Australia needs a new approach to Fiji says Lowy Institute
Updated May 2, 2011 17:03:02
The Sydney-based think tank, the Lowy Institute says Australia should take a completely new approach to its relations with Fiji.
In a policy paper to be launched today, it suggests Australia build an international coalition, including non-traditional partners such as India and Indonesia, to help Fiji draw up a new constitution and hold elections, as promised in 2014.
The new approach would start with confidence building and an easing of travel restrictions and, if the Fiji regime, accepts the assistance, include a range of new initiatives to improve the relationship.
Presenter: Jemima Garrett
Speaker: Jenny Hayward-Jones, Myer Melanesia Program Director, Lowy Institute, Sydney
GARRETT: Since Commodore Bainimarama's coup in 2006 Australia's stance towards Fiji has been firmly aimed at pushing for the immediate restoration of democracy.
That tough love policy has failed according to the Lowy institute's Melanesia Program Director, Jenny Hayward Jones.
She says it has pushed the regime towards other partners such as China, it is damaging Australia's reputation as as effective middle power and hurting otherwise strong people-to-people and business links.
Commodore Bainimarama has made it clear 2014 is the only timetable for elections he is willing to consider.
Jenny Hayward Jones says Australia must try something new.
HAYWARD-JONES: A new approach which acknowledges that timetable, 2014, and brings together a number of other partners. Now Fiji has rejected Australia before. It's rejected the (Pacific Islands) Forum but some of the countries its courting such as Indonesia, Malaysia, South Korea, even Papua New Guinea, could all bring something to the table here and I don't think we have really trialed that. I think Australia needs to reach out to some of the countries that Fiji is indeed reaching out to who have something to offer Fiji in this transition to democracy.
GARRETT: This is a whole new approach to the way of working with Fiji. Would countries like India, Malaysia and Indonesia want to get involved?
HAYWARD-JONES: I'm not sure that countries such as India and Indonesia will see a lot of immediate benefit to this. But, I think as they themselves seek to have a greater role on the world stage, I mean we've seen Indonesian experience in democracy become very important. India's international role is certainly increasing. A number of these countries want to have an international presence and want to be seen to be doing things internationally and I think something relatively easy such as coming together with a group of other countries to assist a small country like Fiji with some options for electoral reform with some constitutional drafting represents a pretty easy way of demonstrating your influence on the world stage. And I think these countries have a lot to offer Fiji and in a way its probably easier for them to come together than for them to offer assistance bi-laterally.
GARRETT: Jenny Hayward-Jones says Australia could demonstrate its new co-operativeness by easing travel restrictions on the families of members of the Fiji regime and by increasing contacts between officials.
If Interim Prime Minister Bainimarama were to accept electoral assistance from the international coalition, she suggests Canberra should move to deepen its engagement by establishing an Australia- Melanesia- Indonesia Leadership Forum - an annual dialogue for thinkers from government, business, civil society and the media, modelled on the very successful United States-Australia Leadership Forum.
HAYWARD-JONES: Indonesia has a lot to offer. It has recently had a very successful transition to democracy. It is growing very quickly and I think would really bring a lot to the table. And a dialogue like this would really help not only Australia's relations with Indonesia, but Australia's relations with the countries of Melanesia as well.
GARRETT: Let's turn now to the politics of all of this. So far Australia has taken a hard line on Fiji. Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd, has consistently said that it is Commodore Bainimarama that is the problem not the Australian stance. Will Australia be open to changing its position?
HAYWARD-JONES: Well, that's the 64 million dollar question. Australia's hard line has been there for a long time. And it's quite hard to shift away from a hard line like that even when it is not working but I think the Australian government is looking for ideas and looking for other ways it can try to encourage Fiji to return to democracy. While they are still quite strict on not letting this go out to 2014 I think they will eventually have to accept that. But importantly Kevin Rudd has recently been talking about Australia as a creative middle power and in February he gave a speech on Australia's foreign policy interests in the Middle East, and said things like a creative middle power recognises that we have to work in partnerships and coalitions to achieve change, including with non-traditional partners. So I think, if Kevin Rudd is true to his word, I think he needs to approach the problem in Fiji in this way as well.
GARRETT: Jenny Hayward-Jones.
It is not just Australia that has been loath to change its stance. for more than four years Fiji has snubbed every initiative for the return of democracy.
Ms Hayward-Jones acknowledges there is a risk that an offer of electoral assistance from an international coalition would meet the same fate but, as the consequences for Fiji of such a rejection would be more serious, she believes, it is a risk worth taking.