September 02, 2011

The Pacific Circus

It was as clear as day prior to the "Pacific Circus" that our Pacific neighbours would be ambushed into accepting the illegal and treasonous military regime's roadmap that attempts in vain to legimitize itself, even though public rejection of them is becoming bolder by the day.

Tragically these leaders are confusing the Fiji situation as being an occassion in which to defiantly shoot from Fiji's shoulders about regional self-determination, while opportunistically furthering their own interests. 

Duplicitously, the talk-fest is being paid for by taxpayers in Fiji against their will even as they are deprived of civil liberties, while our neighbours farcically seek to liberate Tahiti Nui.

Despite the regime's pitiful attempt to foil the PIF process, it is once again as clear as day, that these fabulous words and aspirations will be filed neatly away somewhere and duly forgotten.
Fiji's shadow looms over forum
Updated September 2, 2011 11:24:38

Next week the leaders of thirteen Pacific Island countries and the Prime Ministers of Australia and New Zealand will be gathering in Auckland next week for the annual Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting.

They will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Forum's creation - but one of the founding members, Fiji, will be missing. Fiji, now under military led rule, is suspended from the Forum.

Presenter: Sean Dorney
Speakers: Richard Marles, Australia's Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs; Murray McCully, New Zealand's Foreign Minister; Danny Philip, Solomon Islands Prime Minister; Frank Yourn, Executive Director Australia-Pacific Islands Business Council; Derek Brian, Pacific Institue of Public Policy; Anote Tong, Kiribati President

DORNEY: Fiji's military commander and Prime Minister, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, is banned from the Auckland Pacific Islands Forum Leaders meeting. But nevertheless he is staking his claim to being the Pacific region's natural leader. Just a matter of days before the annual Pacific Forum meeting - he is hosting two regional summits. As current Chairman of the Melanesian Spearhead Group of countries he's called them to Fiji and he is also chairing his second "Engaging with Fiji" meeting. At least three leaders who'll be attending the Forum meeting in Auckland are by his side. But both New Zealand and Australia would like to believe none of this matters. Australia's Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Richard Marles:

MARLES: I don't think there is any country in the Pacific that feels comfortable with the position that Fiji is taking at the moment. Now, every country, of course, is going to engage with Fiji in its own way but I think however countries are dealing with the Pacific, with Fiji, I'm sorry, the central message has been clear across the Pacific is that what countries want to see is see Fiji start to take meaningful steps to a return to democracy and that's what Australia wants to see as well.

DORNEY: New Zealand's Foreign Minister, Murray McCully, says Fiji won't dominate next week's Forum.

McCULLY: Fiji will be the subject of some discussion but not too much because my sense around the region is that we've had to spend rather too much time at important Forum meetings talking about Fiji and not enough time on some of the positive issues that could take the region forward and so we don't want to get bogged down where there's an area of difference there.

DORNEY: Mr McCully was speaking during a recent visit to Solomon Islands where the Prime Minister, Danny Philip, said they had not even discussed Fiji and that the Solomons had its own policy on the issue.

PHILIP: We're going to remain with our all embracing policy towards Fiji.

DORNEY: Fiji's suspension from the Forum has created huge problems for the proposed regional trade and development deal between, on the one side, the island countries and, on the other, Australia and New Zealand. It's known as PACER Plus and the negotiations are difficult. Fiji does not participate. That's ridiculous according to the Australia-Pacific Islands Business Council. The Council's Executive Director, Frank Yourn:

YOURN: The regional economic agreement in the Pacific can't be negotiated without Fiji being completely at the table. And until that happens there really isn't going to be any progress.

DORNEY: Australia's Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Islands Affairs, Mr Marles, puts the blame on Fiji.

MARLES: There is, of course, an awkwardness associated with dealing with Fiji when you are talking about economic matters because we all understand that Fiji is a very important country in the Pacific and it is central to the economy of the Pacific. But this only highlights the difficulty associated with the current regime in Fiji. What is making this awkwardness, what is making this difficult is the fact that we have a regime in Fiji today which is not democratic. And what would solve all of these problems quickest is if we actually saw a meaningful return to democracy in Fiji. And that's really the path that we need to go down. And it's very important that whatever mechanisms we establish in relation to engaging in PACER Plus that bigger picture is kept up front and centre in what we do.

DORNEY: The man tasked with helping the Pacific Islands negotiate with Australia and New Zealand is Dr Chris Noonan. At the Auckland Forum meeting the island countries will be asking Australia's Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, who will be making her first foray into the Pacific, why promised Australian funding for Dr Noonan's office has become such an obstacle. New Zealand is providing annual funding but Australia is insisting on quarterly reviews which is seen in the Pacific as compromising Dr Noonan's independence. Mr Marles defends AusAID's demands.

MARLES: All we want to do is make sure that the activities that we are funding, that there is accountability for those activities and that there is a proper reporting that those activities are being completed.

DORNEY: But the Australia-Pacific Islands Business Council's, Frank Yourn, says he sympathises with Dr Noonan's predicament.

YOURN: It does seem to me that some sort of three month financial reporting cycle makes it difficult to plan a forward business program if you've only got secured funding for three months.

DORNEY: Another issue that the Island countries will want to discuss is why the success of the Pacific seasonal labour scheme in New Zealand has not been replicated yet in Australia despite a pilot scheme being announced three years ago. Derek Brian, from the Port Vila based Pacific Institue of Public Policy says the Australian scheme leaves a lot to be desired.

BRIAN: It's definitely something that Australia needs to pick its game up on. It's something that most Pacific Island countries and the Melanesian countries in particular have been lobbying very hard for and I imagine we're going to hear the same again in Auckland.

DORNEY: Climate change is a subject worrying most island countries in the Pacific. The low lying coral atoll nations like Kiribati fear their entire future is threatened. President Anote Tong will be pushing for a strong statement from the Forum.

TONG: I appeal to the international community not to continue to negotiate but actually do something about it concrete.

DORNEY: What President Tong and the other island states want is far simpler processes to enable them to access some of the billions of dollars promised as global climate change adaptation funds. The head of the United Nations is heading to Auckland via Kiribati and this year's Forum is certain to adopt a resolution supporting their pleas. The reason this year's Forum is being held in New Zealand is so that the leaders will be able to attend the opening game of the Rugby World Cup between the All Blacks and Tonga. Fiji will be playing in the tournament - although its military leaders are definitely not invited. 

This has been Sean Dorney for Pacific Beat.

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