Honourable Alex O’Connor – Maiden Speech
Honourable Alex O’Connor
Assistant Minister for Health and Medical Services
Maiden Speech at the Opening of Parliament following the 2018 National General Election
Honourable Prime Minister,
Honourable Cabinet Ministers and Assistant Ministers,
The Honourable Leader of Opposition, Honourable Members of Parliament,
Members of the Public in the gallery and those watching from the comforts of their homes or through the internet, a very good morning to you all.
I rise to thank His Excellency the President of the Republic of Fiji for his most gracious speech on the occasion of the Opening and First Sitting of Parliament after the 2018 National General Elections.
in his address to the nation His Excellency the President said and I quote:
“And we see a better life in the new development that has swept across the nation, bringing water, electricity and telecommunications to Fijians in even the most rural and remote regions of our country, at a rapid pace never before witnessed in our history. And when it comes to expanding access to those essential services – services that literally transform our people’s lives for the better – the pace of that development must be maintained, or even increased” unquote.
His Excellency further stated and I quote “The legislative programme for this parliamentary session will include new legislation on the formulation of a new independent land tribunal, including: Public Health Protections, amongst others”. Unquote.
In the Republic of Fiji’s 5 year and 20 year National Development Plan styled “Transforming Fiji” which was launched in Bonn, Germany last year by our Prime Minister, the FijiFirst Government has already embarked on some of these initiatives and have already made significant progress in increasing the overall life expectancy of Fijians and improving health outcomes.
Maternal and infant mortality rates have declined. Primary health care is well established with the recognition of Community Health Workers.
To further enhance their existence in the community, the Ministry of Health and Medical Services will be providing them with an insulated cubicle as a work station to tend to the sick and will have access to a computer for collation of patient information that can be uploaded to the Patient Information System Data Base held at the Divisional Hospitals.
Substantial investments have been made in the construction and upgrading of hospitals, health centres and nursing stations.
These include the recent opening this year of the Makoi Maternity Unit, the Nakasi Health Centre and the Vatukarasa Nursing Station in Tailevu, to name a few.
Construction on the new Sub Divisional Hospital in Keiyasi which is expected to serve not only the provinces of Navosa/Nadroga but also the Bukuya and Nausori Highlands, is already under way.
The Public Private Partnership proposed in the 2017/2018 Budget release, has witnessed the recent signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Fiji Government and Aspen Hospitals of Australia for the management and operations of the new Ba Hospital and the Lautoka Divisional Hospital.
Current Nursing Stations are earmarked to be upgraded to Health Centre status due to the increase in population and the distance from the nearest Sub Divisional Hospital.
New Nursing Stations will be constructed in rural and remote areas as and when the need arises and on approval and receipt of 60% of the land-owning unit or Mataqali.
The Ministry of Health and Medical Services will pursue strategies to tackle Non Communicable Diseases in the country.
A multi-sectorial approach through improved health education, production and adequate supply of fresh fruits and vegetables, and promotional and awareness campaigns will be further enhanced to address this issue.
The Ministry of Health and Medical Services will raise the standard of Ambulatory Services to another level by introducing Paramedical Services.
This will see ward nurses and drivers enrolling in an 8 to 9 month course before being assigned to specially outfitted Ambulances, purchases for which are already in the process of delivery.
Madam Speaker, please allow me first and foremost to give thanks to the Almighty for providing me the strength, wisdom and guidance to get through each day and allowing me the noble task of serving you all, the citizens of our beloved Fiji.
I wish to thank the FijiFirst Movement Leader, the Honourable Prime Minister and the FijiFirst Movement General Secretary Honourable Aiyaz Sayad-kaiyum, for confiding in me and allowing me to stand again in the recent elections.
I wish to thank my beautiful wife Margaret, my son Lyndon, my nephew Cameron, who have been pillars of strength, together with relatives and friends, for their unwavering support during the campaign period and leading up to the recent elections.
I wish to thank Alan Petersen and the people of Matei and Naselesele; Tui Rabi and the people of Lovonivonu; the people of Tavuki and Narusa in Wairiki; Herbert Whippy and the people of Kasavu and Mokusiga; Romulus Lanyon and the people of Kuladrusi, Naqere and Vatudamu; Darmendra and Parveen of Labasa; Tui Nasau, his son Livai and the people of the Tikina Nasau; Lepani Driu and Ilaisa Dau of Barotu in Ra; Mahen and Suren of Lautoka.
