Richard Marles says recent remarks by foriegn minister Bob Carr about sympathising with some of the concerns the coup installed military government had with the draft constitution did not mean Australia was softening its stance.
Presenter: Bruce Hill
Speaker: Australia's parliamentary secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Richard Marles.
MARLES: Look, Australia's position in relation to Fiji is clear and it's been consistent for a very long time. What we want to see is Fiji return to democracy at the earliest opportunity and we stand ready to help Fiji in doing that.
Now the events of last year, have been an important step forward in opening up a political space through the Yash Ghai process which has seen a lot of input into the Constitution.
In terms of the content of the Constitution, what we want to see is obviously that it recognises democracy, that it protects human rights, that there are freedoms of association, and freedoms of the media. Ultimately, we need to judge that when the Constitution is adopted by the Constituent Assembly. And that's really then the other point, that the formation of the Constituent Assembly, the inclusiveness of that is obviously going to be a very key step in this process and how inclusive and democratic the process has been. And Senator Carr made clear that the Constituent Assembly process was going to be a very important step in this and in Australia's eyes. So I don't think anything that Senator Carr has said is inconsistent with that and there are obviously details in the Constitution which are a matter for Fiji and we totally understand that. But what we want to do is everything we can in supporting Fiji return to democracy.
HILL: Australia and also New Zealand largely paid for the whole Constitution Commission process. When the news came out that the copies of the draft constitution had been seized and the galley proofs burnt. One prominent critic said that, look, Australia and New Zealand have been taken for a ride by the Fijian Interim Government, that they had no intention of every really going along with this process?
MARLES: Oh look, I think everyone needs to take a deep breath on this. We understand what the content of the Yash Ghai process has been. At the end of the day, we're all going to be able to judge the Constitution, which emanates from the Constituent Assembly. We've never said that Fiji don't have a right to determine the details of their own Constitution and we absolutely respect that. We just want to see Fiji return to a state of democracy and we can all be bejudged ?? by international norms as to whether or not both the process for developing Constitution and the outcome of that meets those tests.
Now there's still a ways to go in relation to that and I think that' the point and the Constituent Assembly process is going to be a very important step in this and what we need to see is that is an inclusive process as possible.
HILL: Given what's happened with the seizure of the draft constitution, the burning of the galley proofs, and this latest announcement on political parties saying they have to reach a very high number of financial members and a lot of different people and trade unionists aren't allowed to belong to political parties. How confident are you that that's going to be the end result? The critics have been saying that the Interim Government has never had any intention of holding democratic elections as would be understood in the rest of the world?
MARLES: Well, we have expressed now for the better part of a year, a sense of cautious optimism about the direction in which Fiji is progressing and I would retain that. We are hopeful that we will see elections held next year and that they will be democratic. But we retain a sense of caution in expressing that view. And certainly the political parties decree is a concern to us. We want to see that there is a proper right of freedom of association in Fiji, which does give an ability for people to form political parties and for civil society and other political entities to give proper expression to what they do in the political process, and there's no doubt that the political parties decree raises concerns in our eyes about the ability to do that. So there is a lot of water to still go under the bridge. We will do everything we can to urge Fiji to walk down a democratic path which is inclusive, and does give rise to a proper election where people can stand next year, and that means that there needs to be an absolute ability for people to form political parties.