Richard Herr was right to say that there was ‘no massacre of hopes’ in Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s visit to Suva to meet with Fiji’s Prime Minister, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama.
As Richard noted, it proved more of a love-in than a confrontation. But there’s no doubt that Minister Bishop took on a political risk with her Fiji policy shift. It’s now clear, however, that the risk was worth taking: she was praised in Suva, in the Australian media and the think tank world after the visit.
Ever since Julie Bishop announced some time back that there would be change in our Fiji policy, there were plenty of nay-sayers on the merits of shifting from our hard line position of trying to isolate Fiji. During the Rudd years in particular, such views had over-weening influence on the Australia-Fiji relationship, to our disadvantage in the region.
Being able to restore defence cooperation was a very good outcome of Minister Bishop’s visit. We should support Fiji’s UN peacekeeping efforts (Fiji has a long history of involvement here), and immediately restore places at Duntroon and our staff colleges. We could also look to explore wider national security cooperation in areas such as maritime affairs, disaster resilience, law enforcement and cyber security. After all, Fiji’s Prime Minister has delivered on his Fiji Roadmap (PDF) to date, and the elections are on track, with Australian and New Zealander people working in the elections office.
The retirement of Fiji’s Prime Minister from the Commander RFMF post at the end of this month also presents an opportune time to lift our travel bans. As Fiji’s Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed–Khaiyum recently made clear, our travel sanctions are a calculated insult and have been damaging to the formation of public Boards in Fiji:
I call [travel sanctions] an abomination, in the sense that how can you in this globalised world have that type of travel ban placed on individuals who are completely political. They have nothing to do, for example, the events of 5th of December, ’06. So it was a form of what we believe, a form of economic sabotage. Why would you want to deprive a country from not being able to access the best brains that’s available to help run the country or to help sit on various state-owned enterprises… there are still some people who are reluctant to come on board, because of the fact that there’s been no general announcement made, so people don’t want to necessarily go through the throws of we’ll deal with these matter on a case-by-case basis and they do not necessarily understand the extent of the travel ban… these are not people who are political people, these are very apolitical people who are professionals, who want to contribute to their country.
Fiji has been more independent over recent years, but there’s absolutely no reason why a cooperative bilateral relationship can’t be reinstated to the mutual benefit of both countries.
Anthony Bergin is deputy director of ASPI.