19 June 2009
Interview: Radio New Zealand Morning Report with Geoff Robinson
Topics: Australia-NZ bilateral relationship, Fiji, Pacific Islands Forum
GEOFF ROBINSON: The foreign ministers of New Zealand and Australia are urging the United Nations to stop using peacekeepers from Fiji's military regime. Murray McCully and his Australian counterpart, Stephen Smith, made the statement yesterday after their regular six-monthly talks in Wellington. They touched on other issues like Afghanistan, Iran, and whaling in the South Pacific. Stephen Smith says the UN should stop using Fijian troops altogether.
STEPHEN SMITH: We've received undertakings from the United Nations that they won't expand any use of Fijian military, but our view is the appropriate course of action for the United Nations is not to use Fiji military at all, pending Fiji's return to democracy.
GEOFF ROBINSON: We all want Fiji to return to democracy, do you see any signs of them doing that.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I'm not frankly optimistic, but we do have to keep, to keep at it, not just Australia, not just New Zealand, but all of the countries in the region, and that's why the Pacific Island Forum itself through the various leaders, the meeting - the last one in Port Moresby in January - has acted in a unanimous way, and we think that's important. Somehow we've got to find a process of getting Fiji back into a dialogue of getting the interim administration into a dialogue which puts them on a path to democracy. Both my colleague, Murray McCully, and I were members of the Pacific Island Forum Foreign Ministers' Contact Group, we went to Fiji on a couple of occasions, but one of the problems we find with Fiji is often it's one step forward and then a
mile back, and with the abrogation of the constitution and the clampdown on media they've certainly taken a large stride backwards in recent times. So we're going to have to be patient and it will be difficult, but we can't not keep our shoulder to the wheel, we've got to continue to try and find ways to - to bring them back into a dialogue and get them back to democracy.
GEOFF ROBINSON: It's a balance though, isn't it, between some sort of sanctions which would presumably not only hurt the interim administration, but also the people of Fiji, to, to get them there, and, and yet at the same time not hurting them too much.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well we - Australia for example has sanctions against members of the administration, so we have for example travel sanctions against regime members, but we don't have and we don't consider and we're not proposing for example trade sanctions, which would have an adverse
impact on the people of Fiji themselves. What we have always been concerned about since military intervention, and what we're very concerned about now given the global economic crisis, and the global economic downturn, is the deteriorating state of the Fiji economy. It started to deteriorate upon military intervention, it has been and will be exacerbated by the global downturn, and so we're very worried about that deteriorating situation. So we don't want to do
anything to adversely impact on that, or adversely impact on the Fijian people themselves. On - on the contrary when for example in the aftermath of very serious floods a few months ago they were in trouble, Australia responded generously, as did New Zealand.
GEOFF ROBINSON: In this time of, of, as you say, trade recession and trouble around the world, is the relationship between Australia and New Zealand under any strain? There's a tendency perhaps to look to ourselves rather than to take further the bigger picture at times, in times of trouble.
STEPHEN SMITH: The relationship is not under any strain or pressure whatsoever. On the contrary, from Australia's perspective our relationship with New Zealand is our closest and our most comprehensive, with our Closer Economic Relations, with our Closer Defence Relations, with the high level of contacts between Prime Minister Key and Prime Minister Rudd, myself and Murray McCully, our trade ministers. I frankly don't think the relationship's been in a better state, we're working very very well, very very closely, and that's a very good thing for both of us. On the closer economic front, we're working very hard on single market issues and that can only be good for both our economies, greater economic activity, producing jobs, making economic activity easier, and in times of difficult economic circumstances that's a very
good thing to do. And of course it's buttressed by the fact that with our closer economic relations, we've effectively had a free trade agreement between Australia and New Zealand for over 25 years, and that's held us in very good store in terms of promoting economic growth between us.
GEOFF ROBINSON: That's Australia's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Stephen Smith.
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