4 Nov 2009

Fiji orders NZ, Australian envoys to leave

6:14 am on 4 November 2009

Fiji has ordered envoys from New Zealand and Australia out of the country.

Interim Prime Minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama has given New Zealand's acting Deputy High Commissioner Todd Cleaver and Australian High Commissioner James Batley 24 hours to leave.

The envoys have been accused of interfering in Fiji's internal affairs.

Fiji's High Commissioners in New Zealand and Australia have likewise been ordered to return to Fiji immediately.

It is not the first time the Commodore has expelled a New Zealand diplomat. Acting High Commissioner to Fiji, Caroline McDonald, was expelled in December last year.

Commodore Bainimarama made the announcement in Suva on Tuesday evening after a Cabinet meeting, saying the decision was a result of the impact of the Australian and New Zealand governments' positions on Fiji.

Commodore Bainimarama said Fiji would not be deterred from the path it was on.

He has questioned what he calls both countries' lack of engagement with Fiji, claiming they are engaged in dishonest and untruthful strategies to undermine Fiji's judiciary, independent institutions and economy.

The interim Prime Minister said by contrast the ordinary citizens and companies of Australia and New Zealand continued to visit and invest in Fiji as part of a much-valued relationship with his country.

At a key meeting earlier in the day Commodore Bainimarama and Chief Justice Tony Gates discussed the Australian and New Zealand governments' position on members of Fiji's judiciary.

Justice Gates has criticised Australia and New Zealand for the refusal of travel visas for Sri Lankan judges appointed to the bench and the treatment of a Fiji magistrate who was seeking medical help in New Zealand for her daughter.

James Batley is the first Australian High Commissioner to be ordered out by Commodore Bainimarama, the ABC reports.

Coup leader Commodore Bainimarama was reappointed as Prime Minister earlier this year, less than two days after a court ruled that the 2006 coup and subsequent government was illegal.

He had promised an election this year, but has now ruled it out until 2014.

Release extracts

In his media release, Commodore Bainimarama said: "The Chief Justice has already highlighted the interference into our Judiciary, the Fijian Judiciary by the governments of Australia and New Zealand

"It is a matter of great shame that Madame Justice Anjala Wati, a respected member of our High Court bench, was harassed and humiliated by the New Zealand High Commission in Fiji when she applied for a visa on medical grounds to take her baby son to New Zealand.

"In fact had the Attorney General not highlighted the matter in the media she would not have been granted a visa.

"In addition to this shameful incident the Sri Lankan judges who have been appointed to serve in the Fijian judiciary were told that they would not be able to travel through and to Australia because they had taken these positions.

"Again when this matter was highlighted in the media by the Chief Justice there was frenzied denial that visas had been refused by the Australian government.

"However, we now know that one of these Sri Lankan judges had the foresight to tape the conversation in which she was informed by the Australian official in Colombo that travel sanctions would apply because she had taken the position in the Fijian judiciary.

"The culmination of these incidents displays a consolidated effort to attack Fiji's independent judiciary. It also shows that the Australian and New Zealand Governments have been dishonest and untruthful over the matter of travel ban for judges."

'Baffled' by position

Commodore Bainimarama says he is baffled by the position taken by the Australian and New Zealand governments.

"On one hand they are our largest trading partners; they are members of the Pacific Islands Forum; 60% of our tourists come from these countries and their numbers are growing on a daily basis; (the) majority of our people who have migrated have gone to these countries; we have studied, worked and holidayed the most in these countries.

"They claim to be our friends yet on the other hand they fail to recognise the efforts that we are making in being a good international citizen; they fail to understand that we are creating a country that will be based on equal and common citizenry, a country of modern laws, a country which will have true democracy.

"Only today Cabinet approved a new Crimes Decree, a new Criminal Procedure Decree and a new Sentencing and Penalties Decree that will make us compliant with CEDAW, with international standards on human trafficking and with the Rome Statute.

"We have ratified the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC); we have introduced new laws and strengthened existing laws in relation to corruption and bribery; we have introduced Domestic Violence laws; given protection to our children, paving the way for compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

"We have consistently said that we want to engage with our neighbours and indeed all our international and multi-lateral partners. We have also left the door open for bi-lateral engagements."