8 Aug 2013

Fiji says Forum a success despite anti-Fiji campaigning

5:48 pm on 8 August 2013

Fiji's foreign minister, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, says high-level diplomatic exchanges between Fiji and New Zealand will not happen until after Fiji's elections next year because New Zealand continues to campaign against Fiji.

The two governments, together with Australia, agreed in July last year to restore High Commissioners to each other's capitals following tit-for-tat expulsions in 2009.

He says that's because of some of the things New Zealand and Australia have done towards Fiji, including their actions before the Fiji-initiated Pacific Islands Development Forum, which held its inaugural meeting in Nadi this week.

Sally Round asked him how successful the meeting was for Fiji.

RATU INOKE KUBUABOLA: I believe it's not successful for Fiji. It's successful for the Pacific Island countries who attended the inaugural PIDF meeting these past three days. 'Cause for the first time we have the three key players - government, private sector and the NGOs - sitting together at this meeting, talking about the issues on climate change and sustainable development. So it's been a successful meeting. As you have seen, the attendance has been good and the Pacific Island countries represented about 14, even though the invitation had been sent to 23 states and territories. But 14 decided to turn up. And also the attendance of our development partners - more than 20 countries were there. Australia and New Zealand, of course, attended through their acting heads of missions. So it's been a good meeting.

SALLY ROUND: So where do you see the forum heading in relation to the Pacific Islands Forum?

RATU INOKE KUBUABOLA: I think we complement each other. As I said, this is on sustainable development. It's never been, right from the beginning, set up to compete with any existing regional organisation. It's something that has been lacking in the Pacific, where the three sectors of government, the private sector and NGOs can come for the first time and sit together and talk about sustainable development.

SALLY ROUND: How important is the symbolism of the meeting, because you made a hard-hitting speech last week in Brisbane just about how you're going forward in your own way having been suspended from the Pacific Islands Forum. In Fiji's eyes, is it more about the symbolism of that or the development of the Pacific Islands as a whole?

RATU INOKE KUBUABOLA: You probably heard that our prime minister had stated twice or three times in the last 12 months that the Pacific Islands Forum is becoming irrelevant not only to Fiji, but to other Pacific Island countries. And it'll be interesting to look at the report by Sir Mekere Morauta, the chair of the review committee on the Pacific Plan. We believe there are a lot of reforms and changes that need to be done at the Pacific Islands Forum.

SALLY ROUND: So does this mean that Fiji would not be interested in rejoining the Pacific Islands Forum?

RATU INOKE KUBUABOLA: We are not interested in joining the Pacific Islands Forum as is. There needs to be some changes before we can go back in. There needs to be some changes.

SALLY ROUND: Can you specify what those changes might be?

RATU INOKE KUBUABOLA: That everybody is equal in the PIF. For example, Australia and New Zealand, they need to decide whether they are a donor and also a member in the Pacific Islands Forum. They should either be a donor [and] if they are a donor then they stay out. Let the Pacific Island countries be members of the Pacific Islands Forum as was originally formed many years back. If we are donors and members at the same time then why don't we invite some other developed partners to sit in, like Australia and New Zealand?

SALLY ROUND: A year ago, the New Zealand and Australian and Fiji governments agreed to exchange high commissioners, and I know that you've said that the Australian High Commissioner won't be coming before elections next year. What about the New Zealand case?

RATU INOKE KUBUABOLA: The same. We are looking at maybe after the Fiji elections in 2014.

SALLY ROUND: So does that represent a delay in what was originally planned?

RATU INOKE KUBUABOLA: Yes, it does. We have been looking at some of the things that have been done by Australia and New Zealand towards Fiji, and we believe maybe we should hold back on the posting of the high commissioners in Fiji and also our high commissioners in Canberra and Wellington. I think they continue to campaign against Fiji in different fora. And we have been told by reliable sources, even from some of the leaders, who have been approached not to attend this meeting. They have told us that Canberra had asked them not to attend, but they decided to attend. One of them said, 'Oh, no. I've got Fijian blood. I need to be in Fiji for this meeting'.

SALLY ROUND: PNG said that they were not pressured at all.

RATU INOKE KUBUABOLA: No, no. I'm not referring to anybody, but I'm just saying that we know from reliable sources that some have been discouraged to attend.