If Bainimarama is thinking right (if at all), he will seriously reconsider UN peacekeeping options for his troops, knowing the risks this poses to him in the short to medium-term, but which also presents him with even larger challenges, such as what to do to reward the the many idle and not-totally-loyal hands he commands.
The decisions to be taken by Bainimarama on this will be keenly watched -- especially by his troops.
Australia rejects re-engaging directly with Fiji military regime
Updated May 11, 2011 16:43:02
Australia's foreign minister Kevin Rudd says the boost to foreign aid is in Australia's national interest.
He's also rejected criticism from those who say the government should re-engage with Fiji's military regime.
In a policy reversal, he says Australia has decided not to object to Fiji contributing armed forces to the future UN assistance mission in Baghdad.
In the past, Australia has lobbied the United Nations in a bid to prevent Fiji taking part in new peacekeeping missions.
Mr Rudd also says Australia continues to engage with Fiji through the Commonwealth and Pacific Islands Forum.
Presenter: Presenter: Canberra Correspondent, Joanna McCarthy
Speaker: Kevin Rudd, Australia's foreign minister
RUDD: I think the first thing to say is that Australia delivers international development assistance to underpin Australia's national interests, which are about our national security interest, particularly in our own region, in South East Asia and the south west Pacific. It's also in our national interest because if we have stronger economies in our region through development assistance cooperation, it helps Australia's national economic development itself. And thirdly, we have an interest, together with countries around the world enhancing what we call the global order, which means that when you have real poverty around the world, together with other countries you can make a difference and in recent decades hundreds-of-millions of people have been lifted out of poverty. So we see this as consistent with Australia's national interest. Furthermore, we made a commitment that we'd increase our overseas development assistance cooperation to zero-point-five per cent of gross national income by 2015--16. It is sensible to bring this about step-by-step between now and then, rather than some mad rush towards the end. We think therefore this is the reasonable, responsible approach.
McCARTHY: The Pacific land program has been cut from the budget. Why is that?
RUDD: Well, we've always said we want value for money and we want an effective aid program. We have stringent mechanisms in Aus Aid, our international development agency to evaluate the progress of each individual program. This one didn't cut the mustard and so I made no bones about it, but if you're not cutting the mustard, you cut the program and you redirect those funds to other funds which are effective. Furthermore, the task which was set for that particular program to do with land reform in the South Pacific, which is important for long term economic development there will be absorbed within the existing country programs under the aid budget throughout Melanesia and beyond.
McCARTHY: So does that mean there is an additional boost to those individual country budgets to accommodate that land reform program?
RUDD: It'll be, well our overall aid to the South Pacific continues to increase and you'll see that from the overall numbers. But when we say absorb it within the existing country programs, that task of long term land reform will be undertaken as part of our overall governance reform programs within the South Pacific countries.
McCARTHY: The budget statement on aid says Fiji's poverty is increasing and the key sectors, like the sugar industry are declining and there is an uncertain future under the military government. You yourself have said there's been no measurable change, no progress towards democracy since the 2006 coup. Many observers and the Opposition are calling for you to re-engage with Fiji. What indications do you have that the current approach is working?
RUDD: I think the first thing to put in mind is that the coup that has occurred in Fiji is no ordinary coup. People often diminish its significance. The Constitution has been suspended, opposition political figures have been arrested, the freedom of the press has been suspended, journalists have been harassed, some of them expelled, civil society leaders, including church leaders have also been harassed and some of them prohibited from attending public meetings. This is no ordinary "coup". Let's bare that in mind. I think the second point is this. It is the view of the Pacific Island Forum, not just Australia, it's the view of the Commonwealth of Nations, all 53 of them that the Fijian regime has not made sufficient steps towards the restoration of democracy. This is not a uniquely Australian view. It's shared throughout the entire Commonwealth, developed and developing countries alike. On our engagement with Fiji, again that proposition is wrong. We engage with Fiji through the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, we engage with Fiji of course through the Ministerial Contact Group of the Pacific Island Forum. That proposition is not right, but what we do need to see is real concrete moves on the part of Fijians. One other thing about Fiji, our development assistance aid to Fiji has increased this year. We remain the largest single donor to Fiji's development assistance program. On top of that, there are no bans on travel or tourism by Australians to Fiji and the tourism industry is critical for their country's future. There are no economic sanctions against the Fijian economy imposed by Australia. There are individual travel sanctions against the leaders of the coup regime. I think that's the right and normal approach. So therefore let's put all this in context. And one final thing on Fiji, Fiji, for example, around the world, from time to time engages in assistance to the United Nations in various peacekeeping operations and recently, there's been a discussion in the international community about the Fijian armed forces contributing to the future security assistance mission in Baghdad around the UN mission in Iraq. And taking all factors into account and while we normally prefer democracy to do this sort of work, we Australia have decided all factors considered, not to object to this. So I think there may be an interest on the part of some in Fiji, to say that these measures by us are excessively harsh. We are highly critical of the regime's approach to democracy. As you can see from the other things I've said, the arteries of economic engagement are open and political engagement through the relevant mechanisms of the Commonwealth and Pacific Island Forum. Our argument is not with the Fijian people. It's with those who have led this military coup.
McCARTHY: As prime minister, you closed the Manus Island Processing Centre. We now understand that you've held talks with Sir Michael Somare about reopening it. Why was Manus Island bad policy then, but good policy now?
RUDD: The first thing to say is that the critical agreement that we have reached and I've participated in these negotiations as foreign minister has been the regional framework agreement concluded in Bali about six weeks ago. Why is that critical to any discussion of an individual processing centre within the region? First and foremost, because the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Office of Migration are now fully engaged and fully supportive of that regional framework agreement. That was not the case before when the Howard Government acted unilaterally, rather than multilaterally. Secondly, the Bali regional framework agreement also has a mechanism for the buy in of all regional states. It was a statement made by the chairman of that conference, myself and the foreign minister of Indonesia, which has application to all regional countries, should they choose to engage in processing arrangements. And thirdly, that agreement itself specifically, specifically made reference to the possibility of processing centres by states if they agreed with one another to have such centres. So you ask what is different? That Bali regional processing framework, that Bali regional framework agreement is something we only put together six weeks ago, after many, many years of negotiation.