Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Braveheart re-emerges in Fiji

By Stuart Ballantyne - posted Tuesday, 1 August 2023

Experienced taxi drivers are a good sounding board regarding the state of a nation. After some years of assorted opinions from the spectrum of angry, happy and quiet passengers, they can pretty well give you an accurate opinion without having to conduct a national poll.

In a past column I wrote about the "Leadership qualities of a long dead parrot", where I was lamenting the abysmal level of leadership on both sides of the spectrum within Australian Federal and State governments.

As one of the 340,000 Australians who visit the Fiji Islands in a typical year, I spent last week in Fiji, and on arrival, my Indian taxi driver spoke highly of the attitude and aspirations of the new government under the leadership of Sitiveni Rabuka, in particular his bold visions.


In 2002, the then ex-prime minister Rabuka, the leader of the '87 coup, was a keynote speaker to the Interferry conference on the Gold Coast, the conference theme being Ferries for Defence and Emergency Response. Rabuka advised the 450 delegates from 43 nations:

Do not treat us like beggars, giving us aid that is unsuitable. Like all the nations in the South Pacific, when we have hundreds of our people on a beach after a cyclone or tsunami, we do not need expensive deep draft patrol vessels than can only carry 14 people and a gun. We need vessels that can land bulldozers, medical units, generators and the like. We need practical equipment.

Despite high ranking Naval officers and a multitude of media at that conference, Australia ignored Rabuka's suggestions.

Regrettably, Australian marine aid to the South Pacific over the past few decades has been appalling. The combination of an overbloated and inefficient bureaucracy and a desire to support domestic ship builders in marginal seats, has produced a string of less-than-optimal "patrol boats", that adversely affect the GDP of all the recipient South Pacific nations, even when idling alongside their berths, which is what they spend most of their time doing because these nations can't afford the diesel to run them. Poorly designed for navigating through coral channels, their exposed propellors and rudders are readily destroyed - as the Australian-donated Samoan patrol vessel discovered 2 years ago. After the vast expense of lifting the stricken craft by submersible barge, and transport to Cairns, it was declared a total loss. The smiles around the table of the Samoan government were quickly wiped off when Australia's new Foreign Minister, Penny Wong arrived on her first visit, and gifted yet another (ironically named) Guardian patrol boat.

Fiji's problems are the same as every other regional nation, but instead of meekly following in the meandering footsteps of the two bedwetting big brothers, Australia and New Zealand, Rabuka has decided to grasp the nettle and handle his challenges in order of priority.

He has announced the revitalization of the Fiji Shipbuilding by committing to two new shipbuilding docks near the port of Lautoka. While ship repair is busy in Suva and Lautoka, actual shipbuilding has been closed for 20 years. Before that, the Government shipyard in Walu Bay, an open exposed slipway construction site on the rainy side of the island, built by the British, was the major source of skills training for the whole of Fiji for 60 years. Armies of welders, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, draftsmen and administrators gained their stripes at the shipyard, building vessels up to 75 metres.


Now with many tradesmen gone in pursuit of higher wages in Australia and New Zealand, and many of the youth unemployed, Rabuka sees that undercover graving dock facilities on the drier side of the island will achieve some key objectives:-

  • re-establish the skills training needed within the country.
  • vessels he has chosen to build will take many trucks off the road
  • this will reduce the nations road maintenance spiralling cost of F$400 million p.a
  • this will reduce the import of diesel around F$900 million, ships using only 4% of diesel requirement of trucks
  • under a Dorman Charter, the same vessels will be immediately available for defence and emergency response.

Unlike some of the South Pacific leaders who kowtow and graciously thank the donor for something unusable by their people and economy, Rabuka prefers to speak plainly. This does not always win him friends with donor country bureaucrats. The only real beneficiary of Australia's five decades of questionable marine gift giving to the Pacific is the Chinese Communist Party, who begin aid discussions with a question, "What do you need?", rather than an announcement, "a patrol vessel is what you shall have".

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

3 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Stuart Ballantyne is just a sailor who runs Seat Transport Solutions who are naval architects, consultants, surveyors and project managers.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Stuart Ballantyne

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of Stuart Ballantyne
Article Tools
Comment 3 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy