The Republic of Fiji is a group of 800 volcanic and coral islands covering 18,376 sq. km. It has a total population of 886,500 (World Bank estimate, 2014; the last census was 2007). Fiji's capital is Suva. Its major languages are English, Fijian and Hindi and its major religions are Christianity, Hinduism and Islam.
Fiji became independent in 1970 after nearly a century as a British colony. On independence, Fiji adopted a constitutional democratic form of government based on the Westminster model.
Democratic rule was interrupted by two military coups in 1987 led by then Lieutenant Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka. Rabuka abrogated the 1970 Constitution and declared Fiji a republic. A short period of military government and two subsequent interim administrations followed, with elections held in May 1992. Subsequently, after extensive consultations, a new Constitution was adopted in 1997.
Fiji suffered another period of political, social and economic instability beginning on 19 May 2000, when a group led by George Speight seized control of the Parliament and took hostage then Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and members of his government, holding them for 56 days. In the following months, the 1997 Constitution was abrogated, the President stepped down and three successive unelected interim administrations were in power.
In 2001, the Fiji High Court and Court of Appeal ruled that the 1997 Constitution remained valid. General elections were held in August 2001 and Fiji returned to parliamentary democracy under Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, who was returned as Prime Minister at subsequent elections held in May 2006.
Prime Minister Qarase was ousted in a military coup on 5 December 2006 led by Commodore (Frank) Voreqe Bainimarama.
On 9 April 2009, the Fiji High Court found that Qarase's dismissal and Bainimarama's appointment had been illegal. In response, on 10 April 2009 Fiji President Ratu Josefa Iloilo announced that he had abrogated Fiji's 1997 Constitution. All judicial appointments were revoked and Public Emergency Regulations were imposed. President Iloilo subsequently reappointed Frank Bainimarama as Prime Minister.
The Australian Government, in concert with other countries, the UN Security Council, the Commonwealth and the Pacific Islands Forum, strongly condemned the military's unconstitutional removal of Fiji's elected government.
In response, Australia imposed travel restrictions on the senior members of the Fiji Government, ministers, military personnel and their family members, government appointees and the judiciary. The Australian Government implemented these travel sanctions flexibly, granting exceptions on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. Defence cooperation was suspended in 2006. However, the Australian Government maintained a substantial development assistance program for Fiji.
Pacific Islands Forum Leaders decided on 2 May 2009 to suspend Fiji from the Forum. Fiji was suspended from the Commonwealth in September 2009.
On 10 January 2013, Prime Minister Bainimarama and President Nailatikau said the Fiji Government would prepare a new draft constitution and, following a period of public consultation, President Nailatikau promulgated the new constitution on 6 September 2013. Key features of the new constitution are:
- provision for a single chamber 50-member Parliament, which is selected on the basis of one person, one vote using a proportional representation system
- a Prime Minister who commands the party with the most seats in Parliament heads the elected Government
- a President appointed by Parliament is the Head of State and performs the ceremonial function of Commander in Chief of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces
- elections for Parliament be held by September 2014 and then every four years.
Following Fiji’s significant progress towards elections, Ms Bishop announced on 31 March 2014 that Australia’s travel restrictions would be lifted.
Fiji held democratic elections on 17 September 2014. These elections marked a critical step in Fiji’s transition to democracy. Frank Bainimarama’s Fiji First party won a majority with 32 seats out of 50. A multinational elections observers group, co-led by Australia, Indonesia and India, found that the outcome of the elections broadly represented the will of the Fiji people. The elections were welcomed by the international community. Australia subsequently lifted all remaining restrictions on normal engagement with Fiji and resumed a Defence Cooperation Program. The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group fully lifted Fiji’s suspension from the Commonwealth on 26 September 2014 and the Pacific Island Forum Secretariat announced the lifting of Fiji’s suspension from the Pacific Island Forum on 22 October 2014.
Australia and Fiji have long-standing trade, investment and people-to-people links. Over 56,000 Fijians live and work in Australia and over 367,000 Australians visited Fiji in 2015. Australia is one of Fiji’s largest trade and investment partners, with Australian investment in Fiji worth approximately $2.3 billion in 2014-15. Two-way trade in goods and services is worth over $1.7 billion annually.
