Tuesday 20 Oct 2020 | 17:01 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 20 Oct 2020 | 17:01 | SYDNEY

Fiji and the art of misinformation


Jenny Hayward-Jones


14 June 2011 14:13

The Fiji Government issued a statement last week which implied that my criticism of Australian policy on Fiji was a vindication of the Fiji Government's status. 

It would be generous to say that perhaps the Fiji Government had not read my Policy Brief (Policy overboard: Australia's increasingly costly Fiji drift) and was misinformed. The more likely story is that the Fiji Government has deliberately and disingenuously misrepresented my arguments in an effort to justify its own failures. The press statement neglected to mention that the reason I criticised Australian policy on Fiji was that it had failed to persuade the Fiji Government to restore democracy and may even be helping to entrench the regime.

My paper also criticised the Fiji Government for damaging the economy, preventing freedom of speech, abusing human rights, expelling diplomats, failing to respond to Australian and regional efforts to engage in dialogue and, most importantly, signaling that elections will not be held in 2014. The press statement does not acknowledge any of this.

My recommendations for improving Australian policy towards Fiji are designed to create an environment where more pressure and influence can be brought to bear to restore democracy in Fiji and where Australian-Fiji relations beyond the current Fijian government can be sustained. 

I acknowledged in the paper that the measures I outlined would probably fail – that the Fiji Government would again reject any offer by Australia to help restore democracy and will castigate Canberra for interfering. I also argued that the failure of the policy I recommended should have a consequence that existing policy has not yet created.

If Fiji rejects a package of assistance for democratic reform from a partnership which includes countries it has been anxious to impress (like Indonesia, India, Malaysia, South Korea and Papua New Guinea) it should help solidify crumbling international opinion against Bainimarama and make it clear internationally and within Fiji that the Fiji Government is not committed to a democratic future or to genuine international partnerships. This could increase international pressure on Fiji and offer support to those in Fiji who could lead a democratic government in the future.

That the Fiji Government is unwilling to acknowledge criticism of its actions is unsurprising – this is a Government that continues to enforce a Public Emergency Regulation and a Media Industry Development Decree that prevent people from voicing an opinion contrary to that of the Government.

What is surprising about this press release is how alarmed the Fiji Government admits it is over the defection and flight of Lt Col Tevita Mara. 

I'm not sure whether Mara has the capacity to be the 'game changer' that the Fiji Democracy Movement wants him to be. Mara is certainly no Nelson Mandela or Aung San Suu Kyi and his own participation in the Bainimarama regime is cause enough for some doubt about his commitment to democracy. But for the moment, he can give a voice to people in Fiji who have none, and he can likely reveal more about the inner workings of the Fiji regime than any internal opponent. 

If the Fiji Government believes Mara to be a fugitive and political opportunist, why is it so alarmed about what he might say in Australia and New Zealand and why issue a press statement which not only draws attention to Mara’s significance but maligns the Foreign Ministers of Australia and New Zealand and denigrates the government of Tonga? Could the regime be preparing an excuse to renege on an invitation to the Pacific Islands Forum's Ministerial Contact Group to visit Fiji, or is it worried that Mara's defection might mark the beginning of the end?

If the Fiji Government had ignored Mara's defection or quietly requested his extradition from Tonga, I would not have thought his activities in Tonga and Australia very important. The strident nature of the Fiji Government's intervention on this issue (and its willingness to completely misrepresent my arguments) only makes me think that what Mara has to say might be very significant in the life of Fiji's military dictatorship.