Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Ministerial Statement on Fiji

23 February 2010


Hon Murray Murray McCully

I wish to take a brief opportunity to update the House on recent developments in New Zealand’s relationship with Fiji.

Mr Speaker,

I wish to take a brief opportunity to update the House on recent developments in New Zealand’s relationship with Fiji. As has been reported by some media, I took the opportunity of a transit through Fiji last Saturday to conduct further discussions with my Fiji counterpart Ratu Inoke Kabuabola.

My meeting with Minister Kabuabola last Saturday followed ongoing email contact over many months; a visit to Nadi by myself in early January, and a trilateral meeting involving Minister Kabuabola Australian Minister Stephen Smith and myself in Canberra earlier this month. New Zealand has two objectives in carrying out this dialogue:

First, we wish to start to restore the diplomatic capacity in our Suva mission that has been depleted by progressive disputes with the Fiji administration. We have, since July 2007, lost three heads of mission, a Trade Commissioner who was the spouse of one of the heads of mission, as well as losing the capacity to replace departing Police and Defence attaches. This has seriously threatened our capacity to deliver the range of services that we would expect to deliver from the Mission, including our capacity to conduct meaningful dialogue with the Fiji administration.

It is fair to record also that recent expulsions have affected Fiji’s Wellington Mission in a significant way, and they have been similarly motivated to improve this position.
Second, it is our objective, having improved our capacity to conduct the relationship, to attempt to resolve some of the significant and strongly held differences that exist between us.

That will not happen tomorrow but I do hope that it will happen over time. The first phase of these discussions is essentially bilateral in character. That is understood and accepted by our Australian friends who, while they have lost one head of mission late last year, have in every other respect a normal working mission in Suva with a staff complement in the mid 20s.

If and when the dialogue touches the restoration of High Commissioners, the three-way conversation will resume, involving Australia. I have kept closely in touch with my Australian counterpart Stephen Smith, who I briefed most recently last night. When wider issues touching sanctions are under discussion, there will naturally be a need for Pacific Forum and potentially Commonwealth engagement.

I was able, on Saturday, to confirm the appointment of First Secretaries in our respective Missions. Fiji’s First secretary has now taken up her appointment, and our First Secretary, Philip Taula, will take up his position in Suva in early March. Fiji has sought an honorary consul appointment in Auckland, to which favourable consideration is being given. New Zealand has today put forward the name of a senior Ministry of Foreign Affairs official for the position of New Zealand Trade Commissioner in Suva. I have been assured that this proposal will also receive favourable consideration.

I am aware that there has been some media speculation in Fiji that I might meet with interim Prime Minister Bainimarama when he is in Hong Kong next month. It is correct that, at this stage, our respective diaries place both Mr Bainimarama and myself in Hong Kong for two days in March and that in principle we have agreed to take the opportunity for an informal meeting if this proves logistically possible.

I want to reiterate today what I have stated on previous occasions: our engagement with the Fijian administration does not signal a change of policy, nor a change to the sanctions regime. Our commitment to democracy, the rule of law and human rights is undiminished.

I hope that we will, as a result of this dialogue, be able to consider changes to the sanctions regime at some point in the future. That will require that we make progress on some of the important and difficult matters over which we currently disagree.

There has been significant media interest in this matter here and in Fiji, and some colourful reporting, not all of it fully accurate. For that reason I wanted to brief the House on these developments today.

I trust Members will welcome the fact that we are making progress in small steps, but also appreciate that there will be significant challenges, and no doubt the odd setback as we move forward.

ENDS

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Press Release – New Zealand Labour Party

Labour Support Diplomatic Ties with Fiji

The New Zealand Labour Party supports the Government’s efforts to strengthen the diplomatic capacity of our Suva mission, says Labour Foreign Affairs spokesperson Chris Carter.Labour supports efforts to strengthen diplomatic ties with Fiji

The New Zealand Labour Party supports the Government’s efforts to strengthen the diplomatic capacity of our Suva mission, says Labour Foreign Affairs spokesperson Chris Carter.

“We support the use of diplomatic channels to try to make progress on the outstanding political issues involving Fiji, New Zealand, the Pacific Forum and the Commonwealth,” Chris Carter said.

“The links between the people of New Zealand and Fiji are strong. They are based on geographic proximity, a shared Commonwealth history, and strong people to people links – particularly the large number of New Zealanders who were born in or have family in Fiji.

“The Labour Party wants to resolve the problems that followed the overthrow of democracy and its replacement by a military regime. We support dialogue that seeks to achieve that objective.

“However, dialogue between New Zealand and Fiji must be a two-way process.

“Issues of concern in relation to Fiji have gotten worse over the last two years. There is no clear timetable or commitment to restore the rights of Fiji’s people to elect their own Government, in place of the current military regime. There has been direct interference by the administration in the independence of Fiji’s judiciary. There has been a continuing censorship of media.

“There are overt restrictions on people’s freedom of speech. There have been arbitrary arrests, killings, and beatings of people in police cells, as reported recently by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other respected NGOs.

“Labour believes that, if sanctions are to be lifted, these issues will need to be addressed and responded to positively by the current administration in Fiji,” Chris Carter said.

“Concessions by New Zealand and the Pacific Forum cannot send a message to the wider Pacific region that the overthrow of a democratically elected Government by force does not have serious consequences.

“Should Foreign Minister McCully meet Commodore Bainimarama in Hong Kong in March, we believe he will need to give a strong message that a clear pathway to the restoration of genuine democracy in Fiji is fundamental to improving relations between our two countries.

“Labour strongly desires the restoration of a positive relationship with Fiji and engaging in dialogue is important to achieving that. Success in achieving this however requires a positive response by the interim Fijian administration,” Chris Carter said

ENDS

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