ABC, PM, Australia lifts sanctions against Fiji

  • Transcript, E&OE

MARK COLVIN The Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, has announced the lifting of all remaining Australian sanctions against Fiji. She's just started a two-day visit to the country.

Ms Bishop is the first foreign minister to call on Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama since democratic elections last month gave the 2006 coup leader a mandate to govern.

New Zealand correspondent Dominique Schwartz reports.

DOMINIQUE SCHWARTZ Ms Bishop says her speedy post-election visit underscores the importance that the Federal Government places on normalising relations with Fiji.

In a joint statement with Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, the two foreign ministers say they're committed to a new era of partnership and prosperity. They've announced the exchange of high commissioners. Ms Margaret Twomey will soon take up her post in Suva and Fiji will decide on its representative to Australia shortly.

Ms Bishop says Fijians will join Australia's seasonal worker program next year and Australian students will be able to study in Fiji under the Colombo Plan. Regular high-level bilateral talks will be held to bolster cooperation on trade, investment and regional issues.

And, Ms Bishop says, the lifting of sanctions on military sales and assistance will see a return to full defence ties.

MINISTER BISHOP That means that we will be sending a defence attaché to be attached to the High Commission here in Fiji. I'm expecting that there'll be a visit from senior defence personnel from Australia to Fiji with a view to taking up joint exercises and training exercises and I also expect that we will look at cooperating in peace keeping and humanitarian and disaster responses in the region.

Also, we are looking forward very much to resuming this full bilateral defence relationship and cooperation with Fiji.

DOMINIQUE SCHWARTZ How soon could we see joint exercises?

MINISTER BISHOP That will depend upon the discussions between the senior defence personnel and I'm hoping that we'll be able to send a delegation to Fiji shortly.

DOMINIQUE SCHWARTZ Ms Bishop's scotched any suggestion that Fiji would refuse to rejoin the Pacific Islands Forum if Australia and New Zealand remained in the group.

MINISTER BISHOP We talked not only about the Pacific Islands Forum, but other architecture in the region and we've agreed to continue to discuss how we can ensure that it best meets the needs of the region in the 21st Century.

DOMINIQUE SCHWARTZ Did the Foreign Minister say that he would like to see Australia and New Zealand either leave the forum or take a backseat before Fiji would consider rejoining?

MINISTER BISHOP No, he certainly didn't say that and indicated that that was not his view. He wants to work with Australia and New Zealand.

DOMINIQUE SCHWARTZ I only ask because the Foreign Minister has been quoted as voicing those concerns in the past.

MINISTER BISHOP Well he certainly didn't voice them today.

DOMINIQUE SCHWARTZ Earlier today, prime minister Bainimarama stressed the importance of bilateral trade with Australia, worth almost $2 billion a year, but said it's grossly slanted in Australia's favour.

In a speech to the Fiji-Australia Business Council he said Australia needs to improve market access for Fijian goods. Exporters, he said, need more assistance to meet Australia's stringent quarantine and technical requirements.

And he urged the Abbott Government to continue an agreement which allows unrestricted Fijian imports of certain textiles, clothing and footwear - a huge industry for Fiji. Ms Bishop has undertaken to follow that up.

As for any discussion about human rights abuses…

MINISTER BISHOP We had a whole range of discussions on various topics. It was a very wide-ranging, long discussion, both with the foreign minister and then later with prime minister Bainimarama. We talked about the election process, we talked about some of the concerns that had been raised and we worked through them. I won't go into the details.

DOMINIQUE SCHWARTZ Concern about ongoing harassment and intimidation of human rights advocates as well as alleged abuses by security forces have been aired this week by New Zealand, the United Kingdom and numerous other UN members who are taking part in a review of Fiji by the Human Rights Council. Are you concerned that, for example, alleged abuses by security forces that happened back in March 2013, there's still been no prosecutions on things like that?

MINISTER BISHOP Well, these are matters that we discuss at officials level and they are ongoing discussions.

DOMINIQUE SCHWARTZ Ms Bishop also spoke today with Fiji's opposition leader. Tomorrow she'll address the Fiji-Australia Business Council and meet with the trade minister.

This is Dominique Schwartz for PM.

- Ends -

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