Watershed in Australian-Fiji Relations

Fiji requires our help now: the time is right

A WATERSHED is looming for Australian-Fiji relations.
At the end of the month, Julia Gillard will host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth. This will be Canberra's significant opportunity to take a new tack on relations with Fiji before that country's government begins the political phase of its roadmap for a return to parliamentary democracy in 2014.

It is now clear that once the process begins, Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama will hold fast to his own schedule just as firmly as he has done with the earlier phases of the roadmap laid down in July 2009.
Australia has failed to make any impression on the course of Fiji's return to democracy since the December 2006 military coup. In fact, Australia largely created the diplomatic vacuum that has given us negligible influence and seriously eroded our standing in the region.
Worse for Australia's Pacific leadership aspirations, major allies have increasingly drifted away to pursue their rapprochement with Suva. New players, especially China, fill the vacuum created by this acrimonious fracturing of the region's unity.

Jon Fraenkel's recent response (World Commentary, October 14) to the most serious challenge our regional leadership has faced in more than a quarter-century is for Canberra to do nothing to fix our fractured relations with Fiji, and to refrain from any positive steps towards assisting with the restoration of parliamentary democracy.

A recent Lowy Institute poll of political opinions in Fiji found nearly two-thirds support the present government. If the poll is to be believed, Fraenkel asks, why doesn't Bainimarama not hold immediate elections?

The answer is clear: the Fiji government is working to its own schedule. The government has not replaced the racially divisive constitution that contributed so much to the tensions within Fiji over the years. Nor has it begun to put in place a new electoral system to eliminate the race-based voting that perpetuated these tensions.
 
These and other political changes were never scheduled to begin before next year.

One might have doubts about the time allowed for these changes, but the Bainimarama government will not embrace the restoration of the Great Council of Chiefs or its racial control of important national offices under the 1997 constitution.

If Australia wants to influence Fiji's path to elections and the return to democracy in 2014, the Prime Minister should take positive steps at the Perth CHOGM for the Commonwealth to re-engage with Fiji.
Most of our Pacific island neighbours want this. And Washington has accepted that the best course for the US is to help Fiji get to 2014 successfully.

A year ago, the Fiji government indicated its receptiveness to getting Australian technical assistance with implementing its roadmap without conditions. It is in the interests of Fiji, the region and Australia that we be there to help the Pacific's key hub state at this decisive turning point.

Comments

Anonymous said…
Methinks that the damage has already been done, and irretrievably so. The element of trust that should underpin the Australia (and NZ) - Fiji bilateral relationship has been seriously damaged. ANZ campaigns to kick Fiji out of the Commonwealth as well its attempts to have Fiji kicked out UN peacekeeping missions etc have left an indelible stain on the relationship.

Given recent policy failures and backflips of the Gillard government, whats to say that any attempt now to reverse its policy towards Fiji will be used by its opponents to show yet again, the failures of the Gillard government? Tony Abbot will be salivating at the thought. What another opportunity gifted to the Opposition by the Gillard government.

Will the Gillard government lay itself open again? Politically, methinks not. It has taken too many hits already and will not have the stomach for more.
Yea yea said…
There is little that Australia or anyone really can do to ensure Fiji has free and fair elections - now or in 2014. Fiji or more correctly the Military Leader and his military backed government and public service will do what ever suits them. This includes delaying the election or ensuring they stay in power beyond the election (as the only approved approved party or by continued military roles in government). The only country that perhaps has a influence on Fiji now is China and they are not exactly going to be supporting democracy are they ?
Anonymous said…
Lets assume Australia throws it full weight behind team Frank and his roadmap. What happens if re does not deliver a free election or actualy delays the election ? Given Franks track record on promises and deadline this has to be a real possibility. Also nothing is done fast in Fiji and so far they have not even started consultation...or maybe there won't be any !
Islands in the Stream said…
@ Policy failures and backflips......

