Fiji stories, Labasa, South Pacific culture, family, migration, Australia/Fiji relationship
Friday, February 14, 2014
Julie's 'Atmospherics' in Fiji
Ms Bishop in a jaba, but does she really look relaxed?
And from the Australian newspaper.
FOREIGN Minister Julie Bishop flew to Suva yesterday for a historic come-in-from-the-cold meeting with military ruler Frank Bainimarama that has triggered the repair of relations between Australia and Fiji after seven years of mutual hostility.
In the Coalition’s most decisive step away from the foreign policy position of the Rudd-Gillard years, it is restoring links with Fiji across the whole of government, including, crucially, defence ties.
Ms Bishop’s meeting with Commodore Bainimarama went for an hour, running overtime.
“The atmospherics were warm,” she said. “He was engaged. He laughed a lot.”
She presented him with a jersey of the West Coast Eagles AFL team for which she barracks, signed by its ethnic Fijian star ruckman Nic Naitanui.
The Commodore led a military coup that removed Fiji’s elected government on December 5, 2006, later abrogating the constitution and replacing it, and ruling by decree.
He has now pledged to stand down as army commander at the end of the month, and to announce on March 1 details of a new party he will lead into elections in September.
At the meeting late yesterday afternoon, Commodore Bainimarama discussed the election process, and indicated he was prepared for whatever role resulted, even if he were to lose the prime ministership. “He talked about a range of post-election scenarios,” Ms Bishop said.
“I have long wanted to take a different approach to Fiji, and normalise relations,” she said. “We had to take the lead.”
Key among the priorities in normalising relations will be Australian travel sanctions, which ban anyone associated with the military regime from visiting Australia. Ms Bishop said yesterday the bans had been ineffective and the policy was under review.
Australians have been voting with their feet, holidaying in Fiji in greater numbers than ever.
During the meeting in the Prime Minister’s office, Ms Bishop outlined to Commodore Bainimarama Canberra’s extensive new policy program towards Fiji.
When he raised the travel sanctions issue, she said the past 56 requests for exemptions had been granted, with just one rejected, on technical grounds.
Ms Bishop said: “Recently, we have been providing a significant number of exemptions on compassionate, humanitarian and national interest grounds.”
Fiji’s Foreign Minister, Ratu Kubuobola, has come to Australia often, and the government’s second most powerful figure, the Attorney-General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, was allowed to travel to Australia over Christmas.
Commodore Bainimarama said he was gratified his son had been allowed to visit Australia to play in a school rugby competition, but he remained unhappy with the principle of sanctions.
Ms Bishop said a review of the policy was almost complete, and the next opportunity to take it to cabinet would be very soon when he steps down as army chief.
The last meeting between Commodore Bainimarama and an Australian foreign minister, Labor’s Stephen Smith, degenerated into recriminations. The most recent meeting with New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully was also difficult.
Ms Bishop told Commodore Bainimarama that the new deal she brought to Fiji was not conditional, even on its accepting the return of an Australian high commissioner to the mission in Suva which it has so far refused.
Ms Bishop told The Weekend Australian: “I want us to normalise relations ahead of an election. I want Australia to be the partner of choice in the Pacific. And there is an opportunity with our new government to start afresh.”
She has held meetings with Mr Kubuobola, including in Brisbane, to discuss this normalisation, “on the basis that free and fair elections will proceed”.
She considered it vital to have “met Mr Bainimarama face to face to make sure we were on the same page. We have invested a lot of time and effort in this.”
Besides support for the election process, the new Australian package will include a twinning arrangement in areas including foreign policy, finance and the Public Service Commission, with Fiji officials working in Canberra, and Australians in Suva.
Australia has invited Fiji to send a defence representative to Canberra, and hopes to reinstate its own defence attache in Suva.
Fiji will be invited to participate again in Australia’s Pacific patrol boat program, through which its present three boats might be renovated, or it might receive two further vessels.
A defence co-operation program will be re-established to include joint exercises and staff college training. Australia’s seasonal workers’ program that brings Pacific Islanders to Australia is set to be expanded to include Fiji.
Babasiga (pronounced bambasinga) is the dry land of Macuata in northern Fiji - our place in the sun in Fiji. Peceli is from Fiji from the village is Vatuadova and the beach is Nukutatava. Peceli Ratawa passed away on 27th December 2015 so this is Wendy's blog now. Wendy is an Australian and today live in Geelong, Australia.