Maiden speech by the Opposition Whip, Lynda Tabuya

Opposition MP Lynda Tabuya delivering her maiden speech in Parliament this morning. Picture: SUPPLIED/FIJIAN PARLIAMENT FACEBOOK

Madam Speaker, the Hon. Prime Minister, Hon. Ministers, the Hon. Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Members, families and friends gathered here today, and the people of Fiji joining us through televised broadcast and around the world via Facebook Live.

Bula Vinaka, Namaste, Foeksia to you.

I would like to thank my Heavenly Father and my Saviour Jesus Christ, who without Them I am nothing.

I congratulate you Madam Speaker on your re-election, and I wish you well in the next four years in your very important role in bringing balance to this esteemed house.

I congratulate Hon Veena Batnagar for her election as deputy speaker.

I congratulate all 51 members of Parliament for a hard fought campaign and success in making it this far.

I acknowledge the hard work and efforts of candidates from all political parties who though they did not make it this time, will find peace in their stellar efforts to gain those votes that contributed to our achievement to become MPs.

I humbly stand before the house in awe with a deep sense of gratitude in acknowledging the proud history of our beloved nation and the men and women that have shaped it.

A history that has been fraught with perils but one whose stories have highlighted the amazing resilience of our people.

Madam Speaker, my life’s journey is one such story which I would like to share today.

It begins with my late father, Jone Tabuya, who hails from the small coastal village of Tiliva, Nakasaleka, Kadavu.

Though small in numbers, it houses the district school as well as the Methodist church circuit that has seen many children and families call Tiliva
home.

It is where my heart will always be and where I was first inspired by our village chief, the late Mr. Konisi Yabaki who was an SDL Government Minister.

To the Vanua o Vunimatolu vua na Turaga Na Tunidau ni Tiliva, the mataqali Olorua, Naicavacava and Solovia, to the Tiliva Development Committee, the Tiliva Rugby 7s Committee, the Tiliva Youth, whom I have worked closely over the years, who rose time and again after each cyclone and have stood by my side I would like to say a big vinaka vaka levu.

To my mother, Taufa Tabuya, who hails from Gasauva, Tawake in Cakaudrove, you are my rock, my best friend, my prayer warrior.

Just like the resilience shown by my vasu in Gasauva against the devastating effects of climate change that has warranted the relocation of the village to higher grounds, you have taught me the quiet strength of a woman who builds resilience against the stormy weathers of life and the wisdom to shut out noise and distractions and to focus on serving others with a clean heart and malice towards none.

I honour you Na. To the Vanua o Udu vua na Turaga na Tui Udu, and to all my vasu from Gasauva, I thank you.

I grew up in the informal settlement of Wakanisila, Kalabu, under the care and kindness of the Liuliu ni Yavusa o Matanikorovatu.

I want to acknowledge and thank the Liuliu ni Yavusa, Ratu Paula Rawiriwiri, and Radini Vanua o Kalabu, Litia Rawiriwiri, and the landowners of this country who have shared their land at close to no cost, to enable a huge portion of our people to live on the land in informal settlements.

As a child growing up in Wakanisila I became a silent witness to the destructive power of poverty.

Sharing my grandparents 2 bedroom home with 10 children and 6 adults was far from an ideal childhood but in my neighborhood it was sadly the
norm.

With no running water or electricity and poor sanitation, I remember those times of hunger, loneliness, contention, trauma, bullying, violence and abuse that is typical of life living in poverty.

But through it all Madam Speaker, my desire to escape the poverty of my youth fueled my dreams and aspirations until I reached university where again my parents inability to pay for my education threatened to derail my plans.

I am so thankful that the Government at the time, led by former Prime Minister and the current opposition leader, Hon Sitiveni Ligamamada Rabuka, had affirmative action programs such as the Fijian Affairs Board scholarship to enable me to achieve tertiary education.

Just as my Indo Fijian friends were going off on a PSC scholarship, I was awarded a scholarship to study law in Australia.

Hon Rabuka has been there at each milestone in my life and to that I am so grateful.

From being the chief guest awarding me the DUX prize at Adi Cakobau School, to awarding me a scholarship to study law at Bond University in Australia, to crowning me Ms Hibiscus, to initiating the SODELPA-PDP MOU that brought me here, Hon Rabuka has been there every step of the way and I’m most grateful.

I reciprocated his belief in me with my unwavering loyalty to my leader, and why during his darkest hour when FICAC came for him, I was one of the first people to stand up and say, before you lay a finger on him, you have to go through Kadavu first.

Madam speaker I share my story, because at its core, it is a story of how Government policies on education are key to the fight against poverty and how it can impact not only a poor girl from Wakanisila but also our beloved country as a whole.

The struggles of my childhood is not just my story, but the story of nearly half our population that lives in poverty.

Madam speaker, fighting poverty is one of the reasons I first ventured into politics in 2014 with the People’s Democratic Party.

