truth and you have refused stand up for the women of Fiji. 
Bulitavu has been verbally abusing the women of his own party for years. He’s a bully inside of this House and outside it as well. So, I have to ask: how much power does Bulitavu wield in your party that he can intimidate so many of you into silence? To the men who rank in the Opposition; many of you have daughters, many you have wives and all of you have mothers. Why have you not spoken in their defence? 
To the women of SODELPA and the NFP who have failed to categorically condemn Bulitavu in the 35 days since he made those comments: Where have you been? Hon Tabuya, Hon Radrodro, Hon Qionbaravi, Hon Kepa and Hon Qereqeretabua: Your silence has signified your compliance and your acceptance of a despicable attempt to excuse domestic violence in Fijian society by directing misplaced blame along ethnic lines. In the aftermath of Bulitavu’s assault on the truth and common decency, your nation demanded your voices and your condemnation of his hateful ignorance. But you chose to stay quiet. I urge you: Do not let that silence continue. And don’t fill that void with ambiguous and unspecific criticism or meaningless rhetoric; you must name Bulitavu and you must emphatically condemn his words of hatred. You have a right to speak. You have your freedom of expression. And now, you have the opportunity to rise above politics and speak to what you believe to be right and just. 
I ask that you do so, not for the sake of your political careers, but for the sake of every Fijian, particularly the women and young girls who have been victims of domestic abuse. Those survivors deserve to have this issue treated seriously. They deserve leaders who speak out in their defence. They deserve to know that the crimes committed against them are categorically condemned by those elected to represent their interests. This is your final opportunity to do something, to say something, and to send a clear message to our people that we don’t tolerate this kind of behaviour; not now and not ever.
Mister Speaker, Bulitavu’s statement was not only steeped in misogyny. It was racist. And it is no coincidence that his post came on the heels of comments by Honourable Ratu Naiqama who called the NFP and FLP parties “vulagi” parties in Fiji.
Mister Speaker, I know the word “vulagi” itself is not inherently offensive. I know it is a word often associated with a hallowed guest, and in some cases, it can be used respectfully. You can be a vulagi in a village that is not your own. You can be a vulagi to another province. I myself have been a vulagi in villages in Fiji before.
But what some fail to understand – including Hon Kepa, Paul Geraghty and other apologists – is that the context in which the word is used is what matters. At the national level, the notion of being a “vulagi” does not apply to any Fijian.  No Fijian can be a “vulagi” in the country to which they are born, where their ancestors are buried and where their grandchildren and great-grandchildren will one day call home. And our Indo-Fijian brothers and sisters are not – and never will be – “vulagis” in Fiji. They are one with us and they are part of us, now and always. The NFP and FLP are both Fijian parties. They are not foreign. Their members not staying in Fiji on a tourist visa. They are Fijian; as Fijian as I am and as Fijian as anyone sitting in this Parliament.
For those who fail to see the harm in referring to our countrymen and women as “vulagi”, Bulitavu’s racist tirade proves exactly why it is a problem. Because when we see our own people as outsiders or as foreign to our nation, we narrow our view of the world through the clouded lens of ethnicity, religion and background. We don’t see national problems for what they are. Instead, we blame everything – even individual choices and actions – on some ambiguous “other” people.
So, this isn’t a question of semantics – as some like to paint it. It is a question of something far bigger and more important. It is the question of who we are as a nation and the level of compassion with which we treat our fellow citizens. It is a question of the bonds that bind us together, the purpose we share and our collective commitment to this country.
Every minute we spend viewing national issues as ethnic issues, as religious issues, or as issues relating to different provinces, is a minute wasted. And when it comes to preventing domestic violence, every minute counts. Solving a Fijian problem – such as violence against women –  requires action from all Fijians.  It requires we put down our communal and political banners and rally together to protect those who are suffering; those who have survived abuse and those living in fear this very moment of reporting their abuser to authorities.
Mister Speaker, God has blessed Fiji with world-renowned beauty, and he has filled our country with people who wield a range of extraordinary talents and capable minds, and who hold a tremendous capacity for love and acceptance. But God’s greatest gift is something less tangible. His greatest gift is the opportunity he’s given each of us to be good stewards of those many blessings. That includes the beauty and bounty of our natural world, and it includes the people – all of the people – who call this nation their home. We can only call ourselves good stewards when all of God’s people are cared for, protected and empowered to better their lives. That includes those who are strong and those are weak; those who may be different from ourselves and those who are our kin; and those are most vulnerable, from the young to the old, and all those in between.  
It is our duty – as elected leaders in this Parliament – to lead our people in that sacred aim. When we speak, others listen. When we act, others follow. And, no matter which side of this chamber we sit, our voices and our deeds today will become the words and actions of future generations. Let’s not raise a generation of men like Mosese Bulitavu and Fijians who enable his behaviour. We can set a new example, a better example. We can support this motion and we can be leaders worthy of the people we’re meant to serve.
In this moment, the eyes and the expectations of our fellow Fijians are upon every one of us. The women of this country are watching. The young girls of this country are watching. And survivors of domestic and sexual violence are watching as well. They are waiting for us to make stand in their defence, in defence of the truth, and in defence of all those most vulnerable in society.  
I urge every member of this house to back this motion. If you fail to condemn this statement, history will not forget your silence, nor will the Fijian people.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.