Too true, too true. But in the meantime, women and children needlessly die: 44 mothers per 100,000. This has never been a matter of necessity. This has been a matter of terminal neglect,of the arrogance and the gross self-indulgence of years of political leaders (mostly men) both within Fiji and without. The grand-standing and the pontificating must end. Let the Commonwealth of Nations at their meeting in the presence of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, Tui Viti, in Perth WA have this ruinous isolation end. The Australian Prime Minister, also a woman, may lend support. The lot of all Fijians must improve and it must improve incrementally, substantially, sustainably and NOW. World War Two was over by 1945 and at least ten years were required for recovery. Fiji requires at least this after twenty four years of attrition since 1987.

Grant us Peace!
Sanity at last said…
A brilliant piece and one in the eye for Jon Fraenkel, who has a scorched earth policy towards Fiji because of his wife, his ties to the SDL and his friendships with Brij Lal and Jone Baledrokadroka. These guys -Herr, Johnson and Bergin - are the sane ones and one can only hope that they are listened to in Canberra. Mark Johnson is a legend for funding the Lowy poll and doing what he can to mend Australia's fences with Fiji. He deserves our thanks and an OF when this is all over. From Suva Boys Grammar School, Mark has gone a long way but never forgets his country of birth. Vinaka vakalevu Mark.
sister saras said…
What I cant understand is, being an expert on the politics of the Pacific and having lived in Fiji for 11yrs, Fraenkel is not aware that LQ govt was the most undemocratic in the History of Fiji? Why is he on the ANU payroll when he doesnt know his stuff well enough?
Skirting the Issues said…
@ Anonymous 'Methinks'...

No, this approach is unduly pessimistic and defeatist. Gilad Shalit would never have been released with you i/c! Positions must be constantly reviewed in the light of what is termed 'reality on the ground'. The reality on the ground despite the Tebbutt Poll findings is not rosy. It is better than it was formerly but that is not good enough. Not by a long shot!

Positions need to change and they must change exponentially. No more women and young girls must die giving birth in Fiji almost weekly. We need to pay acute attention and we need to get off our High Horses. The RCS of Fiji has never 'gone away'. It lies in waiting for the Phoenix.

Until now, the issues and positions related to Fiji have been skirted and serious time wasting has taken place: 'moku siga'.
Should know better.....! said…
@ Dr Fraenkel and his eleven years...

Living in Fiji for eleven years and being elevated to a position of expert on Pacific Affairs is an issue for the Australian taxpayers. They should know better!
sara'ssista said…
so when the regime decides they will have elections and they decide to model them on burma or thailand, or hong kong where do you go from that? I have no doubt there is some commitment to 'elections' but no-one will have a say in the process, who will be allowed by the military to particpiate ? (even if not convicted of any crime) what the military intend to reserve for thenselves? and what protections any fijian has, despite the claims , that any future military leadership don't take over again, whenever it is expedient? We are not even close to beginning to answer these questions.
Anonymous said…
@ Skirting the issues

I was only trying to point the role of domestic politics in Australia on the foreign policy options open to the Gillard government. Surely these options are influenced also by domestic considerations. Do you deny that?

The 'reality on the ground' etc you talk about is all well and good. But quite frankly who in Australia (ie the average taxpayer on the streets) gives a shit about that reality in Fiji!

Gillard will have difficulty changing course now as it will afford an opportunity to Tony Abbott et al to score points with regard to Australia's domestic audience; the audience who will vote in the next elections.

Domestic politics here in Oz plays a far more important role in shaping foreign policy choices than some dubious interpretation like yours as to what is really constitutes the 'reality on the ground'.

In rejecting the findings of the recent Tebutt Poll in Fiji I can only conclude that you are beholden to the other narrative that is being peddled by the 'scorched earth' policy advocates like Fraenkel, Lal et al.
Anonymous said…
Between Fraenkanl and Frank, Fraenkal is not frank and it is a worrying sign when academics can choose to wallow in the mud like pigs. Politics has been sullied so badly that politicians have gained the distinction of being the most distrusted people and now the academics like Fraenkal cannot do much to uphold the dignity of the academia. If this is a worry, think of the media that choose to interview those that give vent to their own prejudices and pose as the ultimate authority on the subject of their choice. It does not end there. Freedom of the media needs to be revisited and their wings clipped to ensure that they do not continue to abuse their rights.
Democracy is under grave threat across the world. Very few people are honest and frank. Its a crying shame!
Bring Back the Black Watch said…
@ Anonymous re Skirting the issues...

