1. Bainimarama and McCully: the Way Backwards
Opinion -- Crosbie Walsh
We know Bainimarama is no diplomat. He calls it as he sees it, and the devil take the consequences. Sometimes this is refreshing. It's not often a country's leader speaks so openly. But most times it is not the best way to speak to -- or about -- other governments if you want to defrost relations, and find a way forward.
Now Bainimarama has a twin, Murray McCully, who cannot be excused, as some would say Bainimarama can, for his lack of lèse majesté. McCully is not a military man. He is an experienced senior politician, Godzone's foreign minister, a diplomat who should know better than to say what he feels -- even when his bigger Australian brother, Stephen Smith, sets a poor example and says almost the same thing.
Speaking immediately after the Forum's Ministerial Contact Group meeting "broke up" in Auckland on Monday afternoon, McCully reported no progress on Fiji. He said the situation had deteriorated on human rights, censorship, arrests, no preparations for the 2014 elections, etc., and, most importantly, dialogue to date had not included all "stakeholders," by which he meant the former political parties and former parliamentary leaders such as Qarase and Chaudhry. If only he had chosen his words more carefully and said "there appears not to have been as much progress as we would have liked" and omitted the reference to the stakeholders.
Until that point in time the Fiji government had invited the MCG to visit Fiji to see things on the ground, and the MCG had accepted. Unfortunately, this slight glimmer of hope that some progress had been made at the meeting was about to be extinguished. And anyone who knows even the tiniest thing about Fiji or Bainimarama could have seen it coming.
McCully's remarks may have been acceptable if confined to a NZ public to explain the lack of progress. But there's no way, in this electronic age, that public remarks can be confined. He must have known his remarks would also reach Fiji. From this point on, the outcome was entirely predicable. Bainimarama took offence at the "deterioration" remarks. And I must say I have some sympathy with his position. Much progress has been made, but not with consulting NZ's stakeholders.
Why come to Fiji, Bainimarama asked, when they (the Australian and NZ Ministers) already have their minds made up? Pacific Islanders leaders, he said, will meet without you under the Melanesian Spearhead Group umbrella later this month. Forget your pretended open-mind visit to Fiji. The invitation is withdrawn.
Relations may improve as time goes by, but for the moment it looks like another lost opportunity.
This leaves me wondering if NZ really wanted dialogue with Fiji. McCully is no fool. Why were his remarks so negative and poorly chosen? Could it be that the MCG meeting in Auckland was only a face-saving tactic to appease those Pacific Island leaders who do not agree with Australia and New Zealand's hard line? Or could it be there's an expectation that, given time, the Bainimarama government will collapse or be replaced, and the Pacific will ease back to the kind of cosy relations we once had with our Island neighbours? Dream on.
On Friday, I'll make some suggestions on what McCully (and Forum leaders who agree with his position) can reasonable expect as "concessions" from Fiji -- and what they can not. And on Monday, I'll write about possible New Zealand "concessions." It takes two to tango.
Postscript. The PM has told the Acting Heads of the NZ and Australian missions in Suva to get out of their offices and see what's going on around them.The PM said he is concerned that misleading information is being fed by the officials of the two High Commissions to their governments. "The problem also with some of the officials is that they are speaking to a group of people who always oppose or see wrong in everything the government does."