Fiji country brief
The Republic of Fiji is an archipelago of 322 islands, with an Exclusive Economic Zone of 1.26 million square kilometers. According to the Fiji Bureau of Statistics (2021), Fiji's 2021 predicted population was 893,468. Suva is Fiji's capital. Fiji's major languages are English, Fijian and Hindi, and its major religions are Christianity, Hinduism and Islam.
The head of government is Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe 'Frank' Bainimarama, leader of the majority party (FijiFirst) in the national legislature following the November 2018 election. Fiji's head of state, who is appointed by Parliament, is President Ratu Wiliame Maivalili Katonivere. Opposition parties include the Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA), led by Viliame Gavoka, People’s Alliance Party, led by Sitiveni Rabuka, and the National Federation Party (NFP), led by Professor Biman Prasad.
Fiji's next election is scheduled to take place between July 2022 and January 2023.
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. A series of coups (1987, 2000 and 2006) slowed Fiji’s progress to its current parliamentary democracy under constitutional framework, governed by a single 51-member Parliamentary chamber.
The last coup occurred on 5 December 2006, led by then Commodore Bainimarama who was appointed Interim Prime Minister in January 2007. 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. While travel restrictions and the suspension of bilateral defence cooperation occurred, Australia maintained a substantial development assistance program to support the people of Fiji.
After significant progress towards democracy was made by Interim Prime Minister Bainimarama, then-Foreign Minister Julie Bishop lifted Australia's travel restrictions on 31 March 2014. National elections were held on 17 September 2014. Seen as a critical step in Fiji's peaceful transition to democracy, the Australian Government lifted all remaining restrictions 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.
On 10 October 2020, Fiji celebrated the 50th Anniversary of its independence. Australia took the opportunity to recognise the mark Fiji had made globally and regionally as a strong voice for sustainable development, a valued contributor to peacekeeping, and a formidable competitor on the sporting field. Australia looked forward to the next 50 years — and beyond — standing with Fiji and forging an even stronger future in the Pacific.
Australia and Fiji share a strong and enduring bilateral relationship, demonstrated by Prime Minister Morrison and Prime Minister Bainimarama's signing of the 'Fiji-Australia Vuvale Partnership' on 16 September 2019. The term 'vuvale', which means family in Fijian, was chosen to reflect the depth, breadth and warmth of our relationship. The Partnership is broad-ranging and comprehensive and builds on the already strong foundations in the Fiji-Australia relationship. It has paved the way for deeper security, economic and people-to-people links between both countries. It also commits Australia and Fiji to strengthening bilateral political cooperation.
Defence and security cooperation
There are longstanding connections between the Australian and Fijian military forces, including in global peacekeeping operations. Australia has helped redevelop Fiji's Blackrock Camp into a regional peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance and police training centre. Australia handed over the first of two Guardian Class Patrol Boats, to replace Fiji’s existing Pacific patrol boats, in March 2020. The second boat will be commissioned in 2023.
Australia and Fiji’s collective responses to recent regional events have shown yet again our common values and the depth of our Vuvale Partnership. Australia and Fiji, together with our Pacific family partners, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand, responded swiftly and effectively to the 25 November 2021 request from Solomon Islands Government to help Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) restore calm in Honiara following civil unrest. In response to the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai underwater volcano and subsequent tsunami, Australia was proud to support offers of assistance from other members of the Pacific family through logistics and coordination, including a contingent from the Republic of Fiji Military Forces.
In response to the Australian bushfire crisis, in January 2020 Fiji deployed a contingent from the Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) to assist recovery efforts in bushfire-affected communities around Orbost, Victoria. The RFMF ‘Bula Force’ cleared over 170km of roads, created firebreaks and felled trees. ‘Bula Force’ was welcomed by bushfire-affected communities and was a concrete symbol of the Vuvale Partnership in action.
More about Regional Security in the Pacific
Australia and Fiji have extensive people-to-people links. Over 3,000 Australian companies do business in Fiji and 61,000 people born in Fiji live in Australia. Fiji is also one of the top destinations for Australians. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Australians represented the largest cohort of visitor arrivals in Fiji and over 367,000 Australians visited Fiji in 2019 (see Fiji Bureau of Statistics).
