Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Aussies ‘willing to back’ dialogue forum

Aussies ‘willing to back’ dialogue forum - 15/10/2008

Australia is willing to support a political dialogue process, provided it is not used to delay the elections, says Canberra’s High Commission in Suva.A spokesman for the High Commission said provided the forum was conducted as genuine dialogue, without preconditions, threats, ultimatums or predetermined outcomes and had the support of all key stakeholders, Canberra was willing to help. The High Commission said Australia had already extended assistance to help return Fiji to democracy. For instance, Australia made a large contribution to last year's census and provides a top-up for the salary of the Supervisor of Elections. The spokesman said Australian officials were in frequent dialoguewith the Office of the Supervisor of Elections regarding additional ways in which Australia could assist in holding elections in Fiji. Although some elements of Australia's aid programme (representing around 20 per cent of the total) were suspended following the December 2006 coup, Australia maintains a significant aid programme in Fiji, which is valued at more than $30 million in 2008, in areas such as health, education, community and civil society development, the garment industry and elections. Fiji also benefits from a range of assistance programmes funded by Australia through regional organisations such as SPC, SPREP, SOPAC and USP. According to the Australian High Commission, Canberra’s ability to expand the current aid program beyond the level it was at now, however, was constrained by the fact that Fiji did not have an elected government in place at the moment.

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