Don Brash wants dialogue with Fiji

ACT Party Leader Dr Don Brash has begun to make waves within the Indo-Fijian community in New Zealand, promising to “influence the next Government” to change its attitude towards Fiji and engage in a meaningful dialogue.

He told a meeting of a group of ‘Friends of Fiji’ on September 23 in Auckland that the current policy towards Fiji was not working and that it was time to think afresh (see related reports on Pages 3 and 4).

“If ACT gets back into the next Parliament in sufficient numbers, we will certainly be encouraging whomever the Foreign Minister is to re-engage with Fiji, in the interests of both Fiji and New Zealand,” he said.

For a majority of Indo-Fijians, marginalised, exploited and discriminated against since the arrival of their ancestors in Fiji as indentured labourers more than 130 years ago, Dr Brash was a leader worthy of support.

However, according to some analysts, Dr Brash’s approach fell short of ‘an action plan’ that would lift Fiji and New Zealand from the current imbroglio.

Formidable hurdles

His speech appeared to circumvent the real issues.

How will ACT Party influence the next Government to make peace with the current Regime, since Commodore Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama is unrelenting in his belief that his country cannot return to democratic rule until the electoral system is revisited, which would be no earlier than September 2014?

How can the impasse be overcome if the National Government continues to be tough towards Fiji and Mr Bainimarama?

Will ACT have sufficient clout in the next Parliament to force the hands of Prime Minister John Key to act in the interest of the Indo-Fijian community?

Does an opposition party, as small and insignificant as ACT, have the ability to bring about a major change in the attitude of the Government towards an issue that would have regional and international ramifications?

Dr Brash said he was not taking a softened attitude towards Mr Bainimarama and his interim government.

“We have made it abundantly clear that we do not like military coups and we want Fiji to return to a democratic government as quickly as possible. When Fiji failed to hold elections in 2009, as first promised, New Zealand pushed for the country to be excluded from meetings of the Commonwealth and the Pacific Islands Forum, and to this day Fiji remains on the outside of both bodies.

“We have made it clear that we do not accept Bainimarama’s commitment to have elections by 2014 as in any way adequate, and the implication is that actually we do not trust him to hold elections in that year anyway,” he said.

Intriguing remarks

Those words appeared to run antithetical to Dr Brash’s intention to engage in useful dialogue with Fiji – but who else can it be other than Mr Bainimarama?

But his reference to recent developments in the South Pacific was interesting.

He said that officials of 11 neighbouring countries of Fiji, including Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Tonga issued a communiqué at their recent meeting which affirmed Fiji’s Strategic Framework for Change as a credible home-grown process for positioning Fiji as a modern nation state and to hold parliamentary elections and noted the importance of Fiji’s full participation in regional development initiatives and programmes.

Dr Brash also quoted a recent survey conducted by the Sydney based Lowy Institute for International Policy, according to which 75% of Indo-Fijians and 60% of indigenous Fijians felt that Bainimarama was doing a ‘Good’ or ‘Very Good’ job as Prime Minister.

“The same survey found substantial majorities holding a favourable view of the Government’s performance in delivering education, transport and health services, in ending racial inequalities and divisions, and in improving land ownership laws. Even discounting for the influence of the military regime on people’s willingness to answer such surveys honestly, it seems likely that the Bainimarama regime enjoys quite considerable popular support within Fiji,” Dr Brash said.

As we wrote this piece, ACT Party appeared to be in disarray, with Dr Brash and Epsom Candidate John Banks at variance over the decriminalisation of marijuana (favoured by the former), the decision of Deputy Leader and MP John Boscawen to retire from politics after the current session of Parliament and a number of other issues.

Chance for Labour

Labour can make headway if it announces its policy on Fiji, denouncing its stern stand against Mr Bainimarama and replacing it with a conciliatory approach.

Indian Newslink understands that Labour MP Dr Rajen Prasad, a Fiji-born Indian had visited Fiji twice last year and met with Government officials in Suva and business and community leaders throughout the country.

Our sources say that Dr Prasad had chosen to work behind the scenes and keep the confidence of those he had met in Fiji.

It would be interesting to gauge the extent to which his mission impacts on Labour’s policy on Fiji whenever it comes to the public domain. It will send a strong signal if Labour takes heed of what Dr Prasad would no doubt have reported to his colleagues.

Readers may express their views to editor@indiannewslink.co.nz

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