Fiji's Foreign Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola (L) shakes hands with Australia's Foreign Minister Bob Carr (R)
Fiji's Foreign Minister Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, left, shakes hands with Australia's Foreign Minister Bob Carr. Photo: AFP

AUSTRALIA has restored diplomatic ties with the Pacific pariah Fiji as a reward for democratic reforms.
There will be an Australian high commissioner in Suva for the first time since 2009, when the military regime kicked out the last envoy, accusing him of meddling in local politics.
At a meeting in Sydney yesterday the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bob Carr, and his counterparts from Fiji and New Zealand agreed to restore official relations to ensure ''open and effective'' dialogue.
The three countries will also ease travel sanctions ''on a case-by-case basis'' - a restriction that has proved a severe irritant for members of the regime, stopping them travelling via Australia or New Zealand.
A ban on Fiji's Foreign Affairs Minister, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, had to be waived to allow him to travel to Sydney to meet Senator Carr.
The Fijian military commander, Frank Bainimarama, seized power in a 2006 coup and has repeatedly broken promises for democratic reforms.
The regime abrogated the constitution in 2009 and imposed emergency law. Restrictions on meetings of three or more people have only recently been eased.
News media in the country also remain heavily censored.
Commodore Bainimarama had also threatened to turn Fiji away from Australia and New Zealand and instead look to China for backing.
But Australia has accepted Fiji's assurances that preparations for ''free, fair and inclusive elections'' are on track, including a new constitution and an electronic voters roll.
It follows talks with Fijian officials in May when Senator Carr praised ''positive progress'' in the country. Fiji's economy is heavily dependent on Australian tourists; 336,000 holiday-makers travelled to the country last year.
A Fiji expert at the Australian National University, Professor Brij Lal, who was expelled in 2009, said the decision to restore full diplomatic ties was timely.
''Fiji has realised the futility of not having a representative of its largest neighbour and trading partner,'' he said.
But unions in Australia have responded cautiously to the moves, having repeatedly expressed concern over the crackdown on workers' rights in Fiji.
The ACTU president, Ged Kearney, spoke to Senator Carr after the meeting and was assured the ban on military members of Fiji's government travelling to Australia would remain.
"Whilst we would prefer the entire ban stay in place, we understand the relaxing of it has been limited to civilians to send a message to the military regime that Fiji's future rests in its civilian population, not the undemocratic military,'' Ms Kearney said.
"But we maintain that there must be clear demonstration that progress to democracy will include workers' rights and freedom of speech before we … agree to any lifting of other sanctions."