Presenter: Geraldine Coutts
Speaker: Dr Brij Lal, Fiji citizen and expert on Fiji politics from Australian National University
LAL: This doesn't come as a surprise at all. I think Fiji was looking for an opportunity to, in quotes, 'teach Australia a lesson' for the position it has taken against the military regime here. I mean what the Australian consular officials did in Colombo was simply to reiterate Australia's longstanding policy which was that bans will be imposed on those who choose to serve in the interim administration. So two things are happening here. One, the message being sent to the Fiji people, the people of Fiji is this military government is standing up for the sovereignty of the country, defending its honour and reputation. And secondly, in the South Pacific region, this sends that Fiji is standing up to the two big bullies, Australia and New Zealand. So there is a domestic gallery to which the interim government is playing.
COUTTS: Is there an argument, the recently appointed Chief Justice Anthony Gates, claims that Australia and New Zealand are actually hostile in their interference in the judiciary. Transparency International recently says they do have an argument that their bans are perhaps interfering in the judiciary, not allowing the judges and the legal staff to travel backwards and forwards freely. Is there an argument there?
LAL: Well, I think the whole question of who is hostile to whom can be debated. What the interim administration is saying that they want to place good people on the bench and that the policy of Australia and New Zealand banning these people, in the event that they take up these positions is hindering the effective performance of the judiciary. It is not only our foreign judges who are not taking up positions on the bench, even local judges. Quite a few of them were sacked, summarily after the abrogation of the Constitution. Even they are not going back to the bench. So I think there is a larger question here about peoples confidence in the impartiality and integrity of the judiciary.
COUTTS: Now Stephen Smith, Australia's Foreign Minister, says that they will consider and may announce a proportional response to the expulsion of Australia's High Commissioner to Fiji. What could a proportionate response be?
LAL: I really have no idea, because here we have no news of what's happening. The blog sites are all blocked, the newspapers are censored, radio and television news censored, so we don't have any sense of what the international reaction is going to be. Certainly Fiji's High Commissioner, acting High Commissioner to Australia, is returning home. Who knows what else might follow. For example, the Consular General in Sydney. Fiji has a number of important trading links with Australia. I just hope that commonsense will prevail. I mean this is a kind of a knee jerk reaction really. One gets a sense that they shoot first and think later. I just hope that when cooler heads prevail, that commonsense will return and that Fiji will restart its dialogues with these countries, with the Pacific Forum, because really there is no other way.