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Fiji’s efforts to return to democracy

February 27, 2013

From Question Time today, February 27:

Check against delivery.

Q. Can the Minister please update the Senate on developments regarding Fiji’s efforts to return to democracy?

Mr President, Australia greatly values its relations with Fiji.

Australia is a partner and a close friend.

We have built strong links between our people.

… On working together in times of crisis.

… Through a history of close defence cooperation.

Many of us are familiar with the political situation in Fiji, the actions of its regime …

… such as the decision to expel a visiting ILO delegation last year.

Much has been written of Fiji’s post-1987 ‘coup culture.’

… that it stands apart from the Pacific – a community of democracies.

All the Pacific wants a prosperous Fiji.

Something I’ve confirmed in discussions with my counterparts in Papua New Guinea … the Solomons … Samoa … Kiribati … Vanuatu … New Zealand.

The Interim Fiji Government is making some progress in its efforts to restore democracy.

But the setbacks continue.

The recent political parties’ decree of January 15 and the subsequent amendments to it, include unacceptable propositions

… such as extreme regulation of political parties and their membership.

Including references to civil society leaders, officers of trade unions and employer associations.

The imposition of penalties – up to five years imprisonment – for media organisations reporting ‘incorrectly’ on the names of prospective and former political parties is another example.

Mr President, strong political parties are a vital part of any democracy, indispensable in fact.

And a free media is critical to ensuring people can get information to inform their decisions at elections.

Q. Can the Minister please respond to recent suggestions that Australia has ‘gone soft’ on Fiji?

Australia’s position remains unchanged. Our sanctions prove it.

Following Fiji’s coup, Australia has prohibited:

– Individuals traveling to or transiting Australia, who are members of, or associated with, the Fiji military or senior members of Fiji’s Interim Government.

– The supply, sale or transfer to Fiji of arms and related materiel.

– The provision of technical advice or a financial service related to

– military activities or

– an activity involving the supply, sale, transfer, manufacture, maintenance or use of an export sanctioned good for Fiji.

Following a meeting I hosted in Sydney on July 30, 2012 – involving the foreign ministers of New Zealand and Fiji – Australia has agreed to be more flexible with our travel sanctions.

… and to reinstate respective high commissioners.

But when there are setbacks in Fiji’s return to democracy it is impossible to do what we want: to fully normalise relations between us and that country.

Q. Can the Minister please advise the Senate on what Australia, and the international community, see as fair and reasonable requirements to ensure Fiji’s return to democracy is credible?

Mr President, nothing would give me greater pleasure than lifting our sanctions on Fiji.

… Than normalising our relationship with that country.

There are expectations that must be met, however.

We have them.

The international community has them.

… And the people of Fiji have them.

They are the qualities we require of any electoral process and the restoration of democracy.

They are:

– An independent elections’ office.

– Unrestricted participation by opposition political parties and civil society.

– Freedom of expression, association and the media.

– An election so free and fair its results will be acceptable to even the losers.

Once the interim Fiji Government achieves this, Australia will hopefully lift its targeted sanctions.

And … we believe this is important – we will resume full defence cooperation with the country.


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