Who's Breaking Their Word Now?

But where's the carrot?
Opinion by Crosbie Walsh

NZ and Australia used to say they would not ease up on Fiji until there were tangible signs of progress towards a "return to democracy." They spoke of sticks and carrots. But every small step forward from Fiji was met by "that's not enough" and "why should we believe Bainimarama when he broke his word before?"

For some week now writers had been  speculating that our relations with Fiji were about to change, and some wrote of a "gap" between the Australian and NZ positions. In Australia the parliamentary Opposition was supporting new discussions with Fiji. There were rumours of behind the scenes moves  from NZ, and both countries said they would help finance the electronic registration of Fiji voters. It was expected the demise of hardline former Australia Foreign Minister Rudd would  see a change in Australia's position and a new joint approach by both countries.

Last week, on Friday, Fiji announced —as promised—a very big step forward: the commencement of a firm and immediate timetable for constitutional dialogue with inclusive participation. Compared with two months earlier, the environment for the announcement could not have been better.

The announcement was met by widespread approval.  Fiji critic, Jennifer Hayward-Jones of the Australian private thinktank the Lowy Institute, approved.  NZ Foreign Minister McCully and new Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Carr both gave it qualified approval, and Fiji's Foreign Minister cautiously reciprocated.

Media in both  countries anticipated that Carr's visit to NZ on Friday would see a joint announcement on the easing of sanctions, possible re-admittance to the Pacific Forum, and new discussion with Fiji. Most observers thought the resumption of full diplomatic relations with Fiji was now only a matter of time. After a stand-off for several years, things were on a roll.

But it was not to be. All that had happened was either a smokescreen or something had happened very recently that caused Carr to change his mind. Graham Davis argues in Grubsheet this was probably pressure by the Unions. Whatever. The outcome was that McCully and Carr announced there was to be no moderation in policy and no quid carrots. They did not slam the book shut. McCully  said he was keeping an open mind and Carr said softening Australia's stance was premature. But in my book, Australia and NZ had broken their word. This was a big enough event to expect some change.

And,  as if they needed an excuse, the NZ Herald coincidentally published a full feature article on the questionable Dodds (No Law in Fiji) report, some two weeks after everyone else had had a say. Coincidence or not, it would have distracted public attention away from McCully and Carr's duplicity.

Not for the first time, my country has thrown away an opportunity to help resolve a difficult situation by showing some sense of understanding of Fiji's realities.  We could have been on the inside, helping Fiji achieve the best possible outcomes. Instead, we have again chosen, at least for the time being,  to remain on the outside —  and largely irrelevant.

Related stories

Graham Davis says pressure from ACTU causes Carr rethink
Brij Lal  cautiously optimistic.
Commonwealth  to watch developments
Chaudhry and Nik Naidu comment, a bob each way.
Beddoes welcomes announcement
Qarase pleased to be included
 Qarase says keep 1997 Constitution
Vakatale says commission will play vital role
CCF. Participation essential, says  CCF
Mara says it's a sham
More from Mara and the "Council for a Democratic Fiji."


Gutter Press said…

Graham Davis’ comments about the roll back and now the reversal of that roll back should all be taken with a pinch of salt. Diplomacy isn’t governed by journalists who may, or may not, want Australia and New Zealand to re engage with the government. Journalists generally report on what they hear but their own opinions will cause them to slant their articles one way or another.

So the disappointment that a multitude of people will probably feel at the moment is due in no small way to the false expectations created by Graham’s attempt to present the roll back partially as a result of the success of his efforts to present the PM’s side of the story to the wider Australian audience. His scoop, such as it was, was to have been, to some degree, instrumental in the Australian government’s change of mind.

The fact that just 48 hours after the PM made his announcement on Friday, there has been no reciprocal announcement by ANZ foreign ministers doesn’t mean to say that it’s been ignored, or that they’ve ‘broken their word’ as you so egregiously claim. It’s just the announcement is being carefully considered and an appropriate response is being formulated.

You’ve often decried the press, sometimes with good reason. Surely you wouldn’t want your government’s policy to be dictated by constant knee jerk reactions to announcements in the same press which, as we all know, is biased one way or another?

On a related point, the Murdoch-owned News International media’s apparent recanting of its opposition to the coup was neatly summed up in the Adelaide Advertiser’s article 7 March:

Incentives for Fiji are likely to include lifting some of the "sticks" against the regime, including the forum's ban on the junta - and some reversal of Australian sanctions set up in the wake of the coup.
These include a blanket ban on the supply, sale or transfer to Fiji of arms and related material, the provision of technical advice, assistance or training, a financial service or financial or other assistance to Fiji related to military activities or any activity that involves the sale or supply of any export-sanctioned goods to Fiji.

I can’t think of anything less appealing to the Australian public than the thought that their government was considering lifting a ban on the sale of arms and re establishing technical assistance to the Fijian military. I believe the article was worded in a deliberate attempt to ensure that public opposition was maintained.
Where is the difficulty? said…
You speak of a difficult situation? How are sanctions against the Fiji military and other members of the junta and their families a difficult situation? It is not stopping Australians and NZDers from continuing to take holidays in Fiji - which because of the coup are now heavily discounted and subsidised. I see no difficulty with this only benefits?
If the military junta members and their families find sanctions against them difficult they know what to do? They and their supporters are the only ones complaining. You have a nice relaxing week and stop stressing.
Patience said…
you are the master of double standards, when the regime delays keeping its promises. You urge us all to be patient and to give them a chance. Now that the dictator has announced the format for the constitutional consultations, after a delay, you expect an instant reaction from Australia and New Zealand.

