Thursday, October 18, 2012

NZ Wants More Done in Fiji to Improve Rights & Freedom of Citizens

"..New Zealand’s message to Fiji has been consistent ever since: restoring a democratic, stable, legitimate government is critical to Fiji’s prosperity. We need to see more work done in Fiji to improve human rights, media freedoms, and freedom of assembly."

Hon Murray McCully
Minister of Foreign Affairs
18 October 2012

Speech to Democracy in the Pacific Conference
University of Canterbury

Heads of State and Government, Ministers, members of the diplomatic community, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for the opportunity to address you this morning.

I want to start by acknowledging the contribution John Henderson has made to our understanding of the Pacific. I would also like to acknowledge the Macmillan Brown Centre’s efforts to encourage New Zealanders to learn more about the Pacific.

Understanding the Pacific region is vitally important to New Zealand. In that sense our country is shaped by both its geography and its makeup.

And our geography dictates a high level of interdependence logistically and economically within this region. We are also heavily influenced by our makeup. Around 7 per cent of New Zealanders are Pasifika in origin. So the Pacific matters greatly to New Zealand.

And the maintenance of democracy, the rule of law and human rights in the Pacific matter greatly to New Zealand.

The Pacific is famous for finding Pacific solutions and adapting traditions to suit the Pacific context.

Democracy is no exception.

While most Pacific countries are democracies, the exact shape and nature of their institutions varies. This makes sense. Simply transplanting a democratic system and Westminster-style model from London to the Pacific would not be durable. Importantly, Pacific democracy needs to be scalable.

Many Pacific states are small and sometimes struggle to maintain the institutions to support democracy.
Having said this - when you look across the region we have a pretty good story to tell about making democracy work in small island states. Pacific countries have a good track record of holding regular, free and fair elections.

World Bank statistics collected in 2010 show that the majority of Pacific countries were ranked in the top half on key governance indicators. When we look at individual countries there is also cause for optimism.

This week the Government is hosting Prime Minister Tuilaepa of Samoa for an official visit to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Friendship. Since gaining independence, Samoa has been very stable and has adopted a parliamentary democracy with a Westminster-style Cabinet government.

Niue, Tokelau and the Cook Islands all have parliamentary democracies which reflect their unique relationship with New Zealand.

I am pleased to see Deputy Prime Minister Vaipulu from Tonga here today. Tonga is one of the rare examples in history where a reigning monarch has voluntarily surrendered power and allowed peaceful democratic transition to take place. King Tupou V was a long-time champion of a more open system of government for Tonga, seeing its royal heritage as integral to its culture and identity, but favouring a more representative elected parliament. Tonga held its first elections under reformed electoral and constitutional arrangements in November 2010. While reforms are still bedding down, developments are positive.

On the other side of the coin, concerns about democracy, the rule of law and human rights are not mere abstract considerations in the Pacific. There have at times been internal security challenges for several states including military coups in Fiji, riots in Tonga and ethnic unrest in Solomon Islands.

Democratic challenges also faced Papua New Guinea before the last election. While the overall narrative is one of success, there are, and will continue to be, challenges along the way.

Inseparable from the operation of democracy is the upholding of the professionalism and independence of both the judiciary and the police.
In respect of both of these institutions New Zealand has made and continues to make a significant investment within the region. In both respects I believe we can say that good standards have been met by the majority of states around the region.

But we still receive the occasional reminder that a proper understanding of the respective roles of the legislature, the executive, the judiciary and the police, cannot be taken for granted in our region. We need to continue to invest in building these key institutions and the understanding of the need for each to respect the role of the others.

The Pacific Islands Forum is the region’s premier political institution. The sixteen members that make up the Forum are diverse, but one of the unifying factors of the Forum has been its consistent commitment to the values of good governance and democracy. This has been reaffirmed over the years through statements and declarations such as the Aitutaki Declaration and the Biketawa Declaration.

The Forum also supports the conditions that contribute to thriving democracies through the Pacific Plan, which was adopted in 2005. The Pacific Plan has four key pillars: economic growth, sustainable development, good governance and security. It defines good governance as the transparent, accountable and equitable management of all resources.

