Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Call for statement to Australian parliament on Fiji


Following moves to address Burma concerns, there are calls for Foreign Minister Stephen Smith to address Fiji concerns in Parliament. [Reuters]
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Following moves to address Burma concerns, there are calls for Foreign Minister Stephen Smith to address Fiji concerns in Parliament. [Reuters]


by Jemima Garrett

Australia Networks News - 16 February 2010

There has been a call for Australia's foreign minister, Stephen Smith, to make a comprehensive statement to parliament on Australia's relations with Fiji. The call follows Mr Smith's statement to parliament on Burma last week.

Mr Smith's statement on Burma signalled a change in policy and a substantial increase in humanitarian aid despite the continuing control of the country by a military regime.

The Director of the Lowy Institute's Myer Melanesia Program, Jenny Hayward-Jones, says Fiji, like Burma, is experiencing increasing poverty and declining health and education, and that a statement to parliament and more aid is needed.

"I think a similar effort on Fiji would be very well received by the Fiji people and signal to Fiji that we do really care about their long-term interests, despite our disagreements with the current government," she said.

Ms Hayward-Jones says despite Australia's close relations with Fiji, many Australians do not know what is happening there and an explanation is necessary.


There's been a call for Australia's Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith, to make a comprehensive statement to parliament on Australia's relations with Fiji. The Director of the Lowy Institute's Myer Melanesia Program, Jenny Hayward-Jones, says Mr smith should make a similar statement on Fiji. Jemima Garrett asked her why.


HAYWARD-JONES:
well, I think this particular statement on Burma, obviously was way overdue, but was extremely helpful in outlining what was going on in Burma and how Australia currently engaged with Burma and what we saw that achieving into the future. And I think it was really useful for Australians to understand and Australian politicians to understand what our policy is all about. Now in terms of Fiji, we have much closer relations with Fiji than we do with Burma. Our bi-lateral trade with Fiji is AUD$535 million, as opposed to only AUD$80 million with Burma. Australian tourists going to Fiji are obviously vastly more, I don't have figures on Burma but I suspect they are a lot less than the 247,000 that went to Fiji a couple of years ago. So I think Mr Smith owes it to the Australian parliament and the people to really explain why we have this particular policy on Burma which includes a mixture of sanctions and engagement and what are we doing on Fiji and why are we doing it in Fiji.

GARRETT: Mr Smith's statement on Burma signalled a key policy change - Australia will continue efforts to engage the military government there, and maintain its targeted sanctions, but - and this is the change it will also almost double its humanitarian assistance to Burma. Are you suggesting that Australia take the same approach with Fiji?

HAYWARD-JONES:
I think Australia could certainly benefit from increasing aid to Fiji. Our aid to Fiji has certainly never been as significant as our aid to Papua New guinea or to Solomon Islands but we can see in Fiji evidence of increasing poverty, declines in health and education outcomes, so I think it's certainly warranted to give more to Fiji at this stage to address those challenges and, in fact, the increased aid to Burma is going directly to address poverty and to address the needs of vulnerable groups in Burma so I think a similar effort on Fiji would be very well received by the Fiji people and signal to Fiji that we do really care about their long-term interests despite our disagreements with the current government.

GARRETT:
The United states has also changed its policy on Burma with Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, saying the sanctions-only policy to isolate Burma's military has not worked - Does this signal a change in thinking internationally or is this very specific to Burma?

HAYWARD-JONES: I think in the case of the US it may be specific to Burma. I think Hillary Clinton has just announced a renewed effort on sanctions on Iran, particularly the Revolutionary Guards in Iran, so I don't think it's a US move away from sanctions but it's certainly a recognition that in Burma they haven't worked. And, in fact, that's what Stephen Smith also admitted; that sanctions haven't changed the minds of the Burmese regime. And I think the same could be said of Fiji; that Australia's limited policy of travel sanctions has not had the desired effect on the military government on Fiji . So it may be time for a reassessment.

GARRETT: If Mr Smith were to make a statement to parliament on Fiji, what should it cover?

HAYWARD-JONES: I'd like it to be as detailed as the one he made on Burma, I think it should cover what is happening in Fiji. I'm not sure that many Australians know that there continues to be media censorship and a public emergency regulations in Fiji, that the Methodist church senior hierarchy has been arrested, that there are bans on them holding their meetings until 2014, that former public officials that criticise the government will be stripped of their pensions for year of public service. All of these things are not well known in Australia so a statement that outlined what is happening in Fiji and why Australia was concerned about it, what the Australian government intended to do about it, what it current policy was achieving or not and why it's not achieving what it originally set out to do and then perhaps what Australia's strategies for the long-term are. Just as Stephen Smith has said Australia cares about, or we want to do more for the long-term future of Burma's people, I think in a statement that explained what Australia intended to do for the long-term future of Fiji's people, with whom we have much closer ties, I think would be very well received at the moment, and importantly, send a message to the Fiji people that doesn't get censored by the press in Fiji about what our interests really are and why we do intend to have a long-term engagement with Fiji.

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