Tonga Talks Sense, Downer Talks. Bainimarama on Forum; Rarawai Mill

Dr Feleti Sevele

VOICE OF REASON: TONGA WANTS DIALOGUE. In an interview with ABC's Bruce Hill acting as devil's advocate, Tongan PM Dr Feleti Sevele made these important comments:

  • Engaging in dialogue was the best way of genuine progress to democracy in Fiji; 
  • The Forum wants dialogue; 
  • Dialogue does not legitimise the Fiji regime; 
  • " The future of Fiji in terms of its government, in terms of its development, of its democracy, is something for the people of Fiji to resolve, not for us from outside of Fiji to determine how we would assist; 
  • We would certainly like Fiji to come back and be part of the international community or the Forum according to the governor's rules and policies of the forum.
  • "The forum wants to keep the lines of dialogue open and this is also said by Australia and New Zealand. We all believe that. If they need assistance, we should be willing to consider that.
  • The alternative is to have no communication with Fiji and I don't think that is a wise course of action in the long run."
SMITH TO ATTEND VILA FORUM. This is good news if it means Australia is taking the Pacific seriously. Panelists at a recent  Lowry Institute meeting chaired by Sean Dorney thought it was not. It is good news if Australia's Foreign Minister heeds Sevele's advice, but it is not good news if Smith does not accept the urgent need for re engagement and new approaches to resolve the Fiji impasse.

And it is very bad news if he adopts the strident policies now advocated by his predecessor Alex Downey who seems obsessed with Australia's  "sphere of influence" and the obligations it brings. "If anything goes wrong in the region, there is an expectation from the outside world that Australia will fix it."

DOWNER's DELUSIONS  OF GRANDEUR: "...this is a test of strength for Australia. To be a really effective country, we have to be able to exercise control over the security environment in our own backyard. If we can't, then the world will mark us down and our status will be diminished. Our influence will decline and our credibility as a leading proponent of good governance and stable and orderly societies will be severely damaged. At the moment, we are looking decidedly weak over the question of Fiji." 

What then follows is a jumbled history of this troublesome nation: Australia's efforts to rebuild democracy; the eccentric commander of its military force; the coups due to ethnic tensions;  the 2006 coup that "was very personal" and had nothing to do with ending corruption. Bainimarama's "real motive ...was being investigated by the police for his alleged role in the murder of two Fijian soldiers at the time of the coup in 2000."   Where have we heard that before?

SO WHAT DOES DOWNER ADVOCATE?  "Find policies which will encourage Fijians to force their dictator out of office; ... use its relationships with other South Pacific governments to ramp up the pressure...announce "retaliatory measures (for Sarah Robert's expulsion); lobby other South Pacific countries to take steps to put substantial pressure on the Fiji government; enlist other countries in the region to join Australia's sanctions against Fiji, deny any members of the regime any access to countries in the South Pacific.

"The message the Australian Government is sending out to the international community is a simple one: Australia does not have the diplomatic power to do anything about the situation in Fiji.

"That is a disaster. It is not only bad news for the ordinary people of Fiji who are suffering because of the illegal dictatorship which rules them, but it demonstrates Australia is not able to control the environment within its own sphere of influence. That makes Australia look weak and irrelevant."

If this how a nation defines itself, and I were an Australian, I would be ashamed.

. Bainimarama said accusations by Australia and New Zealand that Fiji was undermining the Forum with the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) Plus and then the Engaging Pacific Leaders meeting, was wrong. He said Fiji was more concerned about discussing its future and path back to democracy with regional leaders.

"There was no intention to undermine the Forum. If that is the way Australia saw it, then they are wrong, like they've been wrong from the start about what we doing in Fiji. What we are trying to do is get a Forum together so that we can tell Pacific island leaders what's happening in Fiji and how we intend to deal with it, leading up to elections in 2014."

SUGAR DADDY NEEDED. The  possible closure of the Rarawai Sugar Mill in Ba, which stopped crushing three weeks ago due to its 31 year-old boiler being unable to generate enough steam, provides yet another example of how close to terminal the industry could be.

If Fiji's international friends really care about the long-term economy and daily livelihoods of ordinary people in Fiji, and not just the restricted freedoms of some members of its middle class, they would be helping to marshal international technical and financial assistance from the Commonwealth and EU.

Leaving this until Fiji bows to their unrealistic demands for an immediate "return" to democracy may be more than a whisker too late. Sugar used to be Fiji's major industry, directly employing thousands of people,with downstream effects on  local urban economies in the West and North. If  NZ politicians won't show more understanding of Fiji's situation, they should emigrate to Australia and, as we half-jokingly claim about our emigration losses, help raise the intelligence of both countries.


