Fiji will continue to participate in all Pacific Islands Forum activities except the Forum Leaders’ meeting.
Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama said this yesterday “to set the record straight” because there appeared to be confusion about Fiji’s position.
Mr Bainimarama said: “We will continue to participate in all Forum activities at the public service, technical and ministerial levels. The PIF Secretariat will, of course, continue to be headquartered in Fiji. But as Head of Government, I will not participate in any Forum Leaders’ Meeting until the issue of the undue influence of Australia and New Zealand and our divergence of views is addressed.”
Mr Bainimarama made the comments when he opened a meeting of development partners at the Novotel Suva Lami Bay to decide on a draft agreement to institutionalise the Pacific Islands Development Forum.
He said: “Australia and New Zealand are not island nations. And we believe that they are more development partners such as the European Union, China, India, South Korea, Indonesia and the rest,” he said.
“This is not some ill-considered position based on resentment against Australia and New Zealand for their punitive attitude towards our reform programme that produced the first genuine democracy in Fijian history. This is not me ‘mouthing off’, as the New Zealand Prime Minister so condescendingly put it.
“But as things stand, we do not see Fiji’s interests reflected in the stance being taken by Australia and New Zealand. And especially on the biggest threat to our security we have ever faced collectively as Pacific Islanders – the rising sea levels caused by climate change.
“In common with the European Union and a host of other countries, Fiji wants the global community to commit to binding cuts in carbon emissions to reduce the current rate of global warming.
“The scientists say these cuts are vital to prevent the sea level rises that in the near future threaten the very existence of Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands. Plus vast tracts of land in other coastal island nations.
“Yet rather than join us at the forefront of the international campaign to cut carbon emissions, Australia in particular is dragging its feet.
“So much so that even major carbon emitters are complaining about Australia’s refusal to meet its international obligations.
“Rather than side with us, Australia in particular is siding with what I call the coalition of the selfish.
“Those industrialised nations which are putting the welfare of their carbon polluting industries and their workers before our welfare and survival as Pacific Islanders.
“We now find ourselves in common cause not with our closest neighbours and traditional friends – those who sit with us in the PIF – but with others such as the member countries of the European Union who also heavily invest in the long-term welfare of our people but stand with us on the issue of climate change.”
He said the Europeans had proved to be “our true allies” in this most basic of struggles. He said Australia and New Zealand had been put to the test on climate change and been found wanting. So it should be no surprise that Fiji had formed the view that at the very least, their position as full members of our island nation Forum needed to be questioned, re-examined and redefined, he said.
“They simply do not represent our interests as we face this critical matter of survival,” he said.
“I want to make it clear once again that we are not putting forward the PIDF as a competitor for any existing organisation.
“What we are doing is providing a space for everyone to have their opinions heard, which has not been the case with the Pacific Islands Forum. Though I’m pleased to note that the PIF appears to be following our example.
“I am not here to force Fiji’s view on anyone. It is for the region as a whole to decide its future and the adequacy of the existing regional framework.
“But as Fiji sees it, we needed to create a piece of regional furniture that we are all comfortable sitting in and we have. An organisation for Pacific Islanders by Pacific Islanders. Free from undue outside influence and existing only to pursue the interests of Pacific Islanders, whoever they are or wherever they live.
He said PIDF was not in the business of “creating fat cat bureaucracies that waste our precious tax dollars”.
“That is not the Pacific way. Our mantra must always be to do more for less, to create an organisation that is lean and efficient and that because of its integrity, enjoys the confidence and support of our development partners.”
“I know I don’t have to lecture you on this point. Because so many of you have always operated with scarce resources and know that this is no impediment to being effective. My own mantra in Fiji is that Government exists to deliver and to serve. And I urge you all to embrace the same values in the PIDF.
“And I want to stress that none of this affects our bilateral relations with the Australians and New Zealanders, who we continue to regard as friends despite our grave disappointment at their stance on climate change.”
Comment. My own view is that ANZ should remain part of the PIF but only in the role of advisors and observers. Their opinions should be sought but they should not be able to vote on any major issue. --Croz