MSG Plus & Underhand, Undiplomatic Aussie High Com Behaviour
by Laisa Taga, Islands Business Editor-in-Chief (Link)
Concerted effort to undermine Fiji summit
The bureaucrats who advise Australia’s new prime minister Julia Gillard will be closely watching Natadola Bay in Fiji this month. They will be following what transpires at the Melanesian Spearhead Group summit as Ms Gillard prepares for the Pacific Islands Forum meeting next month. From what is being written about her Pacific Islands knowledge, she has a lot of catching up to do before she arrives in Port Vila. She and her Pacific advisers will be closely monitoring the discussions at the MSG meeting and its outcome to gauge the islands mood.
The MSG meeting is being hosted and chaired by Fiji’s Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama on July 22-23 at Natadola, Fiji, an hour’s drive from Nadi International Airport.
Apart from the normal MSG business, Fiji is expected to use this summit to explain its position to other Forum islands member countries who have also been invited to attend. This is for what will be known as MSG Plus. When this edition went to press, Kiribati and Tuvalu had officially accepted the invitation to attend MSG Plus. Tonga is understood to have also accepted.
Leaders in the Northern Pacific have informed Fiji they won’t be able attend as they will be having their pre-Forum Micronesian meeting at the same time. But their officials, however, will be at Natadola, Fiji’s foreign ministry officials have been told.
A regional observer said, “Suspended from the Forum, and excluded from PACER and PACER Plus negotiations almost certainly due to Australian and New Zealand persuasion, Fiji has merely struck back. “MSG Plus will give islands leaders the chance to talk with—and see what it is happening in Fiji—without the overbearing presence of Australia and New Zealand. The Forum Melanesian nations were never totally happy with Australia and New Zealand’s hard line on Fiji,” the observer said.
What the direct outcome of the MSG meeting will be is anyone’s guess. But Australia will be watching it like a hawk. And it has been acting even before the meeting. Already Australia has been accused of working behind the scenes to undermine Fiji’s preparations for the MSG meeting.
Australia actively trying to undermine MSG Plus meeting
Letter from Suva has been reliably told that the Fiji foreign ministry has on two occasions summoned the acting Australian high commissioner Sarah Roberts to appear before the Secretary of Foreign Affairs. This was after the Ministry was told by several heads of missions based in Suva that the Australian envoy had been “attempting to influence them from accepting invitations to the MSG.”
This was again repeated by her in the most recent meeting of the Diplomatic Corps here in Suva.
It is also been alleged that Ms Roberts had invited heads of missions in Fiji to participate in a discussion on possible evacuation scenarios of foreign nationals in the event of political instability.
A diplomatic source said: “While I understand that foreign missions as part of their consular role have contingency plans for evacuation of their nationals in times of natural disasters, evacuation in the event of political instability, I understand falls outside of the ambit of such preparatory measures and presupposes something else.”
The diplomatic source added that “Ms Roberts’ undiplomatic approach has been the subject of much consternation among foreign diplomats here in Suva and constitutes interference in the internal affairs of Fiji, in breach of the United Nations Charter and International Law.”
Australian officials right around the region, Letter from Suva has been told, have been working behind the scenes to influence senior officials of the various countries they’re represented in not to attend the MSG. “They even spoke to the Solomon Islands Prime Minister, not to attend the MSG,” the diplomatic source said.
Whatever the outcome of the MSG Plus will be, Fiji and the rest of the Pacific will be closely watching Ms Gillard. They hope Ms Gillard’s government will do a little more than her predecessor Kevin Rudd. They hope that come the Port Vila meeting next month, they will hear more positive news in relation to Fiji/Australia relations and particularly the Pacific Islands guest worker scheme which has failed to get off the ground. The hope is Australia under Ms Gillard will put more effort into real developments like this, and less into its fixation with undermining Fiji.
MSG PLUS R.S.V.P. Fiji has invited Australia and New Zealand to attend next week’s Melanesian Spearhead Group meeting as dialogue development partners. MSG nations attending are Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and Fiji, with New Caledonia’s Kanaks represented by the FLNKS. Non-member nations that have so far accepted are Kiribati, Tuvalu, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia and Palau. Northern Pacific countries are involved in a pre-Forum meeting but thier officials will attend. Tonga has not yet replied. Samoa has said it won’t be attendng and it looks like Niue and Cook Islands will also say no.
SAMOA OBSERVER EDITOR Savea Sano Malifa says Bainimarama is taking no notice of what he calls Samoa PM Tuilaepa Sailele’s tricks. The PM made a number of derogatory remarks when refusing Fiji’s invitation to attend the Melanesian Spearhead Group meeting but Bainimarama did not rise to the bait. Malifa says Tuilaepa is trying to steal the limelight from Bainimarama.