It also describes the necessary building blocks for achieving good governance, which include the establishment of key institutions such as ombudsman and audit offices.

Importantly, Forum leaders have also shown through practical actions that their commitment to democracy and good governance go beyond mere words. The Forum’s steps to address the unrest in the Solomons is one of the great examples of "a Pacific solution to a Pacific problem".

In 2003, after several years of conflict, the Solomon Islands were in serious trouble. Violence and intimidation were widespread, government had broken down and the country’s finances were in a parlous state. At the request of the Solomon Islands Government, New Zealand and other Pacific Islands Forum countries responded - and the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands was born. The mission had its roots in the Biketawa declaration, alongside legislation passed unanimously by the Solomon Islands Government.

The Biketawa Declaration is an important regional mechanism that outlines guiding principles for good governance, and also sets out courses of action for a regional response to crises in the Pacific. The Declaration helped ensure that RAMSI was truly a Pacific operation, a key component of the Mission’s success. Every member of the Pacific Islands Forum has contributed personnel to RAMSI over the ten years of the mission, making it a truly regional effort. As well as stopping conflict, RAMSI has helped restore unity, rebuild institutions and strengthen the nation’s economy.

RAMSI’s presence has also provided space for development work, and the Solomon Islands and New Zealand have been able to take advantage of that space through a focus on economic growth and education.

Notable successes resulting directly from New Zealand assistance include Solomon Islands tax revenues rising 500 per cent between 2003 and 2010, fisheries revenue increasing 120 per cent between 2007 and 2009, and significant increases in literacy and numeracy rates.
The success of RAMSI means that New Zealand is now working with the Solomon Islands Government and RAMSI partners to scale down the mission, which will soon be fully withdrawn.

That transition can only happen because security in Solomon Islands has been restored and the future is looking brighter. It's time for the Mission to step back to enable the Solomon Islands to take the lead in shaping its future.

The conflict in the Solomon Islands is an example of how instability can impact a country in practical terms. The success of RAMSI also highlights how closely democracy, stability and sustainable economic development are linked.

I can’t talk about promoting democracy in the Pacific without discussing Fiji. The most recent military coup, led by Commodore Bainimarama, took place almost six years ago, and New Zealand’s message to Fiji has been consistent ever since: restoring a democratic, stable, legitimate government is critical to Fiji’s prosperity. This year Fiji has taken some encouraging steps to prepare for elections in 2014. We have been encouraged by the firm intention to hold elections, and by the machinery that has been put in place so far to make them possible.

A Constitutional Commission was established earlier this year to conduct public consultations on a new constitution, and the process of registering voters was completed at the end of August. New Zealand has supported both of these activities.

At a trilateral between myself, Senator Carr and Foreign Minister Kubuabola earlier in the year we recognised this progress by agreeing to appoint High Commissioners and to ease the implementation of our travel bans. We want to give ourselves more scope to use the sanctions in a way that will support the positive momentum and not hinder it. This means New Zealand will look at providing exemptions for new civilian appointees to encourage them to take on senior government roles in Fiji. This is an important milestone, but it is just one step in a process that has many other steps to come.

We need to see more work done in Fiji to improve human rights, media freedoms, and freedom of assembly. I hope that the Ministerial Contact Group of the Forum will visit later this year to provide an update for leaders. We will be observing developments closely over coming months, as the Constitutional Commission completes its work, and look for more constructive ways to assist.

In global terms we are a small country, although we are one of the larger actors in the Pacific. Our development budget is not huge so we try to be focused, targeted and committed to actually getting things done, rather than just talking about them. That is what is required if we want the Pacific to be democratic, stable, and prosperous.

At a regional level the Forum and documents such as the Biketawa Declaration guide our response to security challenges and threat to democracy in the Pacific. The Pacific Plan and our regional mechanisms for promoting democracy need to evolve if they are to remain relevant - but the region has shown it can respond to security challenges.

The Pacific Plan is due to be reviewed next year by a team led by former Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, Sir Mekere Morauta. I look forward to his report on how the Pacific plan can be updated.

Thank you all for you attendance at this important conference, especially those of you who have travelled long distances to be here.

I hope your discussions over the next two days inspire a lasting commitment to democracy in the Pacific region.

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