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Pacific Islands Society

PO Box 632 | Ebensburg, PA 15931 | USA


843.271.6891 ph pacificislandssociety.org web
Domestic Non-Profit Organization
Fiji and Australia: A Fractured
Relationship
Guest: Winston Thompson
Published: July 17, 2012

For more than two decades, Fiji has served as the
coup capital of the Pacific. During the latest one in
2006, Commodore Frank Bainimarama removed
Prime Minister Qarases duly elected democratic
government. Since then, Australia has actively
leveraged its diplomatic power and influence to urge
the Bainimarama regime to hold free and fair
elections. Fiji, on the other hand, has decried
Australian interference in its internal affairs and
argued that the Interim Government remains on path
to restore democracy. As the much anticipated
elections approach, it remains to be seen as to
whether the regime will live up to its commitments
and, if so, how Fiji and Australia will repair their
fractured relationship.
In January 2012, we last sat down to discuss
Fijis future following the lifting of martial law. At
that time, you said that it was too early to see a
major change in your diplomatic relations with
Western governments. We have witnessed some
changes since then. For example, in May, New
Zealands Foreign Minister, Murray McCully,
publicly acknowledged that your government has
made positive progress on the path toward
democracy. Australia then announced in late-
June that it would be doubling its aid to your
country by 2014. Given these new developments,
I wanted to get your sense of where Fiji stands
with respect to Western governments. From your
perspective, where are we?
The last time we spoke, there wasnt all that much
positive in terms of developments since the 2006
coup and events that took place in 2009.
Fortunately, even though there were no new
developments, business relationships at the private
sector level continued virtually uninterrupted. That
kept the Fiji economy from falling over because the
means of the trade are operated through Australia
and New Zealand. Also, the aid that Australia was
giving for humanitarian purposes continued. In fact,
it has increased as you point out.
Since more visible progress in the return to
democratic rule the purchase of electronic voter
registration systems, the training of staff, and start of
registration for the 600,000 voters expected to be
registered Australia has shown more of a visible
acceptance of how things are going. From that point
of view, it is positive although not to the extent that
we would like. They are probably not actively
lobbying in the corridors of international power that
Fiji should be excluded from international
peacekeeping operations. But, as far as I know, the
bans that Australia and New Zealand imposed on
various categories of people continue. So, I think we
get a sense that there have been some positive
developments. Things are beginning to look more
optimistic.
There have been a number of other
developments in Fiji-Australia relations since we
last spoke. One of the biggest is that Bob Carr
took over as Australian foreign minister from
Kevin Rudd. When you look at whats driving the
Australian approach to Fiji, how much do you
think that leadership shift is affecting the
relationship?

Interviews

Pacific Islands Society | Interviews | July 17, 2012
At the beginning, when there was a change of
foreign ministers, the new foreign minister made
statements that looked very positive in terms of
new developments. But, within a couple of
days, he sort of retracted them and went back
to the standard version that had been put out
before he took office. That position was
reconfirmed a few days after Foreign Minister
Carr took office even though at the beginning
he had said it was time for a new look. He went
over to New Zealand and from New Zealand he
made the statement reverting back to the
original position.

New Zealands Foreign Minister, Murray
McCully, recently acknowledged that some
progress has been made in response to your
question at Pacific Night 2012. In Fijis
diplomatic engagement with Australia and
others, do you get any sense that the ANZUS
approach is measurably changing as a result
of Fijis progress toward democracy?

We think that there have been quite tangible
and significant changes toward getting back to
elections with the appointment of the
constitutional review commission, the voter
registration system, and the changes in the
public order act. All of those we thought were
substantial movements. But, no
acknowledgement was given that was moving
in a positive direction.

We will need to do what we need to do
irrespective of what these people are saying or
doing. We think we have maintained the
milestones we set for ourselves. They really
should be acknowledged. But, if they do not,
then thats their problem.

So, you dont think that your progress is
leading to substantive changes in the
approach taken by the international
community?

Well, I dont see much of a change in the
international stance. Those who were friendly
remain friendly. Those who were unfriendly
remain unfriendly.

You dont see any thawing in their approach
having witnessed McCullys public
statements and Australias new aid
promises? You dont see these as
indications that their governments are tacitly
acknowledging your progress?

I suppose they have very reluctantly it seems -
admitted some progress. But, at the same time,
they have not said that their position is going to
be affected until they see in their view what they
term significant progress.

We have fulfilled the milestones that we set out
in terms of preparing for elections and carrying
out the economic developments that need to be
done. All of these have been done in a hostile
context in terms of those who were in the best
closest position to affect what we would do.
And, we have maintained it nonetheless. On our
side, we have lived up to what we said we
would do. So, the accusations that came
forward right from the beginning havent really
changed.

Then whats your outlook moving forward?
Is it going to take the elections for Australia
to really change their position? Or, do you
see other opportunities other milestones
before the elections where progress can be
made in Fiji-Australia relations?

Well, (the elections) are the ultimate. Once they
happen, they cant deny it any further. But, I
hope (progress can be made before the
elections). We have the constitutional review
commission being set up. They will be working
over the next few months and toward the end of
the year they will have a draft. By next year,
there will be formal consultations with the
people. I hope those will indicate that we are
well on our way and there should be some
modification vis--vis Australia and New
Zealand, and consequently the U.S.

Pacific Islands Society | Interviews | July 17, 2012
You say you hope to see progress. Are there
specific milestones before we reach the
elections in 2014 where you and other
stakeholders in Fiji expect to see a
moderation in Australias diplomatic
approach?

The consultations will be free and fair and open
to everybody. There will be no restrictions on
anyone to make their views known. I think part
of the Australian reaction has been this
business of the treatment of the unionists. Their
counterparts in Australia have prevailed upon
the government of Australia to not to be so
forthcoming in recognizing what progress has
been made. When its seen that all of the
players and politicians have complete freedom
to make their views known to the constitutional
review commission, how can you then say that
things are not being done to move us toward
free and fair elections?


Guest: Winston Thompson is the Ambassador of
the Republic of Fiji to the United States.

Interviewer: Michael Edward Walsh is the President
of the Pacific Islands Society.

The views expressed are those of the respondent.