Tuesday, May 03, 2011

ANZ Bank calls for change to Australia's tough stand on Fiji

The ANZ Bank says Australia's so-called smart sanctions aimed at securing the return of democracy in Fiji have not worked and it has called on the Australian government to change its approach. 

The call follows the launch of a Lowy Institute paper which suggested Australia lift its travel bans on Fiji and put together a coalition of nations, including Asian democracies such as India and Indonesia, to help Fiji with electoral reform in the lead up to a promised poll in 2014. 

The ANZ's Pacific CEO, Michael Rowland, says the change to Australia's approach needs to happen now. 

Presenter: Jemima Garrett 

Speaker: Michael Rowland, ANZ Bank's Pacific CEO 
ROWLAND: Australia has taken a particular policy stance with Fiji for a number of years and we would say that hasn't been successful. 

GARRETT: What impact has that tough stance had on business and on Australia's standing as a business partner? 

ROWLAND: We would say that more generally Fiji has suffered from a lack of investment over a longer period of time and unless there is an opening up of the economy and an acceptance of new investment, the Fiji economy will continue to deteriorate and we think quite rapidly. 

GARRETT: Now you say that for any approach to Fiji for the restoration of democracy to be successful, it needs to be lead by a country other than Australia. What makes you say that? 

ROWLAND: Our view is that the approach by the Australian government to date, which is quite understandable, hasn't worked and we think we really need to look at this differently and it is critical that any approach to the Fiji government works. Therefore there is more of a chance in our view that a coalition of interested nations, preferably lead by a respected Head of State, comes to the party and has open dialogue with Fiji. We think its more than just an Australian issue now. We think it's a regional issue and we think the Fiji government would be more open a multi-coalition approach. 

GARRETT: Just how much animosity are you picking up to Australia and is that the reason why you think Australia couldn't lead something like this? 

ROWLAND: I think by the Fijian government's actions in relation to Australia, I think they speak for themselves. 

GARRETT: Jenny Hayward Jones has suggested that this coalition of nations include the major Asian democracies. Is that a good way to go? 

ROWLAND: We think so. We think that Asia has a lot to offer Fiji. We are seeing with ANZ's broader supra-regional approach that there is a lot of investment interest in Fiji from Asia and we think, therefore, that there is a real role to play by a number of the Asian countries. We've seen recently that Fiji has opened an embassy in Indonesia, for example, and we are seeing that there are reasonably good relations being forged with a number of the other non-aligned nations. So we think that an approach from and involvement of Asian nations would be beneficial. 

GARRETT: Do you think governments would be as interested as business seems to be in the Pacific? 

ROWLAND: We believe so, yes. We are seeing a lot of interest from Asia into the Pacific. The Pacific has a lot of what Asia needs, particularly from an agricultural point of view, but also minerals and resources and we think that will only increase. 

GARRETT: At the moment Fiji is excluded from talks from the PACER Plus agreement - the regional trade agreement with Australia and New Zealand. The Lowy institute paper suggests using access to PACER Plus as a carrot to persuade Fiji to accept help for the return of democracy. What is your reaction to that idea? 

ROWLAND: I wouldn't say that involvement in PACER Plus should be used as a carrot. We would say that Fiji as the traditional hub in the Pacific, needs to be involved in PACER Plus discussions. But as the Lowy institute paper says it is certainly something that should be encouraged and it would be well received in Fiji if they were included. 

GARRETT: Would you like to see that straight away or should it wait until commodore Bainimarama has shown some signs of being willing to go ahead with his timetable for the return of democracy? 

ROWLAND: Our view would be that to achieve successful elections in Fiji in 2014 means that work needs to commence now. The paper talks about support for redrafting the constitution and also for electoral reform so we would say that work really needs to be underway very quickly. And so if we all have any chance of achieving what I think is a generally held view that democratic elections in Fiji are a good thing then we really need to start now so the package of measures that are outlined in the policy brief we think are important and they should all be embarked upon as quickly as possible. 

GARRETT: Fiji's interim Prime Minister and coup leader, Frank Bainimarama has rejected every overture made to assist with the restoration of democracy so far. What is in it for him in terms of accepting this offer from an international coalition? 

ROWLAND: We believe Fiji is sincere in its desire to move towards elections in 2014. I think they would also recognise that to achieve that they need some help around the issues of the constitution and electoral reform so we would think that, given that the Fiji government believes that, and that there is a well-meaning approach to assistance that they would see the benefit and effectively accept the proposal.

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