13 Sep 2013

New Aust Govt triggers NZ changes on Fiji sanctions

10:19 pm on 13 September 2013

Labour foreign affairs spokesperson Phil Goff says the Government has eased its sanctions against the coup administration in Fiji because it fears being isolated by Australia.

And Green Party foreign affairs spokesperson Kennedy Graham also says the Government is moving too quickly to ease sanctions on Fiji.

The relaxation of sanctions - despite opponents of the military regime saying the government of Frank Bainimarama is still repressive - follows a signal from the incoming Australian Government that it will change its stance on Fiji.

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully says that New Zealand makes its own foreign policy decisions, but he concedes that there has been a trans-Tasman dis-connect on Fiji.

Australia has not imposed sanctions against sports teams, and Mr McCully says that New Zealand will loosen its rules in this area.

There have been trans-Tasman discussions about how other sanctions can be better aligned, to recognise Fiji's progress towards free and fair elections, Mr McCully says.

But Mr Goff says Fiji has not yet delivered free and fair elections, and the Government needs to send a clear message to the regime that if it goes back on its promises there will be consequences.

And Mr Graham says that free and fair elections will only be beginning of a true return to democracy for Fiji.

He is challenging Mr McCully to call on Frank Bainimarama to not run in next year's election.

In Suva, the head of the school of government, development, and international affairs at the University of the South Pacific, Professor Vijay Naidu says many Fijians are keen to see a focus on making a new constitution, but at the same time people want the coup administration encouraged to make democratic changes.

Call for consultation

Though New Zealand will formally revoke the sporting sanctions instituted in 2006, travel bans on members of the regime and the military will remain in place.

Fiji's main political Opposition group, the United Front for a Democratic Fiji, says New Zealand should have consulted it first.

And the Coalition for Human Rights in Fiji accused Mr McCully of not considering human rights before making his decision.

Mr McCully says more support can be provided for Fiji in the run up to the election.

"We put aside a couple of million dollars for support for the elections process a while ago. We haven't completely exhausted the funding at this stage so we'll top that up as required. We're prepared to do more if we're asked to do more."

Mr McCully says the New Zealand Government has been working towards these decisions for some time.

"There have been some areas in which New Zealand and Australia have been out of sync, because of course Australia hasn't had the sporting sanctions as part of their package of measures. I think it brings the two countries into closer alignment."

NZ 'disregarding human rights'

Coalition for Human Rights in Fiji chair Shamima Ali says community NGOs such as hers were never consulted and the regime is as repressive as ever.

But Mr McCully says that is not the way he operates. "My advice comes from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in New Zealand. We're informed by the judgements of others. But finally I put recommendations to our Cabinet based on the advice from my ministry."

Ms Ali says the Bainimarama government is repressing the media, political opponents and trade unions.

"There's no freedom of expression as was demonstrated very clearly publicly last week, A group of young people were arrested by police for standing and saying that we don't like the constitution. On a daily basis, there is no freedom of the media."

United Front for a Democratic Fiji spokesperson Mick Beddoes says New Zealand's decision is premature and based on a false assumption given to it by the regime that everything is on track, which is not so.

"It would seem that Australia and New Zealand have decided that they're going to basically embrace the regime. These are people who have usurped our democracy; we are dumbfounded by this change."

Fiji welcomes change of stance

Fiji Foreign Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola has welcomed what he describes as New Zealand's change of position on Fiji but he says it may have come a little too late.

Ratu Inoke says it is positive New Zealand has recognised progress but its change of stance will have little effect at this late stage, and that is regrettable.

The minister says he is pleased a sporting ban has been formally lifted and scholarships for students from Fiji will be restored.

He says the continuing support of the New Zealand Government towards the election process is valuable.