Backlash against Fiji removing Queen's image on money | Asia Pacific

Backlash against Fiji removing Queen's image on money

Backlash against Fiji removing Queen's image on money

Updated 3 December 2012, 22:31 AEDT

Taking the Queen off Fiji's coins and banknotes has provoked a backlash.

Some of the country's chiefs have joined other political figures in denouncing the decision by the reserve Bank to replace the image of the Queen with images of Fijian flora and fauna.

They say Queen Elizabeth holds the paramount chiefly title of Tui Viti, and is Queen of Fiji, not just Queen of Britain.

Radio Australia has approached the Governor of the Reserve Bank and the interim government, and hopes to bring you their response soon.

Correspondent: Bruce Hill

Speaker: Chief, Adi Litia Qioniaravi, One of Fiji's paramount chiefs, Ro Teimumu Kepa, who heads the Burebasaga Confederacy and General Sitiveni Rabuka, former coup leader and prime minister of Fiji

HILL: (Music)....The symbols of Britain's relationship with Fiji can be found everywhere, from the Union flag in the top left hand corner of Fiji's flag, to the architecture of the government buildings in Suva, to the picture of the Queen you will often find in people's homes. The relationship was forged when Fiji's chiefs ceded the island nation to Queen Victoria in 1874, and even with independence 96 years later, the Queen remains a popular figure. The decision to remove her image from the country's money has been received indignantly by some chiefs. One of them, Adi Litia Qioniaravi [Nge-on-ee-bah-rav-ee] a former CEO of the Ministry of Fijian Affairs, says it showed disrespect for the chiefs by the coup installed military government of Commodore Frank Bainimarama.

QIONIBARAVI: The decision to remove Her Majesty the Queen's head from Fiji's currency has been received with great shock and sadness. The Royal Family is held in high regard especially by indigenous Fijians. In most homes one will see that of the Queen or members of the her royal household. It is just most unfortunate that the chiefs views again had not been sought on this very critical matter. I don't think that the significance of the Royal household of Windsor to indigenous Fijians is clearly understood by all. I'm saying this because our High Chiefs have given the highest position of Chief of Fiji, the High Chief of Fiji to the Royal household.

HILL: You're referring to the title of Tui Viti, which the Queen holds in her own right?

QIONIABRAVI: Yeah, yeah, yeah yeah. In 1902, after the death of Queen Victoria, in 1901, and again in 1937. The chiefs of Fiji have already bestowed the highest title of the the tribal heads in Fiji to the Royal household in Great Britain, so she's just not Queen of England, she's also Queen of Fiji. It is very difficult to accept, but what else can we do? They are in a position of authority in Fiji and they're doing what they want to do without consulting with the chiefs. It is the disrespectfulness that has been displayed to our chiefs.

HILL: One of Fiji's paramount chiefs, Ro Teimumu Kepa, who heads the Burebasaga Confederacy, said in a statement that she is very disappointed that there was no consultation over the decision, as the Queen's image of banknotes and coins have been part of Fiji since cession. She said in every humble home in Fiji you will see a portrait of Queen Elizabeth, and it is silly to deny that Her Majesty the Queen is held in the highest regard by the people of Fiji. Ro Teimumu Kepa says it's disappointing that such changes can be made unilaterally without a reason being given. The former leader of the opposition, Mick Beddoes, is also opposed to the change, although he says the real problem is that an unelected government has no right to make such decisions about national symbols.

BEDDOES: It would not necessarily be a popular move. I would also question the move as to why now, given that we are not upgrading in a democratic environment and these kinds of decisions, especially the fact that it is a symbolic matter of the Queen and by association with our chiefs and the people of Fiji. But this I would imagine is a matter for the elected representatives of the people and the chiefs and citizens of Fiji to make at their leisure, sometime in the future. This is certainly not a mater that an unelected regime, who have taken power by means of arms and the institutions that are currently operating under its control to make such a decision. I don't believe they have a right nor it's in their place and frankly, they don't have a mandate to make such a decision.

HILL: On the other hand though, it's just a symbol on a coin. Is it really that important to people what's on a Fiji coin, the Queen's head or some local plants?

BEDDOES: More important than whether it's important to people about whether we have the Queen's head on our currency or not. I don't think that's really the issue.

Like I said, a lot of these things are symbolic. There are some very long held ties with Fiji, particularly with the British Crown, and therefore these are important traditional and long held ties and I think it's only fair that the people who would come to make that decision should be the people that are elected by the population of Fiji. What's the need for changing it now? What important value improvement do they expect to have occur? So what's the hurry? is my question.

HILL: The man who led Fiji's first coup in 1987, General Sitiveni Rabuka, says the move is an attempt to deny an important part of Fiji's historical identity. He also questions how much it's going to cost.

RABUKA: Well, I don't see the objective of it, apart from the cost it will incur in changing the note designs and the coin designs with the people who make them for us, so it will be the cost factor which will make it a negative move.

HILL: Why do you think the government has taken this decision?

RABUKA: I do not know, I think it's just, it's a childish way of trying to forget our historical connections with those that were responsible for founding this nation.

HILL: Why is the Queen still important to Fiji to your mind? Fiji became independent in what 1970, so it's been awhile?

RABUKA: In 1970, we became independent, but Australia, New Zealand and Canada were independent before us and they still retain the use of the Queen's head in their currency.

HILL: So why is the Queen important in Fiji?

RABUKA: She has always been important, because she was at the beginning of the colonial administration of the country, when we moved from tribalism into a system of government where the whole of the Fiji islands tribes were grouped into one administrative unit as a nation and in 1874, when Queen Victoria accepted the Deed of Cession from our chiefs, thus began a long association of friendship and allegiance.

HILL: Some people might say they want to forget the colonial past and move forward into the future?

RABUKA: We have forgotten the Colonial past. We are now moving to the future, but there are certain things that we cannot change. If we remove the Queen's head, doesn't mean we erase our history.

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