An Australian academic has called for sanctions on Fiji’s coup installed military regime to be dropped immediately.
Dr Karl Claxton, a research analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, says it’s a risk that’s worth taking if it helps return Fiji to democracy.
Presenter: Bruce Hill
Dr Karl Claxton, research analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute
CLAXTON: There’s been quite a bit of commentary to suggest that we need to keep the pressure on the regime and that we need to avoid getting egg on our face by being taken for ride essentially. I can see where that caution comes from. A lot of people have been burned over the years, but I believe that Fiji stands at a crossroads now. We were talking with Fiji and international business people last week and they say that there’s investor interest in the kind of investment Fiji needs to move its economy ahead, but they’re hanging back. They need stability and they need elections. So on one side there’s some promise, but on the otherhand, there’s a real danger that Fiji will totally squander the legacy that it has and that it’s been continuing along, it’s still got some low economic growth and things still work in Fiji, but I really think this is sort of last chance. They need to have elections soon, so I think rather than worrying about getting egg on our face, we should end sanctions now. The sanctions have been the least bad option up to now and our risk policy prescription as been first do not harm. But I think the time to move forward boldly has come.
HILL: But if Australia drops those sanctions now before the elections, does Australia have any leverage over the regime about the conduct of those elections?
CLAXTON: Well, that’s the thing Bruce. As Graeme Dobell said on your show the other day, the sanctions have in effect been let go, only one request for a waiver has been refused and that was on technical grounds. So the sanctions give us very little leverage. They’ve been useful symbolically, they have helped delegitimise the regime, but now it’s time to reverse the symbolism and the symbolism now needs to be that we, Australia, are keen to move forward with Fiji. There’s mutual distrust and hostility and real resentment on both sides.
Julie Bishop made a breakthrough a couple of weeks ago, but a one hour successful meeting is just the start of things and I genuinely believe the best way to move forward now is to be bold and to try and reset the relationship. This may not work, but if it doesn’t work, the current sanctions are giving us no leverage and we’ll need to think of what to do following the election. But at the moment, I think non-conditionality. not imposing conditions on moving forward and avoiding threats is absolutely crucial on both sides. We need to bold, we need to afford ‘in good faith’, and that gives the highest likelihood that we’ll have elections, that the election results will be adhered to and that whoever wins the election and we don’t know whose going to win the election. There’s been no democracy for seven-and-a-half years and anyone could win. It’s important that whoever does win governs for all Fijians and there are some nasty scenarios you can think of. The best way to get ourselves some leverage in that and to do the right thing and to be on the side of the angels now is to move forward, to take the Prime Minister Bainimarama at his word and hold him to account for his word.