Re-establishment of an elected Parliament provides an opportunity for us to reengage with Fiji, and to rebuild relations.
That can be made easier because despite successive coups that have affected government- to-government relationships, Kiwis and Fijians have always got on well together on people-to-people relations.
I was a part of the team that visited Fiji last month, the first in many years. It included Parliament Speaker David Carter and Clerk of Parliament Mary Harris.
Its purpose was both a show of support for the reestablishment of Fiji’s democracy and an offer to work with its Parliament to create a strong and sustainable Parliamentary system.
After eight years without elected representatives, it was good to see how quickly Fiji’s new Parliament is settling in office.
Opposition members were asking good questions and Ministers were quickly adjusting to the fact that they can now be held to account for their decisions.
Our role was not to criticise shortcomings in the system but to engage constructively to help where we can to build a strong democracy and the conventions needed to underpin it.
Fiji’s economy has made good progress.
The Government also deserves praise for working to remove discrimination based on ethnicity. Indo-Fijians have lived for generations in Fiji as second-class citizens.
New Zealand is now in a position to further develop and strengthen connections with Fiji.
We will provide a big boost to development assistance, taking it up to $30 million.
We will also allow greater access to New Zealand by Fijians.
Hundreds of Fijians will be able to participate in seasonal work in New Zealand through the Recognised Seasonal Employment Scheme.
Fijians will also have access to the Pacific Quota Scheme, allowing 250 people each year to gain permanent residency based on a ballot.
There are many challenges still ahead for Fiji. Democracy needs a free media and an independent judiciary.
It needs strong conventions that the military is subservient to a government elected by the people.
Coup mentality is damaging.
These are issues that Fiji must address of its own accord.
New Zealand however is signalling that at Fiji’s request we will work with it to strengthen the institutions and conventions necessary for a resilient and sustainable parliamentary democracy.
Phil Goff is former Foreign Affairs, Trade and Justice Minister and has been Member of Parliament for almost 35 years. Elected from Mt Roskill, he is today Labour Party’s Spokesperson for Ethnic Affairs and Auckland Issues. He was a member of the first Parliamentary delegation (since December 5, 2006) to visit Fiji last month. The delegation included Parliamentary Speaker David Carter and National Party MP and Chairperson of Parliamentary Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Mark Mitchell. A related story appears under Fijilink in this issue.