Senator Carr says he can see why the military regime rejected elements of the draft, although he believes the jury's still out on whether the constitutional process it's undertaking is enough to restore Fiji's reputation in the eyes of the international community.
Presenter: Bruce Hill
Speaker: Ged Kearney, President Australian Council of Trade Unions
KEARNEY: I'm very disappointed by the Foreign Minister's response. I do understand that he has had meetings with the regime, but certainly by all accounts, there is an international outcry over the actions of the Bainimarama regime towards the report. A very pre-eminent Professor Yash Ghai chaired the committee that actually put together the report. There was to be consultation, even though we were somewhat sceptical about the lengths of the consultation. We understood there was to be some. And now it's quite clear that they have no intention whatsoever of returning democracy or human rights to Fiji. And I have to say, that the Australian Government should be outraged at that, given that they supported the initial process, that we have restored some diplomatic connections with Fiji as an independent state and I think that we have to review. I would be hoping that the government would be reviewing its position on Fiji right now.
HILL: Well clearly, that's not the case, because Mr Carr has said that he's in fact sympathetic to some of the reasons why the interim government in Fiji gave for making changes to that draft constitution. He says they need to be given more time, so clearly the Australian Government is much more sympathetic to the Fijian interim government than you'd like them to be?
KEARNEY: Yes, I'm very surprised at that response. I mean we know that there were 7,000 submissions given to the drafting of the Bill of Rights that would hopefully restore democracy to Fiji. We know that the Fijian people put a great deal of store in this process. But what we're seeing now is that the regime's making it very clear that it pretty much intends to do what it wants to do without any sanction by the people of Fiji, without any consultation, and certainly we are losing all hope that any human rights, particularly trade union rights will actually be restored to that country.
HILL: Well, in that case, if you believe that, then why would you think Mr. Carr will the take the approach that he's taking. He'd be much more sympathetic and understanding?
KEARNEY: I can't really comment on why the senator has taken this position, but we will definitely be contacting him to clarify that position and the ACTU will certainly be joining our international trade union colleagues, and indeed, other countries, including our very close neighbours, New Zealand in expressing our grave concern at the position that the government seems to be taking.
HILL: The Australian Trade Union Movement is a very important component of the Australian Labor Party. Bob Carr is a Labor Party Cabinet minister. Could there be any political fallout for this if the unions are taking one approach and the government's taking completely the opposite on Fiji?
KEARNEY: Eh, I haven't had the opportunity to discuss this with the government yet, but it's certainly something that we would like to be very clear about what their stand is. Our position has been very clear all along and the latest actions by the Fijian regime clearly do not give us any hope that our views will actually be allayed about what's going to happen in Fiji with regards to human rights and trade union rights and we will certainly make that position very clear to the government.
HILL: The ACTU has been very concerned about the situation for trade unionists in Fiji for sometime. You've made many public statements. How have you communicated these concerns to Mr. Carr and what has he told you in the past?
KEARNEY: Eh, we have communicated these concerns on many, many occasions. He's very well aware of the trade unions position on this. We were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt when he started down the pathway of engagement some months ago when he told us that Australia would actually support the Constitution review process that was going underway and we were willing to wait and see if, even though we were sceptical, and we said at the time we were, if this would actually play out as he predicted. We are very sad to say that our worst fears have actually played out, that there was no intention whatsoever of actually carrying through that process with true consultation and the true democratic process. So we're very disappointed, we're very disappointed about what's happened in Fiji. We are somewhat disappointed with the senator's response to that and we will certainly be discussing that.