26 March 2008
Interview with Fran Kelly – Radio National Breakfast
Subjects: Fiji, Tibet, Zimbabwe
FRAN KELLY: Well, with four coups in the past two decades and new concerns about the independence of both its judiciary and its media, the future of Fiji is the only item on the agenda for today’s meeting in New Zealand of Foreign Minister’s from the sixteen Pacific Islands forum countries.
Australia’s Foreign Minister Stephen Smith is attending that meeting after bilateral talks yesterday with his New Zealand counterpart Winston Peters. The forum wants to see a greater commitment from Fiji to return to Democracy.
I spoke to Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith earlier this morning from Auckland.
STEPHEN SMITH: Good Morning Fran.
FRAN KELLY: What is at stake here at this meeting for Fiji?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well what’s at stake here is whether the interim Fiji government has got an enduring commitment to re-introduce democracy and human rights to Fiji, so there’s a lot at stake here. At a previous meeting the interim Fiji government gave a commitment to have an election, to hold a full and free election, by the end of the first quarter of 2009 and we want to hold them to that.
We’re very concerned that they’re not making sufficient preparations, we’re very concerned that they may not actually want to discharge the undertaking they previously gave and it’s a matter of working together with New Zealand and with the other Pacific forum countries to keep the weights on them and make sure that that’s what they do.
FRAN KELLY: Well you would have to say the signs aren’t good so far, the authorities in Fiji have recently barred international judicial scrutiny, there are claims of them intimidating judges and of course last month they deported Australian publisher Russell Hunter because they didn’t like the stories he was publishing in the Fiji Times, these are all bad signs in terms of re-introducing democracy so when you say ‘putting the weights on’ Fiji what can you do?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well the first thing you shouldn’t do, as I said yesterday at a press conference with Winston Peters after a bilateral with New Zealand, you shouldn’t reward bad behaviour and Australia is not proposing to do that. But at the same time you do have to say that we do want to have a positive constructive dialogue. There are of course many people in Fiji who want to move to democracy and certainly I think there are a few clear signs emerging: one is, that people want to act together - they want the Pacific Island nation states to be at one; secondly they do want Fiji to meet the undertaking that it has previously given to hold an election; and thirdly they also want to be constructive to ensure that in the run up to and after such an election that there’s a long term basis for democracy and human rights in Fiji.
Now, no one is suggesting Fran, that that’s easy and you’ve drawn attention to a number of things which have been very disappointing and it’s a matter for the Pacific Island nation states as I put it, to put the weights on and make sure that we do bring Fiji to democracy on the timetable that they have previously committed.
FRAN KELLY: But what if that doesn’t occur, what can happen to Fiji, what is the threat?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well Fiji either continues to effectively be a pariah in our region or it moves to democracy and human rights and that’s the choice for Fiji, and as I say there are elements of carrot and stick here, stick with the various sanctions that we impose whether it’s Australia or New Zealand but also carrots where we are saying to Fiji that you are an important nation state in the Pacific, it’s not sustainable for you not to be a modern prosperous democracy, you have that potential as a nation, let’s help you get there. Which is why we’ve said to Fiji in the past, and New Zealand has also said to Fiji, that when it comes to conducting an election, Australia, New Zealand, the other forum nations stand ready and willing and able to render whatever technical or other assistance we can. But we have got to see that commitment there. We’re waiting, for example, for Fiji to announce it’s election supervisor, we are still waiting for the Fiji Boundaries Commission to be effective so that the process of electoral boundaries is triggered. There are a whole range of things where we see no movement from the interim Fiji government and I think the forum today will want to see commitments and a timetable from Fiji in respect of these matters.
FRAN KELLY: Minister, last year Amnesty International criticised the then Howard government for not taking a strong stand on human rights on China and Amnesty claimed then that Canberra was tough with its dealings with small states like the Solomon’s but was reticent in raising concerns with its bigger neighbours and in Opposition Labor agreed with that criticism. Will the same be applicable now to the Australian government if we are happy to take a carrot and stick approach with a country like Fiji but we don’t start taking a tougher action or taking a tougher stance on China on human rights?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well Australia has not been backward in coming forward in making its views about Tibet known to China both privately and publicly. Right from the very early stages Australia was out there publicly, both the Prime Minister and myself, saying that we thought and believe strongly that China had to act with restraint in Tibet, that the way forward for China was openness and transparency and having a constructive dialogue with Tibet and that remains our very strong view. And we’ve put that view to the Chinese authorities privately both in Canberra and in Beijing and we’ve stated it on a number of occasions and it will no doubt be the subject of conversations when the Prime Minister himself goes to China in the coming weeks.
FRAN KELLY: Is the Prime Minister going to raise human rights directly more directly with China now or will our government leave the human rights dialogue to separate consultations with officials, that’s the system that was established under the previous government?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well already if I can make this point, when the Chinese Foreign Minister Mr Yang came to Canberra in February, as part of those discussions I raised human rights with him including human rights in Tibet, including the Dalai Lama and in addition to that we have the ongoing officials’ human rights dialogue with China..
FRAN KELLY: We will maintain that?
STEPHEN SMITH: ..the Prime Minister has already made it clear that as a natural consequence of what he and I said publicly that of course these issues will be raised when he is in China.
FRAN KELLY: In terms of the tensions with Tibet they seem to be intensifying if anything. I know you’re on the record as saying you don’t support a boycott of the Olympic Games even if the tensions with Tibet continue. But what about the opening ceremony should our Prime Minister attend the opening of the Games if the crack down in Tibet continues?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well that will be a matter for him to make a judgement about, my understanding is that he has been invited but I’m not actually sure of that, but that will be a decision for him to make close to the event but I am a strong supporter of the Olympics I don’t believe that a boycott of the Olympics is a sensible or the right thing to do.
FRAN KELLY: No, but what about of the opening ceremony because the French president Nicholas Sarkozy is currently considering his options in terms of attending the opening ceremony?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well the Foreign Minister has also said that he supports the boycott, I don’t agree with that position or view. I think we should use the Olympics as part of China’s engagement with international communities. In the past, boycotts of the Olympics in my view have not been successful, whether Australia is engaged in that, as it did with the Moscow Olympics or when other nation states have engaged in it. But the Olympics is a chance to put the spotlight on China but also to enhance China’s engagement with the international community.
FRAN KELLY: Just finally Minister, this weekend Zimbabwe goes to the polls amidst economic meltdown claims of vote rigging. Are we witnessing the last gasp of Robert Mugabe do you think?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well frankly I hope so but I’m not holding my breath. I think the sooner we see the end of the Mugabe regime the better, he’s made it crystal clear that he’s not necessarily going to abide by a democratic vote of the Zimbabwe people but I have very, very grave reservations and am very, very and deeply cynical about the capacity for a full and free election in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe remains of very, very serious concern to Australia, to other Commonwealth nations and to the international community generally and the sooner we see the back of the terrible Mugabe regime the better.
FRAN KELLY: Foreign Minister, Thank you very much for joining us.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you very much Fran.
FRAN KELLY: Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith joining us there from Auckland, ahead of today’s Pacific Islands forum of Foreign Ministers. A meeting on Fiji, the future of Fiji talking about a carrot and a stick approach there, we’ll see what comes from that.
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