Thaw ‘good for poll’
By ROSI DOVIVERATA
A Fijian academic says the thawing of relations between Fiji and Australia is a good sign as the country heads to the general elections later this year. Dr Sandra Tarte says the improving of relations is a good sign because it will mean more much-needed aid for the general election. The Associate Professor in the School of Government, Development and International Affairs at the University of the South Pacific says Fiji will need all the support it can get to prepare for credible elections. With a little over seven months to when elections must be held, monetary and technical assistance has been welcomed by the Fijian Government. From Australia and New Zealand, their support has been an ongoing one. Australia for instance has been providing technical assistance at the Elections Office over the past two years.
Assistance Dr Tarte said Fiji would need a lot of assistance and support as it prepared for the elections. “Australia and New Zealand are an obvious source of support – they know a lot about elections; and it is clearly a priority to their governments that the elections proceed smoothly,” she said. “But it is going to be up to the Fiji Government to decide what assistance to solicit and from which sources. Obviously the sooner this is done, the better.” Australia’s support continues, despite the sanctions that are still in place.
Sanctions Following the 2006 military take-over, Australia has prohibited: n Individuals travelling to or transiting Australia, who are members of, or associated with, the Fiji military or senior members of the Fijian Government; n The supply, sale or transfer to Fiji of arms and related material; n The provision of technical advice or a financial service related to military activities; or n Any activity involving the supply, sale, transfer, manufacture, maintenance or use of an export sanctioned good for Fiji.
Flexible But Australia has begun to be more flexible with its travel sanctions by approving some Fijian Government members visas. This was highlighted last week during Australia Day celebrations by the Acting Australian head of mission, Glenn Miles. His invitation to the Prime Minister and senior Government officials to be part of last week’s celebrations also signals a significant step by Australia in trying to move towards restoring relations between the two countries. Dr Tarte said: “These invitations are a tangible signs that Australia is moving closer to normalisation. The fact that so many ministers and senior officials accepted the invitations (although not the Prime Minister) is indicative that the process is being welcomed by Fiji.”
Pessimistic However, Dr Tarte was pessimistic about Fiji and Australia enjoying the pre- December 2006 relations they once enjoyed. “It is unlikely that full normalisation will take place until the elections are held; but it will be a step by step process. “This is the case for other relationships as well, including with the Pacific Islands Forum. But normalisation does not necessarily mean a return to business as usual (pre-December 2006).” She said the political relationship will probably never be the same. “Although it has certainly survived difficult times in the past, the recent shifts in Fiji’s foreign policy are likely to be more long-term and mean that the Australia-Fiji partnership is less dominant than it used to be.” Dr Tarte also predicted some Australian sanctions that remain, especially relating to military and defence ties, will not change until an election is held.
Australia’s acting head of mission, Glenn Miles, greets President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau at the year’s Australia Day celebration at the Australian High Commission on Tuesday night. Photo: PAULINI RATULAILAI