May 03, 2011

Lowy Institute attempts to be relevant

Sigh. It does extremely tiresome when academics totally removed from reality, under the guise of "think tanking" can throw innocent civilians under a bus, just because they think their thoughts matter.

Save it Jenny Jones. Get a clue and actually save Melanesia by getting your hands dirty out there in the trenches, instead of preaching from the comfort of "desktop reviewing" in Australia.

Should Australia needs more clues about how to keep Bainimarama on the straight and narrow -- hit him where it hurts. Keep the peacekeepers  OUT of the UN system because that is his currency where his troops are involved, and keep all those sanctions in place because that too is where all the pro-military sorts seek their solace.
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
Listen here

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.


Anonymous said...

There are three clear gaps in your argument:

1. The current Australian strategy that has existed for years has not yielded any results, there is obvious space and a need for a different strategy

2. This paper is recommendations to the Australian Government, not to Melanesia or to Fiji

3. This paper makes no statements about its aim being to 'help Melanesia' it is attempting to provide different options to the Australian government to help the Australian governments relationship with Fiji

It is very clear that don't understand how the Australian Government works or the role of think-tanks - they exist to promote discussion on issues they believe are important. Without institutes such as the Lowy Institute promoting the importance of the Pacific Island region to Australia (I am sure we can agree on that?) - the region would get even less discussion/attention in Australia as it currently does. You don't have to agree with each Australian academic or think-tankers opinion but at least they are getting the media and the Australian Government to think more deeply about issues that they would otherwise ignore or sweep under the carpet.

At least this woman cares about Australia's relationship with the region - she forms part of a shrinking group of Australian commentators

Keep The Faith said...

@ Anon 20:43

At the risk of getting entrenched in an academic debate, here are our responses to each supposed "gap" in our argument:

1) It is a matter of perspective. If may not be yielding tangible results for Australia (because Aust is clearly becoming jittery about other new powers exerting influence in the Pacific at Fiji's lead) but it is yielding results in Fiji. The military regime abhor the fact that they cannot traipse into Australia, NZ, USA, EU at will and they lash out by seeking new friends for economic purposes primarily -- how far they can really go with these new economic relationships at the end of day depends on those who ultimately hold the power in Fiji ie the landowners -- and we see the regime treading very carefully know to mend relationships with landowners. And to our minds, it is landowners in the Pacific where Australia should be focussing on. Lowy would know this like second nature, if it truly was an "expert" on Melanesia.

2) Granted Lowy makes recommendations to the Australian Government, but it cannot pretend to be the "be-all" and "end-all" of Melanesia/Fiji in couching a point of view to help Australia. Where are the REAL perspectives from our home-grown experts (and not merely tokenistic) feeding into the debate? Australia has inherited many of our best minds and Lowy has not capitalized on this. What Fiji/Melanesia/the Pacific does NOT need are endless debates/talk-fests that are supposed to be "for our good" but dictated by a causasian worldview (that has not been honoured with the experience of context), that in these times only feed into the "colonialistically imposed" rhetoric.

3) The author is cited as:
Program Director
The Myer Foundation Melanesia Program
Tel: +61 2 8238 9037

Surely then the assumption is that she is some kind of expert on Melanesia? Indeed all her other papers cement that view.

If so then this program cannot pretend to serve 2 masters. It is either Melanesia or Australia. I have responded in another blog post that Jones's solutions can still happen without Australia softening its approach using back-channel avenues, because the semantic exercise that a change in position by Australia will eventually be couched under reduces Australia's negotiating leverage with the regime to nothing. All Australia has to go by then is Bainimarama's word -- and we all know how valuable that is.

4) It was not our intention to slam think-tanks. They are valuable. They have a place in development but most of the think-tanks now that purport to be experts of the Pacific region are missing out on valuable & real perspectives and therefore only promote an elitist point of view.

5) Kudo's to Jones's for caring! But let it be real is all we're saying. It is highly debatable that Australia's political interest would ever wane -- the commentators are a dime a dozen (us included) but we know that this part of the world has become strategic on many fronts.

Please be under no illusion that if Australia folds, the rest of the globe falls would follow suit and that ultimately would be throwing citizens of Fiji under a bus and the up and coming leadership of Fiji will never forget it.

If Australia truly wishes to provides leadership in the region then BE THE LEADER and hold firm. All the rest will follow your lead.

Anonymous said...

Keep the faith - you make some good points.

1. The lowy is an Australian think-tank housing Australian experts on regions. It surely works hard (it's a small organization) to let private sector, civil society, academics & government from both Australia and around the region to feed into this discussion. I'm not sure the Australian government has the capacity to form relationships with landowners?

2. I don't think the lowy ever pretends to be the end/be all of viewpoints on Melanesia? At least in Australia they don't come across that way. There are other think-tanks, academics, politicians etc who share their views on the pacific. What experts do you think the lowy and others should be capitalizing on?

3. It is an Australian program on Melanesia, there are others at anu university for example. I don't think Jennie paper is suggesting softening the approach to Fiji. Likely Bainimarama would reject a multi-coalition approach which could result in the countries involved further isolating Fiji and leaving Fiji few bilateral relationships left to build on and capitalize on

4. There are many avenues for engagement with lowy, they have regular free seminars and I read their blog that many different people write into or reply to other blogs - there's a thought?

I don't agree that Australia should hold firm but why don't you submit a blog to lowy in response to the one that Jenny wrote recently that explains your argument?

Keep The Faith said...

Vinaka Anon @ 5 May 2011 23:25

We'd really rather not engage with LI as in this instance we're simply giving them notice that their thoughts need work.

The bottom-line is that they are not our target audience.

But if THEY are sincere about putting forward perspectives that really matter for the Pacific, they can start by opening up the space for this in NZ where we understand AusAID is funding them to host another talk-fest in the margins of the Forum leaders meeting.

Jarod said...

I have also heard about this conference. It is not being funded by AusAID but by foundation & private sector support.

Anonymous said...

@ KTF.

My sincere advice regarding the Lowy Ins in general & JHJ in particular - is the less you have too do with them the better we'll be. AUS (LI -DFAT) policy towards Viti since the coup has been a shambles from day one. Fortunately for Viti others more capable are now becoming increasingly involved.