Reports have emerged again about the possibility of another coup occuring in Fiji. I don’t know what the chance of this really happening is, but I am sure the underlying issues are more complex than is likely to be portrayed through most media reports. You can read an interesting perspective on the dynamics in Fiji on Webdiary by Dr Mark Hayes, who has worked and travelled in the region for many years.
This situation has reminded me again how little Australians know about other countries in our region – and I’d include myself in this category. Whilst there is some minimal recognition about the need to further engage with some South-East Asian countries such as Indonesia, there is still a long way to go.
However, whatever ignorance we have about our South-East Asian neighbours, it pales into insignificance compared with our lack of meaningful engagement or even interest in Pacific Island nations. Despite the regular comments that Indonesia and Papua New Guinea are our closest neighbours, if you look at where the vast majority of Australian live, which is clustered on the coastline from South-East Queensland downwards, it is even stranger that we have so little interest in our Pacific Island neighbours, (apart from possible holiday destinations).
My only travel to a Pacific Island country has been three trips to Nauru. This was mainly to visit the detention centres there, but it gave me some insight into the huge difficulties that country faces. Every nation in the Pacific is different and has different challenges and opportunities, but I believe Australia should be putting much more effort into engaging meaningfully with governments and communities in the Pacific.
For anyone interested in a general overview of some of these issues, have a look at the Senate Committee report from 2003 into Australia’s relationship with PNG and other Pacific Island countries.
UPDATED: Saturday. 14th Jan, 11.30pm
The piece I referred to above on webdiary has been updated following some of the latest Australian media reports. The author still basically dismissed the likelihood of a coup. Worth reading, particularly because of the local background knowledge. Amongst that update is a copy of a report from Radio New Zealand quoting a local Fijian political scientist, which I’ve copied below:
Fiji coup threat ‘psychological coercion’: academic
8:40am on 14 Jan 2006
A Fijian political scientist has dismissed threats by the country’s military commander to oust the government, calling it smart psychological coercion.
Commodore Frank Bainimarama threatened to overthrow the government after it pushed ahead with legislation which could give amnesty to people convicted of involvement in the 2000 coup.
Dr Steven Ratuva of the University of the South Pacific says the Commodore is only pushing debate into the public arena about the government and how it handles its transition from the last coup.
Dr Ratuva says the Fiji people do not want another coup but they do want political change and redress of injustice.
Government and military leaders say they do not believe another coup is about to take place and say the situation has been been misread by uninformed observers.
Commodore Bainimarama says New Zealand tourists looking at a Fiji holiday have nothing to fear because they will be safe in a stable country.
Fiji’s Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase is due to meet Commodore Bainimarama on Monday.