Australia and New Zealand should re-think Fiji involvement | Pacific Beat

Australia and New Zealand should re-think Fiji involvement

Australia and New Zealand should re-think Fiji involvement

Updated 11 January 2013, 17:56 AEDT

Australia and New Zealand have been taken for a ride by Fiji's coup installed military government and should review their involvement in the country's constitutional process.

That's the reaction from Fiji historian Professor Brij Lal.

Presenter: Bruce Hill

Professor Lal, Fijian historian, Australian National University

LAL: The process is going forward, but what document will go to the Constituent Assembly. It is not as the decree promised, the Draft Constitution prepared by the High Commission, but this will be a document that will be amended by legal advisors of the regime. They will basically want to have their imprint on it and then remember this, that the Constituent Assembly will be handpicked by the Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama. There is no independent, there will be no transparency and basically the military will have its way and this is what the problem is. Because you recall, that the draft Constitution was widely welcomed by the people of Fiji, by all the major political parties, and now the military and the regime simply wants to have a document that is its handywork, that enshrines its interests and concerns and aspirations.

HILL: What questions does this raise for Fiji's traditional partners in the Pacific, the Pacific Island Forum countries in Australia and New Zealand who've actually really supported this whole democratisation process financially?

LAL: Well, I think that is a very important question. This is a wake up call for Australia and New Zealand. In fact they were taken for a ride. They propose re-engagement with Fiji, they supported the whole review and draft Constitution process to the tune of hundreds-of-thousands of dollars, they welcomed the draft Constitution and now this has happened. And as Mr. Bainimarama said in his interview, once the Constituent Assembly, which he hand picks meets and the process of drafting a new Constitution goes ahead, that he will expect or re-invite countries like Australia and New Zealand and other donor partners to help the process. In otherwords, he's basically asking the regional neighbours and the international community to help him entrench his Constitution on Fiji, not one that was prepared by this Commission that the military itself had appointed.

HILL: But could it be that a large number of people in Fiji actually support this. The last opinion poll that was taken by the Lowy Institute showed he had 66 percent support, so maybe this carping from the sidelines doesn't bear any relation to what people in Fiji actually think?

LAL: Well, I think it's very, very difficult to know what people in Fiji think, because we really, when all is said and done, there is no free media. People are practicing not only censorship, but self-censorship. So I think that this whole idea of trumped up figures of 60 per cent or 70 per cent supporting the People's Charter or supporting the regime, these are figures not to be taken seriously.

HILL: Can you think of anything positive that's come out of this whole process though. At least they are still moving forward formally with the process. That's better than not having a process at all, isn't it?

LAL: Well, that's certainly true. I think a lot of people were sceptical when the review process began, the Commission started its work. But as things progress, the Commission was able certainly because of its independent chair, was able to get support and understanding of the community and by the time the draft came out, a lot of people said they'd be very difficult circumstances, the High Commission was able to come up with a credible document. They're for awhile, is naive hope that Fiji might finally be getting out of the wilderness. But I think if you look at the track record of the Bainimarama regime over the last six years or so. It's littered with broken promises. The regime simply has not honoured its commitment, its word.

They did say when the process began that the draft Constitution prepared by the Commission will be the one document that the Constituent Assembly will consider. They changed their mind again and so I think that there will be a sense of disappointment felt, not only in Fiji, but in the region as well, that a process that seemed to be working, that was credible, the document that was credible has now effectively been shuntered aside for a new document that will entrench the interests of the regime in Fiji. They don't talk about transparency, good governance and all of these high ? sounding concepts. But in fact, really, in reality, they don't practice it.


Bruce Hill

Bruce Hill


Bruce is one of the Pacific’s most experienced journalists with nearly 20 years covering the region and has won several international awards.

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