I wish to thank all those Fijians who voted for me, and to those who did not, I am here to serve you all the same.
I wish to thank the FijiFirst Movement stakeholders and supporters for their tireless efforts and support prior to and during the campaign period and eventual outcome of the elections.
Madam Speaker, my career path spans some 38 years since my leaving school in 1969.
Upon leaving school I joined Millers Ltd in Suva as a trainee Fitter-Machinist, specialising in engine and machinery repairs of marine vessels, particularly fishing boats.
Having not been compensated for an injury I sustained during my employment, I left to seek work in Lautoka a year later.
In 1971, I took up a position as Fleet Supervisor with United Touring scheduling coaches and chauffeur cars until 1973 when I joined Fiji Tours/Atlantic & Pacific Travel as a Tour Coordinator being responsible for large tour groups from the United States, South America and Europe.
In July of 1975, I enrolled with the then Royal Fiji Military Forces Naval Squadron and was one of those fortunate enough to have sailed the two former US Minesweepers from Seattle to Fiji via Hawaii.
During this time, I attained my Marine Engineer Certificate from the then Derrick Technical Institute.
In 1979, I opted out of the Navy and secured a position as Chief Engineer on Cakaudrove, Bua, Macuata’s landing craft “MV Duavata” trading as Ferry Freight Services.
Whilst with Ferry Freight Services, I was seconded to Wong’s Shipping to take their vessel “MV Tovata” to the Gilbert and Ellis Islands, now known as Kiribati.
Whilst with Wong’s Shipping, Ferry Freight went into liquidation and upon my return to Fiji I joined Carpenters Shipping as a Boarding Officer in January of 1980.
Between 1980 and 1989 I rose through the ranks to become Transport and Wharf Operations Manager.
During this time Carpenters Shipping was the principle provider for the major contractors for the Monasavu and Wailoa Hydro Project and Nagado Water Catchment Project.
In 1990, I joined Union Steamship as Operations Manager managing Interport Shipping and Wong’s Shipping joint venture Consort Shippings’ vessel “MV Spirit of Free Enterprise”, the largest roll on/roll off and passenger vessel to ever operate in Fiji.
In 1991, I joined Forum Shipping Line as Operations Manager, a consortium of Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand and Fiji business ventures.
In February of 1992, I was offered the position of Regional Manager West with Fiji Gas Ltd based in Lautoka and was instrumental in changing from cylinder exchanges to bulk filling operations at resorts and hotels in the west including throughout the Mamanuca’s.
Also, during my tenure, saw the installation of a 200 tonne LPGas storage tank, almost 8 kilometres of HDPE ring main and over 200 kilometres of reticulated MDPE branch lines at all residential subdivisions and Resorts on Denarau.
I was also involved with the reticulation of LP Gas MDPE ring mains at both Outrigger on the Reef in Sigatoka and the InterContinental Resort and Spa at Natadola.
Whilst still with Fiji Gas, I took up a challenge of becoming the Manager Training in Occupational Health, Safety and Environment in 2004.
In July of 2009, Origin Energy Australia, Fiji Gas’ parent company positioned me in Pago Pago, American Samoa to become its Regional Operations Manager, Polynesia.
This position required me to relieve country Managers and carry out Terminal Engineering Audits in the 2 Samoa’s, Vanuatu, Cook Islands and training all personnel in all aspects of the LP gas industry, including Fiji.
I retired from Origin Energy Australia in May of 2012.
Madam Speaker, since retiring, I have been a freelance consultant for a host of Fijians requiring assistance for housing, education, power, water, sanitation, transport, roading and land issues with a success rate of 80% plus.
Madam Speaker, my interest in Politics started in 2013 when close friends and relatives suggested that I contest the 2014 National General Elections to which I took up.
Although I was not successful on the first count of votes, I entered Parliament in July of 2015 upon the resignation of a party member.
In September of 2016 after a Cabinet reshuffle, I was appointed Assistant Minister for Health and Medical Services with particular responsibilities to Public Health.
My leadership qualities, managerial skills, customer service, extrovert personality and practical expertise augured well in the restoration of infrastructure within the Ministry which I respectfully look forward to picking up where I left off only a month ago.
Madam Speaker, in conclusion, I wish to congratulate you on your return as Speaker of this august house for another term, and also congratulate Hon Veena Bhatnagaar for her nomination as Deputy Speaker.
I thank you Madam Speaker.