5 Aug 2013

Australia's opposition signals a change in approach to Fiji

5:38 pm on 5 August 2013

Australia's Federal Opposition has signalled a new policy on Fiji should it be elected in the upcoming election.

The Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has announced the election for September the 7th, and should Labour lose, the tough line on Fiji may be a thing of the past.

The Opposition foreign affairs spokesperson Julie Bishop told businesses in Brisbane this week a change is on its way.

Alex Perrottet reports:

Julie Bishop spoke to the Australia Fiji Business Council, moments after Fiji's Foreign Affairs Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola blasted the Government for its treatment of Fiji. Ms Bishop said a new government's policy would be guided by Fiji. Richard Herr, the Director of the Centre for International and Regional Affairs at the University of Fiji, says Fiji will welcome the positive signs.

"RICHARD HERR: I think Fiji was looking at the prospect of a change of leadership at the Commonwealth election in Australia, that they figured that the Liberals were going to win and that would create a circuit-breaker and a chance for a new relationship. I think that they were disappointed in the Labor Party's handling of the relationship with Fiji."

But Steven Ratuva, a Fijian academic from the Centre for Pacific Studies at the University of Auckland, says a pre-election speech is no guarantee of future policy.

STEVEN RATUVA: The election in Australia is coming closer. It could be an election leverage and things might change after the election. But by and large even Australia is under pressure from its own significant players, from the business community and some of the academics in Australia to change its stance.

Julie Bishop did say that Fiji should be welcomed back into the Pacific Islands Forum, and the Commonwealth, but she didn't talk about more practical issues such as travel bans. New Zealand's so-called smart sanctions have banned travel to New Zealand by regime officials, but a regional security analyst Dr Paul Buchanan says these have not had the desired effect.

PAUL BUCHANAN: It has not isolated Fiji in the measure that was hoped for. It has not made the Bainimarama regime change one iota in its approach to governance, and quite frankly has been an abject failure other than punish some individuals connected to the regime, most of them being sportspeople.

Dr Buchanan says Australia is signalling a change, and it's high time New Zealand did as well.

PAUL BUCHANAN: The National Government needs to admit that to itself, then admit it to its partners and finally admit it to the Fijians and from that start anew with an approach that recognises Fijian sovereignty.

Dr Buchanan says a prospective new government would have the advantage of knowing, by the time it's elected, a lot more about what Fiji is planning for its 2014 elections. And Steven Ratuva says whatever changes New Zealand may make, it will be a slow evolution to avoid being shamed by Fiji, which has since turned away and made bonds with others like China and Russia.