Well, there's no need to be defensive. You have made a few logic leaps though without licence. Why suggest that one might have become "beholden to the other narrative"? Because that is not so. But neither is it possible to fully subscribe to the current narrative Chez Nous. This is because frankly it is going off-course and there is too much playing "in the rough". We seem to have lost focus. This focus has to be on a new Constitution of Liberty (a la F. Hayek). How do you 'Get Free' in two and a half years with no opportunity to argue and debate in the Socratian manner? This is what democracy must have and the debating must begin with immediacy. No intelligent and reasoned debate will ensue from nowhere and nothing. Self evident?
So we are still 'Skirting the issues', some of us. Wearing skirts and they are not kilts! Bring back the Black Watch! Put them on watch! For God's sake.
sister saras said…
@Anonymous
Fraenkel and academics just dont go together. This guy professess to be the authority on Pacific politics, but is way off the mark. It is no wonder that the likes of Fraenkel are the reasons for the PER in Fiji. This guy is completely out of touch with reality.
Anonymous said…
@ Black Watch

Well, it depends on what form of democracy is required in Fiji. Democracy can take may forms - I dont need to tell you that. If you expect a free "Socratarian" system, then that will come eventually. How long did it take Britain to get to that destination?

Given that we have been without your version for a number of years now, we will need to 'transtion' into the full Socratraian model we all wish for. That is the ideal.

But given that things in the Pacific islands tend to follow the 'incremental model' of social & political change, we have to give it time to take root after all these years of military rule.

How do we transition into that ideal that you/we all aspire to? What should be the transitioning arrangements? Which of the two dominant 'narratives' should prevail i.e. the Paramountcy model as espoused by the SVT & SDL viz a viz the Equality model being promoted by Frank.

Until we are able to resolve which 'narrative' is best for Fiji we will not be able to advance ultimately towards a more eglatarian system that is inherent in the 'Socratarian' model that you seem to advocate.

My impressions are that the 'Equality' model being pushed by Frank is, ultimately, the best model for Fiji. The road towards that goal will be rocky. There will be many fierce debates about the appropriateness of each. I acknowledge that as being part of the process we have to follow to get to the ultimate model.

Thats where I am coming from
Crisis Economics and Transparency said…
@ Anonymous on the Black Watch

The equality of all individuals under the rule of law is, without doubt, the way to go. However, it is idealistic at best and after a prolonged period of hierarchy, colonialism and then more hierarchy extremely difficult to achieve. Without freedom within the law to make and state these arguments (the Socratic way from the Seat of Democracy, Greece)there can be no progress towards equality of the individual. It is in fact a determination of: Collectivism versus Individualism? And the Chinese have certainly been and are still there. Their rapid economic growth may ease the dilemma but it may also prove volatile if even distribution of their GDP proves too slow. Already, predictions are being made of volatility within China in the hinterland within the next seven years as growth slows and inflation kicks in.

One way out? The Philospher King -Plato's ideal. But that is precisely why a wider knowledge and understanding is required in governance than mere law. Laws may be made to suit most situations. Justice is quite another matter. And so is Economics which at present is the dominant issue with a variety of conflicting and competing opinions and paths to take. But this time, the global crisis is so real and so pressing that mistakes cannot be made. The folly of failing to grasp this may well prove fatal: for us all.

Vigilance and constant monitoring is required and careful and percipient action taken which is remedial. When resources do not stretch to the issue of sufficient passports for a population, one must ask if such resources exist? And these resources must be intellectual as well as financial.