Fiji unemployment said…
If you are so concerned about Fiji's increasing unemployment re the imminent collapse of the sugar industry, one would have thought the same logic would apply to the vindictive attack on the Fiji Times which will do nothing to assist Fiji except to create even more unemployment and hardship?
sense of desperation said…
Apart from making you feel good, and perhaps alleviating some of your obviously increasing frustation of the international community not bowing and scraping to bainimarama, do you feel your personal attacks on NZ politicians and Australia are having any impact on improving the chaos the coup has caused in Fiji?
Unashamed aussie said…
Thankfully you are not an Australian.
Dialogue with Fiji said…
Everybody agrees in having dialogue with Fiji. Most of us do it daily.
Dialogue with the junta is what is needed. And this is two different things. It is Bainimarama and his regime who kicked out the Australian High Commissioner? It is Bainimarama who said he didn't want Aust and NZ to visit Fiji for dialogue? It is Bainimarama who is not only isolating the junta from the rest of the world but increasingly from the people of Fiji.
We are now seeing real desperation emerging from this regime. Anyone in the know, is very aware of the rumours currently circulating re the 'way forward'.
Habakuk said…
Alexander who? He is washed up ex-politician. He is not in government or even in parliament.

We Aussies never took the cross dressing fool seriously when he was in government(he liked dressing up in high heels and fishnet stockings), even less so now.

I am not ashamed to be an Aussie. The comments of Mr Downer do not reflect my sentiments.

Croz said:

"If this how a nation defines itself, and I were an Australian, I would be ashamed."

They are big "ifs". You know it is not how our nation defines itself. You are also not Australian. Your comment is inane in the extreme.

The sentiments of a FORMER minister of foreign affairs are irrelevant and redundant. There are many Aussies in Fiji and Australia who are assisting our neighbour.

Remember Croz, less is more. That last line cheapened your comments.

I could throw you some Muldoon comments, if I was a kiwi and if I was mad and if i gave a rats about anything he said and if I had green hair and if I thought it added something constructive to this discussion.
daucina dina said…
@ Dialogue with Fiji...

If one may say so, you appear to have no understanding or little comprehension of what dialogue in the Pacific context means. Dictating the terms and premises of the discussion ahead of talks is not likely to assist. Coming with a good knowledge and experience of the etiquette of how things are done would assist. Giving egregious and gratuitous offence does not help and is counter-productive. Cast your egos aside; be prepared to adopt a magnanimous and a generous cast of mind towards the ordinary people of a South Pacific nation who so much deserve a better deal than they have had come their way since 1970. Prior to 1970 they had no choice nor share in the matter despite elevated expectations. Why should this be so elusive, so hard to achieve? A parity of esteem for all participants is required: no less than this. Surely, this is not too much to ask?
Croz said…
@ Habakuk and Unashamed Aussie ... I took the friendly rivalry between Aus and NZ too far. I apologize.
Radiolucas said…
@ daucina dina
"Giving egregious and gratuitous offence does not help and is counter-productive"

I am sorry but are you saying that Aust and NZ have been giving Frank "egregious and gratuitous offence"?

You are kidding right?

"a generous cast of mind towards the ordinary people of a South Pacific nation" "a Pacific context" - Is this another way of saying that the ordinary people of Fiji need to be allowed an opportunity to elect their own government? If so, by whom? The military regime? Australia? NZ? Any other providers of foreign aid?

I think I may be reading your post wrong but I suspect that you are trying to make a bizarre excuse for the military not allowing elections - because the elections need to be taken in a "Pacific Context" - which I presume means the military get to decide what happens. Arguably, the "ordinary people" of the pacific have been doing very well in a "Pacific context" until the military steps in and poleaxes a government.

So is your argument about culture? If so, is the "Pacific" way so good if all it has done (according to you) is given the people of Fiji a raw deal since 1970? The idea that Fiji's current (hard to argue that it is developing - regressing maybe) "political culture" is better than any Australia or NZ is a strange one: our migrants obviously don’t agree with this. They are too busy escaping the poverty, lack of democracy, the rule of law, freedom of speech, and decent educational or health systems.
dig a deep hole said…
The Fiji military seem to have dug a deep hole that they can't drag themselves out of? Is it a leadership issue?
Croz said…
@ Sense of desperation ... What personal attacks? Most times I quote them. People in the public arena must expect criticism. I get them all the time. As for "impact," I have no idea but I wouldn't run the blog if I thought it had no impact -- and you wouldn't have commented either.

@ Dialogue with Fiji ... You put the cart before the horse. The acting AustHigh Commissioner was kicked out after she breached the Vienna Convention. Diplomats are not allowed to interfere in the internal affairs of host countries.

Who is isolating who is a matter of opinion. You say it is "Bainimarama who said he didn't want Aust and NZ to visit" but Australia and NZ were invited to Natadola, as they were earlier invited before the invitation was withdrawn following Smith and McCully comments.

You write of "real desperation emerging from this regime."Please provide examples.

You write that "Anyone in the know, is very aware of the rumours currently circulating re the 'way forward'." I'm sure readers would like to share your knowledge. Vague innuendo is not convincing.

@ Dig a deep hole... Ditto. Be specific. Back up your claims with some evidence.
Cicero said…
Digging a Deep Hole :

Well, a little humility might be helpful all round? After all, this is NOT about ME OR I: this is about US actually - WE THE PEOPLE!
None of these posturing politicians appear to 'get it'? The People and the People's money; wasted and abused over decades of misgovernance. Paying the money back is what counts now. Fiji Pine appears to have done so....yesterday. This gesture should become a torrent of taxpayers money returned to the coffers of the state and destined for a) Paying down debt or stimulating the economy b) Channeled into urgent development while STILL CUTTING COSTS.

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