I owe a deep debt of gratitude to its former leader, FTUC General Secretary Felix Anthony.

Thank you boss.

To my PDP and FTUC family, Daniel Urai, Mark Anthony, Vijay Singh, Pearl Antonio, Anasa Vocea, Jyoti Sharma, Nilesh Sharma, Dodi, and all our
union families, thank you for your belief in me and instilling in me the importance of fighting for workers’ rights.

Madam Speaker, my involvement with the trade union movement came to national attention on the 16th of December 2017 when Airport Terminal Service employees were locked out of their work.

I still remember feeling shocked at the sight of employees, still in uniforms, sitting over the drains at a venue now affectionately called the “drain station”.

In these workers eyes I saw a look of determination, unified in their resolve to see it through to the bitter end if necessary.

This resolve was tested to its limits as days turned into weeks, Christmas and New Year came and went and their jobs advertised right in front of
them.

What was amazing to see was the support they received from the nation.

From the $16,000 raised from my GoFundMe page to the over 8,000 people that descended on Nadi to march.

It was during these trying times that amazing leaders, shareholders and workers played an integral part in inspiring the fighter in me.

I would like to say a big thank you to Sai Vulawalu, Emitai Koto, Manasa Ratuvili, Vili Finau, the late Ratu Viliame Naulumatua and the
members of the FASA union and ATS Employees Trust.

Madam Speaker I again highlight my journey because the ATS movement is part of the nearly 9,000 people that voted for me and whose future I feel personally responsible for.

I had initially drafted my maiden speech to capture this very real anger. To be the voice of workers who were hurt and frustrated.

My initial draft was a collection of pointed attacks at my perceived failings of this Government. It was great speech by any account.

Filled with witty one liners and backhanded compliments meant to go viral on social media.

But as I watched each of the speakers this week I couldn’t help but wonder if going down the same path of animosity would best serve the voters that elected me and indeed the nation.

It was actually this morning, retyping this speech from 5am that I made the decision to put down my guns and extend my hand across the aisle in a genuine attempt to make Fiji the home I’ve always dreamed it would be.

To this end I would like to thank His Excellency the President Joji Konrote for his inspiring opening address where he called for unity as the basis for true patriotism and Sir believe me when I say, in the interest of the nation, I have heard your call.

Madam Speaker as a nation we cannot let our past define us and the mammoth task of leading nearly a million citizens will require all 51 honorable members of this house coming together as one.

Each side of the house holds the mandate of half our population and the healing of our nation can only truly begin when we make a genuine effort to bring these 2 halves together, to make us whole again.

Madam Speaker as the Opposition spokesperson on Local Government, Housing and Environment, I look forward to working closely with the Honourable Minister for Housing and Development Hon Premila Kumar.

Fiji continues to struggle with providing proper housing for our people.

Informal settlements and squatter settlements grow bigger and bigger every year.

Poor sanitation, lack of essential services like rubbish collection, poor maintenance of infrastructure and treacherous living conditions is a daily struggle.

I commend the government on its initiative to formalise leases for informal settlements, an initiative that began four years ago but still not fully
realised in the urban corridors.

With poor sanitation and unhealthy living conditions we continue to see an increase in malnutrition, skin diseases, typhoid and dengue fever outbreaks, measles, chicken pox, and pneumonia.

With no rubbish collection services, plastic bags of rubbish are dumped every day in street corners and rivers with no solution in sight.

This causes blockage of drains and waterways that create flooding in a matter of hours after a heavy downpour.

Rubbish dumped in rivers end up in the Rewa Delta and out at sea that immediately threaten our marine life and food supplies.

Overgrown trees and shrubbery coupled with weak home structures create real hazards and threat to life and home during strong winds, heavy rain and the normal cyclone season from November to March.

I look forward to working with the Honourable Minister for solutions on affordable low cost housing for our low to middle income families, which I believe can be achieved through mass production that reduces the cost and building out between the Lami to Deuba corridor, satellite towns self sustaining with its own infrastructure and essential services and attracting new business on the same corridor to create employment.

This can also contribute to reducing traffic congestion.

I look forward to working with the Honourable Minister to provide affordable housing for our people living with disabilities and the elderly, with proper facilities and specifications to enable our citizens to live equally and with dignity.

Improving our city planning to fully incorporate disabled friendly spaces. More ramps, elevators, footpaths and walkways, recreational spaces and transportation.

Closed captioning on television for the deaf, more Braille services for the blind. Better access to medical services, education and financial assistance.

I look forward to working with the Honourable Minister on a solution to provide essential services in the interim to deal with rubbish collection, with something as simple as providing dumpsters at central points for collection once or twice a week.

Our commitment to Cop23 must begin literally in our own backyards.

Services such as trimming of trees and clearing of drains in these settlements can be community based, as part of SME initiatives.

