A Fijian British Army veteran who served in Afghanistan and Iraq has welcomed the proposal to allow Pacific Islanders to enlist and boost Australia’s Defence Force (ADF) but is calling for an improved deal to what the United Kingdom offers.
It follows Australia’s federal opposition calling on the Albanese Government to allow Pacific Islanders to join the ADF to address declining recruitment numbers and “offered an accelerated pathway to Australian citizenship”.
William Toganivalu, who now resides in Fiji working in security, spent 13-years in the British Army and served in Northern Ireland, Iraq and twice in Afghanistan.
The British Army has recruited Fijian soldiers for generations given its history with Great Britain and as such has a close relationship with the island nation.
It is estimated that up to 1500 Fijian soldiers are currently serving in the British Army, but issues relating to pathways to citizenship after serving the UK on the frontlines continue to persist.
Toganivalu said joining the British Army did not mean anything when applying for a permanent visa.
“We served the Queen whole heartedly, willing to put our lives on the line. But at the end of the day when we got back, we were treated like any other person applying for their papers,” he said.
“There was a lot of difficulties in getting my visa done or for me to apply for my indefinite leave to remain and then get my [UK] citizenship.
“The rules were pretty stringent and there seemed to be no exception whatsoever to the to the time you served with the British Army at the end of it.”
He said if Australia could offer a better package – like automatic citizenship after four years – then Fijians would “line-up” to join.
Toganivalu said Fijians would choose Australia over the British Army because of the proximity to home and the larger Fijian community.
Australia’s defence review
The Australian government released its Defence Strategic Review on April 24, which said the defence force “requires an innovative and bold approach to recruitment and retention”.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the review was commissioned to find out if “Australia had the necessary defence capability, posture and preparedness to best defend Australia and its interests in the strategic environment we now face.”
“We support the strategic direction and key findings set out in the Review, which will strengthen our national security and ensure our readiness for future challenges,” Albanese said in a statement.
The Australian government will continue to invest in its security capabilities and “our relationships to help build a more secure Australia and a more stable and prosperous region,” he added.
The defence review has recommended six key areas for action, which includes the acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines through AUKUS a top priority.
“Much of the review’s focus is on a belief in long range strike capability to ensure Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2AD),” Victorian Senator David Van said in a blog for Australian think-tank Lowy Institute.
“However, given range limitations versus a competitor’s range advantage, Australia will require invitations from neighbouring nations in order to deploy much of the recommended strike capability,” Van wrote inThe Interpreter.
“The benefits to Australia include strengthened people-to-people links, tighter security relationships, diversity in the ranks, soft skills such as cultural awareness and languages, in-country knowledge, which is important for HADR, as well as providing the ADF with deeper recruitment pool.
“The benefits to Pacific Island countries are even more significant, including monetary remittance back home to support families and communities,” he added.
Australia’s goal is to increase uniformed personnel by 18,500 almost 80,000 by 2040.
Toganivalu said it was a win for both Fiji and Australia if it happens.
It was common for Fijians to join the British Army with high levels of education and be more mature than the people coming straight out of school to join, he said.
He said for Fiji it meant remittances would be sent back home.
However, Toganivalu said Australia could do more to treat Fiji better.
He said Australia used Fijians to fill labour gaps, but it is difficult for people from Fiji to even get a transit visa.
“There is two [sides] in this relationship,” Toganivalu said.
“You want us to meet the demand of your labour market then be a bit more lenient with us because we want to travel in and out of Australia too, like you guys travel in and out of Fiji or the Pacific.”
“That is the really frustrating thing for me, the way this relationship is really one-sided.”
Source: RNZ News