In a recent op-ed I suggested that as we’re now normalising our relations with Fiji we shouldn’t just go back to the ‘same old, same old’ when it comes to defence cooperation.
The great advantage of military relationship-building is that much of it can be done without attracting too much political attention. The new Commander of Republic of Fiji Military Forces (RFMF) is a graduate of the Australian Defence Force Staff College, and he’ll likely be receptive to engagement with his Australian counterparts. Early resumption of places for Fijian officers at our training establishments, along with participation in joint exercises should be part of a normal Fiji–Australia relationship.
But I also suggested that one new idea we might consider would be ADF training courses in Fiji or Australia to prepare young Fijians to be, at the same time, Australian permanent residents and ADF recruits: after they’d performed sufficient loyal service, this would lead to Australian citizenship. Fiji would benefit from the remittances. Alternatively, if there were concerns we were ‘cherry- picking’ the best and brightest, they could go back under a return-of-service obligation and strengthen the RFMF (Fiji now allows dual citizenship).
The rule now is that you have to be an Australian citizen before you can enlist, or—in certain circumstances for ‘high priority’ jobs—you can be a permanent resident nearing citizenship and your application can be fast-tracked. Most of our overseas military recruits and lateral transfers come from the UK, US, NZ and Canada.
We should be taking a closer look at the UK model of Commonwealth recruiting to see the justifications and modalities, and get away from any notion that this would be some kind of ‘guest worker’ scheme: Fijians serving in the UK armed forces aren’t called ‘guest workers’.
The UK’s Commonwealth recruitment scheme advertises vacancies in the relevant country, interviews in those states, and selection is based on skills.
Certainly equal conditions with Australian personnel would be essential, (as in the UK model). They’d not be in separate units and nor should navy and air force personnel be excluded.
Currently there’s no evidence that the ADF’s facing massive recruiting shortfalls. (The applicant-assessment-enlistment ratio’s around 10:3:1—that is ten applicants test for three to be assessed for one to enlist.) So the idea of incorporating Fijians into the ADF is an idea that can and should receive careful preparation to ensure its success.
Still, it shouldn’t be that hard to find a winning formula here. Fijians and Australians have a long history of getting along with each other through tourism, sport, education, and commerce. Moreover, Fijian military cooperation with Australia has a long and positive history.
If it was successful, such a scheme might be extended by bilateral agreement to other island states. But I’d guess that the overwhelming majority of recruitment would come from Fiji: the country’s long exported security personnel and Fijian expertise is highly-regarded in UN peacekeeping missions (Fiji’s now got over 500 troops in UNDOF’s delicate mission in the Golan). For every RFMF vacancy advertised in Fiji, there’s a huge response from would-be recruits.
If properly instituted the proposed scheme may well prove to be a positive strand in the ties that bind Australia and Fiji.
Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI. Image courtesy of Department of Defence.