Madam Speaker, as opposition assistant spokesperson to the Hon Leawere on Labour and industrial relations, I look forward to working with the Honourable Minister Parveen Bala, a former union man himself, to achieve the increase in minimum wage to $4 an hour, and to help restore faith and trust in the tripartite forum for equal representation of workers on national issues affecting them.

I owe my duty to our poor, those that live on $2.68 an hour or less.

How many of us here in this esteemed house can live on $100 a week? That’s the reality for our security guards, our kitchen help, our house help, our nannies, our unskilled workers.

And to our civil servants, I will do my utmost best to represent you in this esteemed House and look forward to working with government on issues
affecting you.

As assistant shadow for the AG and ministry for justice I would like to see more women judges and magistrates in our judiciary.

On that note I would like thank the head of judiciary, His Lordship the current Chief Justice Anthony Gates.

Thank you for your service to Fiji. I also wish to congratulate my fellow women Members of Parliament who continue to shatter the glass ceiling and give hope to achieve more gender equality and gender participation on a national level.

I am committed to working together not just in the spirit of bipartisanship as inspired by His Excellency and my colleagues on this side of the House, but to take it a step further, and that is to work together on issues with real results.

I am committed to peace building and nation building, and with this spirit I have a strong foundation to stand on, and that is my family and friends.
I wish to acknowledge firstly the father of my children, Rob Semaan, and my six children, Mercedes Yaulagilaginimereke Semaan, Talei Matiavi Semaan, Zion Ravouvouenayasanaruarua Semaan, Vienna Tabuya Semaan, Ameera Habibti Semaan and Justice Joni Robert Peter Semaan, who the greatest examples of true love.

To my sister Ane, my brothers Jay, William and Waisale, my Tabuya Family, my Balawaviriki Family, I love you all.

My special acknowledgement to all 8795 voters that believed in me.

I pledge to you to continue to be worthy of your trust in me.

To our people who did not vote for me, I will continue to represent you equally and without prejudice.

I wish to thank sincerely for my most hardworking campaign team, my campaign manager Etuate Tuqota, thank you. My generals Kaulotu, Lupe and Moana.

My 518 youth volunteer team, as I told you last night, this is just the beginning of a life long life changing journey together.

Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart.

To my bosom buddies, my girls, the ACS class of 1990, and the wider ACS old girls network, thank you for your love and friendship fostered since high school and continues stronger than ever.

To my think tank, Barbara Malimali, Fili Vosarogo, Vuli Savou, Samm Vaniqi and Rosemary Drau, thank you for keeping it real.

To my dear ladies of Vision Fiji, an NGO that advocates for our children, Gaetane Austin, Shantini Saberi, Marjorie Whippy, Avaneesh Raman and my dear sister Gazala Akbar and our children Saabil, Shad, Aeaza and Ozayr, thank you for sharing my passion to fight for a better future for our
children. To my three Nephites, Eileen Waradi, Eileen Swann and Martha Johansson, I love you all.

To those generous individuals who supported me near and far, Tovata Sodelpa USA, Liuliu ni Yavusa and radini Vanua o Matanikorovatu in Kalabu, the Sodelpa Nasinu Constituency, In conclusion Madam speaker, I felt disheartened by our parties loss in the elections after a hard fought race but herein lies the truth… at the end of the day we are all one team.

In the end it is not Fiji First, NFP or SODELPA that wins, it is Fiji that must win.

We need the same national pride and passion that we all have cheering for our national rugby sevens team to support all 51 Members of Parliament.

We are patriots of this beloved country.

And as patriots we must make a genuine attempt at putting the interests of the nation above everything.

Now more than ever before is the time that we as a nation must come together as we look forward to our beloved Fiji’s 50th anniversary of independence.

I suggest that we work on our very own National Pledge, a pledge of allegiance to the flag of the Republic of Fiji, that when recited will remind us of our patriotic duties to put our country first before self, and instill in our children and our citizens a sense of national pride, unity and destiny.

Madam speaker, as with any division, it won’t be easy to look beyond the hurt and animosity of the past in striving for a brighter tomorrow, but it has to start today.

In all our dealings we must come to the table with no preconceived agenda but an honest and willing heart to listen to the other side.

Continuous dialogue and clear channels of communication are essential.

Either we heal now as nation, or we fight and die as individuals.

At the end of the day, I may be naive and be dismissed as a dreamer and we may yet fall back to our familiar battlelines and hardened stances.

But with my first address to this honored Parliament, I stand here with a simple prayer and a genuine hope that together, we can make our country the loving home for all, we know in our hearts it is.

Madam Speaker, we owe it to our voters and the people of Fiji to find real solutions to the problems that plague this country now.

I firmly believe that together we can build the future we all want.

Madam Speaker I wish you and the members of Parliament and all  of Fiji a very merry xmas and happy prosperous new year.

God Bless Fiji

Watch President’s speech at the opening of Parliament

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