NZ has ' obligation ' to help retain Fiji's democracy-NZ Labour
:New Zealand's opposition says the country has an obligation to help ensure Fiji retains it democratic system and must not hold its coup-ridden past against it.
New Zealand's opposition says the country has an obligation to help ensure Fiji retains it democratic system and must not hold its coup-ridden past against it.
The Labour Party's comments follow a visit by defence minister, Gerry Brownlee, to Fiji in a bid to rebuild defence co-operation and engagement between New Zealand and Fiji.
Following Fiji's elections in September, New Zealand lifted its last sanctions on Fiji which until March included a travel ban on the Fiji military for its role in ousting the elected government in 2006.
Labour's defence spokesperson, Phil Goff, spoke to Amelia Langford about rebuilding a relationship between the two countries.
PHIL GOFF: Well I think we need at this point to accept that there has been a democratic election in Fiji and according to international observers it was a relatively fair and free election that reflects the will of the people. On that basis, while we are mindful of the fact that Fiji was deprived of democracy for over seven years, we do need to rebuild the relationship, we do need to reconnect at each level of Fijian society and we do need to make our contribution to consolidating the democracy that has been reinstituted there. I think to continue to hold against Fiji its past, not withstanding the same personnel to a degree are still running the country, would be to neglect the fact that a democratic process had taken place and neglect our obligation to make sure that Fiji, to the extent that we can from outside, retains its democratic system and reinstitutes that democracy as a full and working democratic nation and the relationship we have with it.
AMELIA LANGFORD: As you mentioned though, it is the same 'personnel' who were involved in the coup. Is that problematic?
PG: Well I think it is a little bit like the parable about the prodigal son. Yes, the Premier did take Fiji away from democracy - that is something we did not condone, we did not support, and that which we took steps against at the time. He has now been instrumental in reinstituting democracy - there has been a democratic system put in place and it has been judged to have been a relatively fair election. At this point, I think therefore we need to look forward but we need to look forward in a way that is encouraging of the institutions in Fiji to maintain that democracy and not to fall back into the coup mentality that has blighted Fijian politics for much of the time over the last 20 to 30 years.
AL: And can I ask about the sanctions? Do you think they worked? What did they achieve?
PG: Well, I think what New Zealand could not have afforded to do was to condone the overthrow of an equally democratically elected government by the force of the armed forces and then run the risk that that might lead to contagion where their political systems in the Pacific are not as strong and not as stable as we would like. So I think New Zealand took the right steps but at a certain point you do need to be flexible enough to say 'things have changed' and if we want to influence Fiji to achieve the outcomes that we, the Commonwealth, the Pacific and the United Nations think are good outcomes then we've got to look tactically at what the best thing is for New Zealand to do so I don't think the coup has been forgotten but I think the mindset needs to be - let's build on what has been achieved in the election, let's look forward and not backwards.
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