Thursday 16 Aug 2018 | 18:18 | SYDNEY
Thursday 16 Aug 2018 | 18:18 | SYDNEY

Inexplicable new low in Fiji-Australia relations


Jenny Hayward-Jones


21 May 2008 06:03

Fiji’s refusal to provide additional security or allow Australian Federal Police to provide protection to the Australian High Commission in Suva in the face of two credible death threats to Australian High Commissioner James Batley is yet another extreme step backwards by the Fiji interim government.

Its lack of respect for international law has brought relations with Australia to a new and unnecessary low, after the deportation of two Australian publishers.

It would be easy to say that this attitude is evidence of the interim government’s increased intransigence but Commodore Bainimarama has surprised us all by meeting on 19 May with Laisenia Qarase, the Prime Minister he deposed with his 2006 coup. The meeting, brokered by church leaders and described as informal, is a significant step in reassuring the region that Fiji is moving on the path to restoring democracy.

Commodore Bainimarama also demonstrated a sense of responsibility for the safety of foreigners in Fiji last week when he said that Fiji was a safe place and assured some Australian tourists who had been the victims of assault that the perpetrators would be 'taken to task by the authorities.' Like any country heavily dependent on tourism for income, Fiji does not want to see reports of crime scaring away potential visitors. Fiji, presumably, would also be hesitant to see the families of diplomats depart, with the endorsement of the Australian government, because they did not feel safe. The interim government might also bear in mind that it is Australian High Commission staff who provide assistance to Australian tourists who become victims of crime in Fiji – if the diplomats themselves do not feel safe, how can they reassure Australians that the Fiji authorities will look after them?

So why is the interim government being bloody-minded about providing some additional protection to the Australian High Commission? Allowing Australian Federal Police officers in the country might be construed by the interim government as an unwanted intrusion but surely the interim government can spare some extra security officers of its own to protect the High Commission and its staff?  It is not just diplomatic relations with Australia at stake here. This kind of publicity does not really reassure tourists that Fiji is a 'safe place'.