In late 2013, the Australian government announced a new policy of enhanced engagement with Fiji centered on increased cooperation and stronger political and economic relations. Since then, there has been growing momentum in the bilateral relationship. This has involved high-level two-way visits, including:
- October-November 2014, Fiji: Julie Bishop, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs
- March 2015, Australia: Jiko Luveni, Speaker of the Fijian Parliament
- March 2015, Australia: Laisenia Bale Tuitubou, Fijian Minister for Youth and Sports
- March-April 2015, Fiji: Steven Ciobo, former Australian Minister of International Development and the Pacific
- April 2015, Fiji: Stephen Parry, President of the Australian Senate
- April-May 2015, Fiji: Australian State and Federal women parliamentarians, and Natasha Stott Despoja, Ambassador for Women and Girls
- May 2015, Fiji: David Fawcett, Australian Senator
- June 2015, Fiji: Bronwyn Bishop, former Speaker of the Australian Parliament
- June 2015, Australia: Mereseini Vuniwaqa, Fijian Minister for Lands and Mineral Resources (Special Visit Program)
- July 2015, Australia: Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, Fijian Minister for Foreign Affairs
- July 2015, Fiji: Australian Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade delegation, led by Senator Ian Macdonald
- August 2015, Fiji: Christopher Pyne, former Australian Minister of Education
- September 2015, Fiji: Australian Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit delegation led by MP Andrew Southcott
- October 2015, Australia: Frank Bainimarama, Fijian Prime Minister and Minister for i-Taukei Affairs and Sugar Industry; Faiyaz Koya, Fijian Minister for Industry, Trade and Tourism; and Mereseini Vuniwaqa, Fijian Minister for Lands and Mineral Resources
- November 2015, Fiji: Steven Ciobo, former Australian Minister of International Development and the Pacific
- December 2015, Fiji: Steven Ciobo, former Australian Minister of International Development and the Pacific, with a bi-partisan parliamentary delegation
- March 2016, Fiji: Julie Bishop, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs
The foundations of Fiji’s economy are broadly sound, and perceptions of increased transparency and accountability following Fiji’s return to democracy have boosted business confidence.
Expansionary fiscal policies, particularly large infrastructure and social expenditure programs, as well as persistently accommodative monetary policy, have supported six years of economic growth since 2010. The Reserve Bank of Fiji estimates that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew by four per cent in 2015. This growth is broad based, mainly driven by the transport and storage; financial and insurance; tourism and construction sectors. Despite an initial growth forecast of 3.5 per cent for 2016, this has been revised down to 2.2 per cent following Tropical Cyclone Winston. Public debt is 48 per cent of GDP, most of which is held domestically, and the projected fiscal deficit for 2016 was 2.9 per cent of GDP prior to Tropical Cyclone Winston.
Service sectors such as finance and transport continue to thrive (largely driven by the tourism industry), and along with construction, manufacturing and retail activity, are the main drivers of growth. Tourism remains Fiji’s main source of foreign exchange. Water, gold, garments, sugar and fish continue to be Fiji’s strongest merchandise exports. Agriculture is a source of (mostly informal sector) income for the bulk of the population and continues to make a moderate but far below potential contribution to growth.
Fiji’s 2016 budget was passed on 20 November 2015, continuing the Government’s main areas of expenditure, particularly in infrastructure, health, education, and agriculture. The Budget lays the groundwork for moderate fiscal consolidation over the next few years. Tax and duty changes are aimed at fuelling consumption and simplifying and broadening the revenue base, most notably through reducing the rate and increasing the coverage of the Value Added Tax.
Information about Australia’s development assistance to Fiji can be found here.
Tropical Cyclone Winston
Tropical Cyclone Winston caused widespread damage across Fiji in February 2016. Australia worked closely with the Government of Fiji to support its immediate response and is now assisting the Government as it transitions to the longer term recovery and reconstruction phase. The Australian Government’s assistance for Fiji stands at $35 million, in addition to the support provided by the Australian Defence Force and private sector organisations. Australian support is focused on returning life to normal, giving Fijians back their schools, medical clinics and livelihoods. The principle of ‘build back better’ will underpin our efforts – rebuilding infrastructure and communities that are more resilient to natural disasters.
Further information about Australia’s response to Tropical Cyclone Winston.