Cautious optimism in Suva about Australia ties says academic
An academic who works between Fiji and Australia is cautiously optimistic about ties between the two countries.
An academic who works between Australia and Fiji says the restoration of ties between the two countries is progressing quietly, despite both countries saying normalisation won't take place until after next year's election.
The Foreign Ministers of both countries met last month in Sydney, following the Australian minister Julie Bishop's pre-election signals the Coalition government would ease up on Suva.
But Canberra has not formally lifted sanctions on Fiji and has also stated it is waiting for free and fair elections before ties are normalised.
A Pacific governance and diplomacy expert, Dr Richard Herr, says this does not represent back-tracking by Canberra and he says Suva is cautiously optimistic about the relationship.
RICHARD HERR: We know that Foreign Minister Bishop and Foreign Minister Kubuabola have been talking and looking at ways of improving the relationship. So we know they're discussing it. They're pursuing the avenues that are available to them. I think Foreign Minister Bishop's comments were perhaps especially important because she made them part of the first hundred days of the new Abbott administration's goals and objectives by raising them and talking about how they wanted to be fairly comprehensive in the re-engagement and so forth, even including the military in her discussion. I don't think there's any back-tracking at all.
SALLY ROUND: So the re-engagement is simply talking, like that meeting between the Foreign Minister of Fiji and the Foreign Minister of Australia?
RH: Well, as we know, there have been changes over a period of time now. Those on the travel ban list have been given exemptions to visit Australia to pursue discussions or engage in work that is essential to re-engagement. So I suspect they've been quietly dropping the major irritants in the relationship, but of course the sanctions still remain and the difficulty in re-establishing a level of trust. And that's really in the importance of normalising relations. It isn't just the form, it's got to be the substance, it's got to be restoring trust. And that's going to take a long time yet.
SR: So do you see any evidence of trust being restored?
RH: Well, we see that the support for returning Fiji to parliamentary democracy, like giving assistance with the electoral processes, with engaging in elements related to supporting the road map in returning Fiji to parliamentary democracy seems to be going ahead fairly well. It's been done quietly, it hasn't been done with a fanfare, but it's there and that is an important element of confidence building between the two sides.
SR: Now, you've been in Fiji in the last couple of weeks. What is the Fiji government's reaction to how things are progressing with Australia?
RH: I think that they are cautiously optimistic. They hoped that a new government in Australia would, in fact, open the doors to a new understanding and a new relationship, a deepening of the relationship of re-engagement. And, in that, I don't think they're disappointed in it. It's one of those things which I think we'll find has been going along fairly significantly, but below the radar, simply because it can't be part of the public debate. Confidence comes from having a secure relationship - not trumpeting every win or trying to make changes look as if one side or the other has won. It's really trying to, in fact, avoid anything that looks like winning or losing. It's more like business as usual and business as usual isn't noteworthy.
To embed this content on your own webpage, cut and paste the following: