Vanuatu recognises and values the important role the Australian South Sea Islander community play in the story of our development.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Ralph Regenvanu made this clear in his address at the flag raising event marking the 25th Anniversary of Commonwealth Recognition of the ASSI community at the Australian National Maritime Museum on Friday, 23rd of August.

“I am honoured and humbled to be here representing the Government and people of Vanuatu, on this auspicious occasion, which commemorates the 25th anniversary of the day in 1994 when the then Prime Minister of Australia, Paul Keating, recognised the special history and status of the descendants of Australia’s “Blackbirding” trade — the pain, suffering and severe discrimination imposed on this community for over 100 years — as well as its survival and resilience as a distinct cultural group, who have made great contributions to this country, as well as continuing to value their islands of origin and thriving heritage,” he said.

“As one of the principal territories of origin of the descendants of Australia’s “Blackbirding” trade, Vanuatu and communities in Vanuatu share a large part of this special history with Australian South Sea Islanders – a history initially of families and communities torn apart and societies and economies disrupted and undermined, but later one also of great contributions towards the emergence of our nation. For example, our national language, Bislama, was born in the cane fields of Queensland.

“I am here to honour the Australian South Sea Islander community, for your continued and continuing contributions, and to show to you that the Government and people of Vanuatu value what you are and what you have become, that we are proud of having you as our “family” here in Australia, and that we want to build closer links, not only between you and your ancestral families in Vanuatu, but also between you as a community in Australia and the nation of Vanuatu. We recognise that you will continue to play an important role in the story of our development.”

He acknowledged the First Nations, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people.

“Thank you for taking the people from Vanuatu into your homes, families and communities at a time when they were facing severe discrimination, pain and suffering imposed by policies of deportation under the White Australia policy of the early 1900’s,” he said.

“We remain forever indebted to you for the welcoming generosity you showed our people, when you yourselves were subject to similar policies of violence, and we welcome the intermingling of our bloodlines and our destiny.”

He thanked all the people of Australia who have contributed in one way or the other to the strengthening of our ASSI community and the Petersham Town Council for flying the flag at the event.

“I also want to thank the Australian Government for the recognition you gave the Australian South Sea Islander 25 years ago, a recognition of their distinct history and experience, and the policies you have put in place to reduce the discrimination they have faced,” Mr Regenvanu said.

He made special mention of his Australian counterpart, Minister Marise Payne.

“Thank you for your personal presence here,” he said.

“Your presence here, and that of senior officials from the Commonwealth Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, demonstrate that Australia’s new foreign policy towards the region — the “Pacific Step Up” – also includes a “step up” in relation to the local Australian South Sea Islander population.

“This is an inclusion that reflects Vanuatu’s own national priorities, and I thank your government for recognising that. With increasing numbers of Ni-Vanuatu now coming again to Australia under the Seasonal Worker Program and the Pacific Labour Scheme.

“Our joint initiatives on providing better hosting and more sustainable arrangements for our workers through churches and communities will need to include a significantly expanded role for the Australian South Sea Islander community.”