He says Fiji's status within the Pacific islands Forum was the focus of so much media attention at the leaders summit in Rarotonga recently that it took attention away from more important matters such as youth unemployment, fishing, marine conservation and telecommunications.
Tole Talagi tells Bruce Hill the Pacific has some significant priorities, and Fiji isn't one of them.
Presenter: Bruce Hill
Speaker: Niue Premier Toke Talagi
TALAGI: Fiji is not. I think it's been a distraction over the past years and we need to focus our attention on things that we need to do for the people of our region. I have to ask the question, has Fiji done anything to the region within the timeframes that they've been outside of the Forum? The answer is no, so therefore why are we focussing our attention on Fiji? And to be honest with you I don't focus my attention on Fiji at all, it's a distraction. They need to get their act together and I'm very pleased to see that they are progressing towards elections in 2014, and I hope it'll be open and democratic and the prime minister is elected and democratic government is reinstated and everybody will then be free to express themselves.
HILL: So you think the Forum spends too much time on Fiji?
TALAGI: We spent very little time on Fiji. We spent more time on fisheries, climate change, a bit of time on the restructuring, the Forum review and so on, but really very little time on Fiji. It's a distraction and none of us really want to spend very much time over them to reaffirm the decisions that are already made, and agree that in fact we need to work to ensure that we progress the work that we are doing at the present moment as a region to help the people of the region, and if that includes Fiji, all and good.
HILL: There have been some people, commentators, people from think tanks saying look unless Fiji is part of the Forum, the Forum loses its relevance. Is that the way you see the Forum?
TALAGI: No I don't, and I'm not sure where that person gets that particular view, it's ill-informed and speculation on his part. The Forum is relevant, it can be seen with the fact that we are negotiating with the US on the US treaty, and that's only important to us. Now is Fiji relevant to that? Of course, they're in the region, but at the same time it's not stopping us from finalising negotiations with the US.
HILL: Was there anything that happened at the Forum that perhaps didn't get the publicity you think it actually deserves?
TALAGI: The work that we're doing now with respect to some of the other things, with regard for example to youth employment. That's a huge, huge initiative that we need to get some traction on, because all of us are impact by youth employment. The other thing that we had also talked to the SPC about, which we see as being significant into the future, is the marine cable because of the importance of that in terms of future communications. Now I see that as extremely important for the region. If we want to keep up with what's happening in the world at the present time and to get broadband internet to our countries, that is one of the key things that we need to focus our attention on. The media seem to come with a pre-set idea about what they thought the Forum should be talking about, which is nonsensical. All they want to do sometimes is talk about Fiji and nothing else. I just think they should have done a bit of work on the reasons why Secretary Clinton was coming to the Pacific, and then determine how we were trying to link the fishing agreement, the answer the Americans have with respect to providing surveillance to ensure that we can stop all this nonsense of illegal fishing, because the Americans are the only country at the present moment that I know of that has the capability of identifying anything that floats on the surface in the Pacific. So therefore they can bring that to bear to help us manage the resource that we have and ensure that it's sustainable in the long term future. The other thing of course that we need to do with the Americans and we discussed with
we were going to discuss with Secretary Clinton, was access to the American market. That's hugely important, if you're looking at the future in five, ten, 15 years ahead, that has to be one of the major things that we need to achieve. The other thing of course that we discussed is the marine resources we have, what are we going to do with them? How are we going to setup the framework to enable us to maximise the returns without damaging the environment that we've talking about? I think the other thing that the Cooks are doing very well at the present moment with Kiribati and Australia are the reserves that are being put in place. But as I said to one of the people who was sponsoring, conservation international, it's great to put in the reserves but they're not earning us money. And I know that we expect that they will be good for tourism, but at the same time they're not generating the money that fisheries is. So we kind of look at how we can generate some resources that people are prepared to pay us not to fish in our waters, that's great, let's look at that possibility and see whether we can conserve the Pacific, all of it.