It was surprising that a former Pacific Desk man is given the time of day to talk about the relationship between Fiji and Australia. It's a bit late Mr Kerr as the Pacific Desk is now taken by another person! The Member for Corio is the new Pacific Affairs Desk man and maybe it's too soon to ask him what he thinks about Fiji. Anyway, this is what Mr Kerr had to say to the ABC Pacific Beat.
Kerr calls for rethink of Australia's policy on Fiji
Updated November 8, 2010 17:58:39
At the beginning of her trip to Asia and the Pacific, United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, announced the opening of a new US Agency for International Development office in Suva.
The announcement comes as experts and community leaders in Australia debate the way forward for Australia's policy of so-called smart sanctions on Fiji.
While pro-democracy campaigners want tougher action from Canberra the smart sanctions have been criticised by others for preventing travel to Australia by relatives of members of the Fiji regime, and for keeping Fiji out of talks for the proposed PACER plus trade deal.
Australia's former Parliamentary Secretary for the Pacific Island Affairs Duncan Kerr told a Lowy Institute seminar today that Australia should move towards a strategic re-engagement with Fiji.
Mr Kerr says the sanctions have not achieved the return of democracy and there are now other forces which mean those sanctions are no longer sustainable.
Presenter: Jemima Garrett
Speaker: Australia's former Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Duncan Kerr
KERR: Increasingly after a significant period of time, the regime has remained robust in place, the country is suffering economically and other countries are starting to look at how they can move to re-establish at least some kind of linkages to engage with the promises that Commander Bainimarama and the government has made towards moving to a 2014 election. And Japan, for example, has committed to providing assistance with voter registration and the United States has made it plain that it's going to engage in relation to trying to work with the government to enhance the prospects of a successful transition to democracy in 2014, and the EU is deeply uncomfortable I know with the outcome of the sugar crisis, where because of the coup in Fiji, they did not supply 300 million euros that were designed to restructure a floundering sugar industry and the consequence of that, of course, has been that that sugar industry has been declining. It's 200-thousand people in Fiji dependent on that industry and it is nearly on a point of no return. So that is contributing to rural poverty.
GARRETT: So what sort of first steps would you see from Australia as part of this re-engagement?
KERR: Well, what I want to do is distinguish between Australia maintaining its opposition to the form of governance in Fiji, that is expressing diplomatically that we must continue to press for a democratically-elected regime, but on the other hand, getting involved in the practical things that will prevent whoever gains governance in Fiji inheriting a wasteland. The economic situation is very dire and so I think there are things that we can do that don't signal in a sense a normalisation of relationship or any tolerance towards military rule in Fiji, but which go to supporting the prospects that Fiji "A", can move effectively towards democratic elections in 2014, so get involved in those processes, take the statements of the commander on its face and engage with things like the mechanisms of the electoral system and the like. But secondly also, get back involved in areas where diplomatic recognition is not directly involved. For example, in the PACER Plus negotiations and for example, in land reform in Fiji and areas where we can act without giving sanction to the legitimacy of the regime, but on the other hand, recognise that the present policies are leading everyone into a place where no-one wins.
GARRETT: Would this strategic re-engagement need some sort of sign or trigger from Commodore Bainimarama or would it be unilateral action by Australia and how would the process unfold?
KERR: Well ideally, of course, the government of Fiji might, for example, withdraw the state of emergency and the like. There are steps they could take that would show stronger goodwill towards the outcome of moving back to normalcy and the commitment to democratic elections in 2014. But we could also take steps forward which give a sense of our goodwill and our commitment to working to in a sense take the commitments that are made by the Fijian Government and make flesh of them and we need not to everything at one time, as we could perhaps make some initiatives, for example, saying that there is no reason, for example, for Fiji not to now to participate in the PACER Plus negotiations. We want to perhaps get involved in some of the discussions of the future of the sugar industry and land reform. But we may want to also flag some things that would be conditional on steps forward, concrete achieved steps by the government of Fiji that would then in a sense be benchmarks for further re-engagement. So you don't need to do everything at once and the idea of constructive re-engagement is not inconsistent with us continuing to work with the international community to do all we can to encourage both the government and the people of Fiji to move towards democratic elections in 2014.