Fiji and its international fate have featured strongly in official talks in Canberra between Kevin Rudd and his Papua New Guinea counterpart, Sir Michael Somare.
Presenter Linda Mottram
Australia Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare
MOTTRAM: Papua New Guinea's national anthem, ringing out in the forecourt of Parliament House in Canberra, where Sir Michael Somare inspected the Federation guard. (FX -- PNG anthem) Sir Michael is certainly no stranger to Australia. But this is his first official visit since the thaw in relations between the countries after the election in November 2007 of the Rudd Labor Government, and Sir Michael's own re-election earlier that year. There's a considerable list of bilateral issues between Australia and Papua New Guinea, including their Partnership for Development agreement and Sir Michael's push to use Papua New Guinea's forests for carbon credits. But Fiji loomed large in the talks between Mr Rudd and Sir Michael, the latter having taken a leadership role in the region in trying to coax Fiji back into the democratic fold. Sir Michael.
SOMARE: They will bend over backwards, we have bent over backwards, I have, I have tried my best, but they have decided to suspend the Constitution which is not in the books of those who like to profess democracy in their respective countries.
MOTTRAM: And with the Pacific Islands Forum on track to suspend Fiji this Friday, Mr Rudd said Fiji had done this to itself, and indicated that in line with Australia's hardline stance, he'd be pressing to maximise Fiji's international isolation.
RUDD: Two important milestones lie ahead of us. One is Fiji's suspension from the meetings of the Forum and that is a decision which was taken by leaders back in January, to take affect from 1 May, in the absence of Fiji taking any steps to the contrary, like announcing an election date. And second of course lies in Fiji's future status within the Commonwealth. Australia's position is hardline and that is that you cannot sustain within a family of democracies within the Pacific Island Forum or a family of democracies or in the Commonwealth a Government like that of Fiji which simply treats with contempt the most fundamental democratic insitutions and press freedoms of its people.
MOTTRAM: Mr Rudd said the United Nations too had taken a tough decision regarding Fiji.
RUDD: The revenue remittances to Fiji from Fijian forces working with UN operations around the world are important sources of revenue back into military families, and in particular, within Fiji. Through our own interventions with the United Nations and supported by New Zealand and other countries, the United Nations now is not going to engage future or new Fijian troops for new operations. There is a question which now arises given the actions taken by Fiji on the 10th April as to whether there should now be a further tightening, on top of that, of the approach taken by the UN.
MOTTRAM: Mr Rudd and Sir Michael also discussed Australia's partnership for development agreement, with the Australian leader saying he wanted to see concrete achievements started with better primary school attendance in Papua New Guinea. And he floated a new idea using sport as a lure to education for Papua New Guinean children, an idea that's been notably successful in some Australian Aboriginal communities. Kevin Rudd.
RUDD: If participation in this new elevated and national rugby league competition and the training programs associated for kids in the villages across Papua New Guinea can be made conditional on school attendance, primary school attendance and the rest, then we begin to make some progress.
MOTTRAM: Sir Michael noted the value of athletics when he was at school and seemed supportive. The Papua New Guinea leader remains in Australia most of this week, also visiting bushfire ravaged parts of Victoria and flood-affected areas of Queensland.