Good governance demands all these attributes. Never will governance be tested as it shall be now. Even the Governor of the Bank of England has suggested that this crisis, which began in 2008, might prove to be worse than 1929. Nobel prize-winning Economist Paul Krugman does not appear to differ. He tells us that the ominous signs are not being attended to and they are not dissimilar to those of The Great Depression. So, mount a Watch. If required a Black Watch and ensure that the population is adequately informed at each and every turn. This is our right and this is our future. Nothing less will suffice.
sara'ssista said…
There will not be 'MANY FIERCE DEBATES', because this regime will not allow it, how naive to think otherwise. There are no checks and balances, no accountability, a country run by colonels and i bet there will be unsurpisingly few documents to support many decisions left by this regime to get clear picture of what they have been up to.
Anonymous said…
Black Watch.....the unaccountable bankers that treat this world as their footstool would like to have you in constant fear as to be able to continue to manipulate as they have done for decades.

The present siuation is absolutely no where near the situation of 1929.
The WFC was and is an excersise in "consolidation" that takes place after a bubble created by the banks. Bubbles a times off incredable profiteering by the finacial industry and those in it.
There was a time when this industry was very conservative as the memory of older generations that actually lived through the depression and the many Royal Commisssions that put the industries feet to the fire, making them defend their right /privelege to create credit for nations.

The fact that "responsibile banking practice" would be the justification and contract that allowed politcians(the people)to allow the creation of credit to be in private hands.

The past years of deregulation and the forgotten lessons have resulted in the "ruthless" irresponsibility that has occurred to the detriment of millions of lives around the world.

If private enterprise wishes to continue with the responsibility of creating credit, then it must submit to "regulation" .
The power to create credit is the most powerful force on earth, and as such it must be controlled and directed by those who own it, the people. The power to create credit is a soverign right, and that fact needs to be "burnt" into the consciuoness of bankers and the finacial industry.

To do this the people need knowledge, maybe the internet may provide enough although I doubt it. To educate the populace massmedia needs to be mobilized, and in that regard there is absolutely no hope as it is owned by the same interests that seek to sustain ignorance.

The change will not come internally, it will be forced when the BRICS produce their own currency that is backed by "conservative" policy and regulation that you can take to the Bank.

The AngloAmerican finacial system is being run by "Stupid White Men" and that has got to end as they cause damage around the planet to people and enviroment.
Get into a War when QE fails! said…
"The present situation is absolutely no where near 1929" - Anonymous

You may well think so, that is your right. We could not disagree with you more. No situation, economic, social, cultural is ever identical to one that went before. But the economic indicators are showing signs of being similar and the capacity of people like yourself to disassociate themselves from these indicators (which in a globalized world with Internet access are even more alarming). Professor Nouriel Roubini was right on cue in 2008: indeed, he was previous to cue. Now that does not of necessity indicate he has it completely right this time around but he is joined by the Nobel Prize-winning Economist Dr Paul Krugman. Dr Krugman's area of expertise is the 1929 Great Depression which lasted for 10 years and was partly responsible for the outbreak of World War Two and the rise of fascism and racial hatred across Germany and Europe. Dr Paul Krugman has said in the past two weeks, that the economic indicators which show similarity to 1929 are being ignored. In the main, this has to do with the use of Public Money - Taxpayers' funds to shore up failing banks or banks which have over-exposed themselves to various countries' debt: Greece/Italy/Spain/Portugal and Ireland. But the USA itself is also hugely in debt and is printing money and using fancy means like QE (Quantative Easing) to attempt to kick-start the jobs market. It is scarcely working. It cannot continue because money cannot be used in this manner unless China and others buy the bonds to support it. What a curious and dangerous position for any World Power to be in? But the UK is not much better placed.

This is time for great introspection, great prudence and great transparency (too much to hope for?). The accountability is coming. In 2012 it may come through war and war on a global scale. Are we prepared for this? The March of Folly continues and when you can no longer pay your debts? Get into a War. It is a licence to print money. Here, get into a coup? But, the Big Difference: we cannot print money. We cannot even print passports.

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