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.
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."