Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 19:42 | SYDNEY
Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 19:42 | SYDNEY

Fiji: A carrot offered, a stick readied


Jenny Hayward-Jones


2 July 2008 11:44

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith’s decision to agree to the Fiji interim government’s appointment of an acting High Commissioner in Canberra and Consul-General in Sydney was welcomed yesterday by the Fiji Times but not yet by Commodore Bainimarama. Smith’s press release made it clear that this gesture of goodwill was not a signal of confidence in the interim government. From Australia’s perspective, recent positive developments (the appointment of an election supervisor and Bainimarama’s second round of talks with ousted Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase) have not really outweighed the negative (the suspension of Fiji’s engagement with the Pacific Islands Forum — Fiji Joint Working Group on the Situation in Fiji and the  refusal to allow the Australian Federal Police to provide close protection to Australian High Commissioner James Batley after he received his third death threat).

There are foreign policy risks for Australia in the carrot and stick approach to Fiji.  Bainimarama’s record in excluding regional partners from assisting with Fiji’s democratic process does not inspire confidence in his ability to take advantage of the carrot offered by Smith and the concession may not lead to any short-term positive outcomes. Australia’s uncompromising approach to the timing of elections and its maintenance of tight travel bans, however, has not had the desired effect on the interim government’s election planning. Fiji has already signalled formally that the election timetable may not be met because of planned electoral reform.

While it is difficult for Australia to go further in the absence of movement from the interim government, it is apparent that Pacific Islands Forum members, including Australia, will need to develop a new approach when, not if, it becomes obvious to leaders that Fiji will not meet the election deadline of March 2009.