Time and again Bainimarama has made announcements and either changed the goalposts. Shortly afterwards, or just ignored his earlier announcements. I think it is very wise for our neighbours to wait and see just how genuine this latest development is.

Give them a chance.
MJ said…
I suspect that Aust and NZ did discuss easing of sanctions against Fiji, but Carr couldn't make any significant statements or changes as he has not yet even been sworn in. I think that we might see some change of position over the coming weeks. It would also be difficult for Carr to make such a big change so quickly as it would seem to be a big slap in the face for Rudd, and Labor are trying hard not to talk up his past performance to try to heal after the recent leadership challenge.
sara'ssista said…
Lets be clear, an 'announcement' and 'a step' is not a result. Lets be very cautious given we have no control over the behaviour of the regime during this process before anyone gets excited.Lets see something tangible, not just words for the media. This is not a new constitution, it is an annnouncement to have a meeting to have a discussion on a new constitution which to me will have no safeguards to prevent the very intervention this regime appears so fond of.
Graham Davis said…
Gutter Press, your notion of shooting the messenger - whether it's Croz Walsh or me - isn't really in the interests of your average reader. Your disdain for the journalistic cycle indicates to me someone who prefers the dispassionate approach of the historian to such matters. But I suspect that most people, given a choice, don't want to wait for the book.

I wasn't alone is flagging a change of Australian policy, based on what I'd been told by other people I can't identify because of their insider status. Other journalists in the Murdoch Press who I've never met were clearly being told the same thing. So to portray this as merely wishful thinking on my part and accuse me of unnecessarily raising expectations is a bit rich.

As soon as I saw Bob Carr's comments in NZ about the treatment of the unions in Fiji, I realised the importance of this is any rollback of Australian policy and immediately acted to quell those hopes. I reacted to the evidence at hand, just as I had with the original story.

Let's wait and see what happens, as you suggest. But my belief now is that unless the charges against Daniel Urai are dropped or modified, Australian unions will fight any significant change of Australia's current hardline policy on Fiji.

Never mind progress on a new constitution. It's the unions in Australia who have ultimate power over Labor government policy. And while the head of the union movement in Fiji has a life sentence over his head, his fellow unionists regard this as a collective assault of workers' rights and will instruct the government not to waver.

Time will tell, as you say. But I see nothing wrong in the meantime in reflecting publicly on whatever straw happens to be raised in the wind. Bob Carr's was a very tall one under the circumstances that simply can't be ignored. I'd venture that anyone who thinks otherwise is more likely to be the wishful thinker, not me.
Anonymous said…
John Key said Fiji will have to demonstrate a genuine intention to hold democratic elections before they consider lifting sanctions.

What more does John Key want Fiji to do? Frank has already appointed a Constitution panel led by Yash Ghai, and announced timelines etc.

Wonder what the US response will be? Their Ambassador is already talking to Frank and she describes the US relationship with Fiji as being 'excellent'. The US have every reason to worry about the actions and responses of their deputy sheriffs (ANZ) in the region.
snoopy said…
Banimarama has done everything he said he would. He has kept to his word and i belief firmly that an election will be held in 2014/ Fiji's real friends will be there to help Fiji......
Anonymous said…

Why are you giving space to that traitor and renegade officer, Tevita Mara? He has nothing positive to offer Fiji except for another coup.

Who are the wannabe's in his Council for a Democratic Fiji? I suspect its the usual suspects in the ANU and the Fiji democracy movement.
Anonymous said…
Could someone put a muzzle on Chaudhary's mouth. Its very irritating to hear his comments. Nik has a point - the Army's role in a democratic Fiji should be addressed now. It is easy to say they will return to the barracks but this is what they did in the past. The size of the military is simply intimidating. It should be absorbed in the Police Force.
Our readiness is all said…
@ Graham Davis and MJ

"There's a special providence in the fall of a sparrow...."

follow the reading well!. The betrayed-so-many-times and the endlessly-threatened and compromised will never forget or forgive unwarranted optimism. Where is the evidence? Where is the track record? Who will sabotage our trust yet again?

"If it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all".

Our futures and those of our children and our grandchildren (many forced into a Diaspora like the exiled and hunted-down-Jews)are not for paltry sale. Not for sale to you or indeed to anyone else. Our lives are our own. Our own alone.
We shall never succumb to a gross and cynical manipulation in a manufactured Gulag Archipelago of 'Might is Right'.

Neither shall we be mere pawns in the political games of others. Our destiny is our own. Because inherently we are free: free-born and free in spirit. Our 'readiness is all'.
Bickering and wrangling? said…
When we consider the lot of the 'exiled and hunted-down-Jews' perhaps we might give a thought to the State of Israel and how seriously they take their own internal defence. When threatened, they are fearless and relentless. And they are threatened existentially almost every day.

The Israeli Defence Force is fully representational of all who live in Israel. All must complete three years of mandatory National Service: men and women alike. Nationals who come from all kinds of backgrounds (Russia, Ethiopia, EU, USA, South Africa) take their military service as a Badge of Honour. Because their very survival is at stake and the enemy is at the door.

Is it our signal challenge that having no obvious external threat, we succumbed to internal bickering and wrangling? Thereby dissipating our energies (mental, physical and material) when they should have been marshalled?

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