Fiji country brief

Overview

The Republic of Fiji is a group of over 300 islands covering 18,376 sq. km. It has a total population of 898,760 (World Bank estimate, 2016). Fiji's capital is Suva. Its major languages are English, Fijian and Hindi, and its major religions are Christianity, Hinduism and Islam.

Political overview

Fiji is governed by a single chamber, 51-member Parliament. Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama's FijiFirst party won a narrow victory in Fiji's last election in November 2018. FijiFirst secured 50.02 per cent of the vote and 27 of the 51 seats in Parliament.

Opposition parties that currently hold seats in Parliament include the Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA — 21 seats) and the National Federation Party (NFP — three seats).  SODELPA is led by Sitiveni Rabuka and NFP is led by Professor Biman Prasad.

Fiji's next election is scheduled to be held in  late 2022.

Political history

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 system.

Democratic rule was interrupted by two military coups in 1987 led by then Lieutenant Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka. Lieutenant Colonel Rabuka abrogated the 1970 Constitution and declared Fiji a republic. A short period of military government and two subsequent interim administrations followed, with elections not held until 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 took control of Fiji’s government.

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 then Commodore Frank Bainimarama.

Commodore Bainimarama, as leader of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces and ‘executive authority’ in Fiji, dismissed then President Ratu Josefa Iloilo.  He reinstated President Iloilo in January 2007, who then formally appointed Commodore Bainimarama interim Prime Minister.

On 9 April 2009, the Fiji High Court found that Prime Minister Qarase's dismissal and Commodore Bainimarama's appointment as interim Prime Minister had been illegal. In response, on 10 April 2009 President 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 Commodore Bainimarama as interim 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.

Australia also imposed travel restrictions on senior members of the interim Fiji Government, including 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. Bilateral defence cooperation was suspended in 2006. However, the Australian Government maintained a substantial development assistance program for the people of Fiji.

Pacific Islands Forum Leaders decided on 2 May 2009 to suspend Fiji from the Forum. Fiji was also suspended from the Commonwealth in September 2009.

On 10 January 2013, interim Prime Minister Bainimarama and then President Nailatikau (appointed in November 2009) announced that the interim Fiji Government would prepare a new draft constitution. Following a period of public consultation, President Nailatikau promulgated the new constitution on 6 September 2013.

Key features of the new constitution include:

  • a single chamber Parliament elected on the basis of one person, one vote using a proportional representation system. The original 50-member house was expanded to 51 for the 2018 election, reflecting the growth in Fiji's population ;
  • a Prime Minister, who commands the party with the most seats in Parliament, as head of the elected Government;
  • a President appointed by Parliament as the Head of State and ceremonial Commander in Chief of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces; and
  • Parliamentary elections every four years, commencing in September 2014.

Following Fiji's significant progress towards elections, then-Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced the lifting of Australia's travel restrictions on 31 March 2014.

National elections were held of 17 September 2014, marking a critical step in Fiji's transition to democracy.  Then-interim Prime Minister Bainimarama's FijiFirst party won a majority with 32 of the 50 seats.

Following the 2014 election, the Australian Government lifted all remaining restrictions on engagement with Fiji and resumed its Defence Cooperation Program.

Fiji was welcomed back into the  Commonwealth on 26 September 2014 and into the Pacific Islands Forum on 22 October 2014.

Bilateral relations

(Note: Position indicated in the list below were held at the time of the visit)

Australia and Fiji share a strong and enduring bilateral relationship. During a state visit by Prime Minister Morrison to Fiji, 17-18 January 2019, Prime Minister Morrison and Prime Minister Bainimarama agreed to elevate the bilateral relationship through the 'Fiji-Australia Vuvale Partnership'. 'Vuvale' means 'family' in Fijian. This term was chosen to reflect the depth, breadth and warmth of the relationship. 

The Australian Government has deepened engagement with Fijian ministers and officials, including through regular two-way ministerial and senior officials' visits. Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator the Hon Marise Payne, visited Fiji in November 2017 in her former role as Minister for Defence. Assistant Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator the Hon Anne Ruston, accompanied Prime Minister Morrison on his state visit in January 2019. Assistant Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, the Hon Mark Coulton MP, visited Fiji in October 2018 to attend the Fiji Australia Business Forum.

Fiji ministers and officials visit Australia regularly. Prime Minister Bainimarama last visited Australia in October 2018 for Fiji National Day celebrations and met with Prime Minister Morrison.

People-to-people links

Australia and Fiji have extensive people-to-people links, with around 3,000 Australians resident in Fiji and 71,800 Fiji-born people living in Australia (according to the 2016 Australian Census). Over 340,000 Australians visit Fiji each year.

There are regular two-way exchanges between Australia and Fiji, including under Australian Government programs including the Australia Awards, the New Colombo Plan, Australian Volunteers Program and the Seasonal Worker Programme.

Trade and investment ties

Australia is one of Fiji's largest trade and investment partners. Two-way goods and services trade has been steadily increasing year-on-year, totalling $2.05 billion in 2017.

Major Australian merchandise exports to Fiji include wheat, liquefied propane and butane, meat and paper. Major Australian merchandise imports from Fiji include gold and garments.

Major Australian services exports to Fiji, and exports from Fiji, include personal travel and transport.

Australia is a major source of foreign investment for Fiji, valued at approximately $1.34 billion in 2017. Australian investment in Fiji is focused on tourism, the financial sector and manufacturing. Fiji's investment in Australia was valued at $484 million in 2017.

For more information on the bilateral trade and investment relationship, please see the Fiji country fact sheet.

International cooperation

Australia and Fiji work closely together in multilateral forums as fellow members of the UN, World Trade Organization, Commonwealth and Pacific Islands Forum. Fiji is an incoming member on the UN Human Rights Council for the 2019-21 term, overlapping with Australia's 2018-20 term. Fiji was an effective President of the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP 23) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, overseeing successful negotiations on the Rulebook and establishing the 'Talanoa Dialogue' ministerial-level review of global action on climate change. Australia provided $6 million to support Fiji's Presidency.

Economic overview

Fiji is now an upper-middle-income country (World Bank; 2017). 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. The Government continues to focus on poverty alleviation, social empowerment and rural development. 

Expansionary fiscal policies, particularly large infrastructure and social expenditure programs (including in education), as well as accommodative monetary policy, supported Fiji's ninth consecutive year of economic growth in 2018. Economic resilience to natural disasters is a priority, following the $1.2 billion in damage caused by Tropical Cyclone Winston in February 2016.

The Reserve Bank of Fiji estimates that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew to 3.6 per cent in 2018, up from an initial forecast of 3.0 per cent.  GDP growth is forecast for 2019 and 2020 at 3.2 per cent. 

Service sectors continue to grow strongly (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 and visitor numbers grow steadily each year, reaching 842,884 in 2017 — a new record. In 2017, Australia remains Fiji's largest tourism market, accounting for over 43.4 per cent of visitor arrivals during this period, followed by New Zealand (21.9 per cent) and the US (9.6 per cent).

Bottled water, gold, garments, sugar and fish continue to be Fiji's strongest merchandise exports. Agriculture remains a source of (mostly informal sector) income and employment for the bulk of the population, and continues to make a moderate but far below potential contribution to growth.

Development assistance

For information on Australia’s development assistance to Fiji, please see the overview of Australia’s aid program to Fiji and the Fiji aid fact sheet.

For further information on Australia’s response to Tropical Cyclone Winston, please see the Tropical Cyclone Winston page.

Last Updated: 1 April 2019