There are regular two-way exchanges between Australia and Fiji, including through the Australia Awards, New Colombo Plan, Australian Volunteers Program and the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme.
Under Australia’s PacificAus Sports program, Australia is supporting Fijian teams and athletes to access high level competitions and pursue professional sporting careers, particularly in rugby union, rugby league and netball. Australia is sponsoring the Fijian Drua to compete in the Super Rugby Pacific Competition and the Kaiviti Silktails (a Fiji rugby league team), to play in the NSW Ron Massey Cup. Australia has also supported the Fijiana Rugby 7s women’s team to compete in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Fiji's national netball team, the Fiji Pearls, to compete at the Netball World Cup. On 11 October 2019, Fiji hosted the Prime Minister's XIII Rugby League matches against Australia. This was the first time these matches were played in Fiji. Australia delivers sports for development outcomes in Fiji through the Team Up program.
In response to the Australian bushfire crisis, in January 2020 Fiji deployed a contingent from the Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) to assist recovery efforts in bushfire-affected communities around Orbost, Victoria. The RFMF ‘Bula Force’ deployment cleared over 170km of roads, created firebreaks and felled trees The presence and support of ‘Bula Force’ were welcomed by bushfire-affected communities and were a concrete symbol of the Vuvale Partnership in action.
More about Australia's Pacific engagement
Trade and investment ties
Fiji is one of seven upper middle-income countries in the Pacific. Australia is supporting Fiji's ambitions of achieving high-income status in the coming decades.
Fiji has a relatively diverse and sophisticated economy. Although the sharp decline in Fiji’s tourism sector due to COVID-19 presented significant challenges, Fiji’s economic growth averaged two per cent (real) since independence. Economic growth has been inclusive with consecutive governments supporting universal education, health and infrastructure, with social protection programs in place for Fiji’s most vulnerable people.
Australia is one of Fiji's largest trade and investment partners, with two-way goods and services trade totalling $1.87 billion in 2019-20. While COVID-19 has seen reductions in both goods and services trade between Australia and Fiji, trade had been steadily increasing year-on-year before the pandemic.
Major Australian merchandise exports to Fiji include wheat, liquefied propane and butane, meat and paper. Major Australian merchandise imports from Fiji include gold, garments and cereal preparations.
Major Australian services exports to Fiji, and exports from Fiji, include personal travel, transport and education-related travel.
Australia is a major source of foreign investment for Fiji, valued at approximately $1.47 billion in 2019. Australian investment in Fiji is focused on tourism, the financial sector and manufacturing.
Fiji's investment in Australia was valued at $405 million in 2019.
For more information on the bilateral trade and investment relationship, please see the Fiji country fact sheet.
Australia has provided significant and timely support to Fiji’s COVID-19 response and recovery. In 2021, we supplied more than 1 million vaccine doses; over 91 tonnes of PPE, medical supplies and equipment; and deployed three Australian Medical Assistance Teams. Fiji conducted an effective national COVID-19 vaccination rollout in 2021 with strong uptake among the Fijian community.
Fiji’s tourism-dependent economy was one of the hardest hit economies globally by COVID-19. In response to the pandemic Australia provided Fiji with $168.5 million in budget support grants in 2020-21 and 2021-22 to assist the Fiji Government’s financing of essential services and to support economic growth, with a focus on fiscal management, private sector recovery, gender equality and social inclusion.
Australia and Fiji work together in multilateral forums as fellow members of the UN, World Trade Organization, Commonwealth, and Pacific Islands Forum. Fiji is the Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum in 2021-22. Fiji was elected to the UN Human Rights Council for the 2019-21 term, overlapping with Australia's 2018-20 term. Fiji's Presidency of the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP 23) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change oversaw successful negotiations on the Rulebook and the establishment of the 'Talanoa Dialogue' ministerial-level review of global action on climate change. Australia provided $6 million to support Fiji's Presidency.