October 18, 2011

Aust think tanks unite to undermine Fijians, the Pacific region and the Commonwealth

In what can only be described as breathtaking disingenuousness by fellow think-tank comrades of the Lowy Institue now rallying in solidarity to justify thier flawed opinion poll, yet another attempt is being made for Australia to undermine their credibility in the Pacific region and force other Pacific leader's to not keep their word.

In case these brilliant academics are unaware, the Commonwealth takes its cues primarily from the Pacific Islands Forum.

Equally baffling is how this line of thinking is being mooted even as a fellow Australian citizen and a Kiwi one now face "justice", junta style and labour rights of people of Fiji are abhorrently stymied.
Fiji requires our help now: the time is right
by: Anthony Bergin, Richard Herr and Mark Johnson
From: The Australian
October 18, 2011 12:00AM

A WATERSHED is looming for Australian-Fiji relations.

At the end of the month, Julia Gillard will host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth. This will be Canberra's significant opportunity to take a new tack on relations with Fiji before that country's government begins the political phase of its roadmap for a return to parliamentary democracy in 2014.

It is now clear that once the process begins, Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama will hold fast to his own schedule just as firmly as he has done with the earlier phases of the roadmap laid down in July 2009.

Australia has failed to make any impression on the course of Fiji's return to democracy since the December 2006 military coup. In fact, Australia largely created the diplomatic vacuum that has given us negligible influence and seriously eroded our standing in the region.

Canberra demands support for its position from the rest of the Pacific community, who are increasingly showing their sympathy for letting Fiji solve its own internal problems.

Worse for Australia's Pacific leadership aspirations, major allies have increasingly drifted away to pursue their rapprochement with Suva. New players, especially China, fill the vacuum created by this acrimonious fracturing of the region's unity.

Jon Fraenkel's recent response (World Commentary, October 14) to the most serious challenge our regional leadership has faced in more than a quarter-century is for Canberra to do nothing to fix our fractured relations with Fiji, and to refrain from any positive steps towards assisting with the restoration of parliamentary democracy.

A recent Lowy Institute poll of political opinions in Fiji found nearly two-thirds support the present government. If the poll is to be believed, Fraenkel asks, why doesn't Bainimarama not hold immediate elections?

The answer is clear: the Fiji government is working to its own schedule. The government has not replaced the racially divisive constitution that contributed so much to the tensions within Fiji over the years. Nor has it begun to put in place a new electoral system to eliminate the race-based voting that perpetuated these tensions.

These and other political changes were never scheduled to begin before next year.

One might have doubts about the time allowed for these changes, but the Bainimarama government will not embrace the restoration of the Great Council of Chiefs or its racial control of important national offices under the 1997 constitution.

If Australia wants to influence Fiji's path to elections and the return to democracy in 2014, the Prime Minister should take positive steps at the Perth CHOGM for the Commonwealth to re-engage with Fiji.

Most of our Pacific island neighbours want this. And Washington has accepted that the best course for the US is to help Fiji get to 2014 successfully.

A year ago, the Fiji government indicated its receptiveness to getting Australian technical assistance with implementing its roadmap without conditions. It is in the interests of Fiji, the region and Australia that we be there to help the Pacific's key hub state at this decisive turning point.

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