Pacific Scoop

Brash supports Fiji Charter and engagement with Bainimarama

Media release – Thakur Ranjit Singh

ACT Party leader Don Brash promised that if his party got back into the next parliament in sufficient numbers, they would be encouraging whomsoever the Foreign Minister was to re-engage with Fiji, in the interest of both Fiji and New Zealand.
Brash supports Fiji’s Charter and engagement with Bainimarama

Thakur Ranjit Singh

ACT Party leader Don Brash promised that if his party got back into the next parliament in sufficient numbers, they would be encouraging whomsoever the Foreign Minister was to re-engage with Fiji, in the interest of both Fiji and New Zealand.

Brash, Boscawen and Banks At Fijian function on Friday Night

He was addressing a jam-packed Chandni Chowk Event Centre in Papatoetoe, Auckland at a dinner organised by Friends of Fiji and Fiji Peoples Group advocating change in New Zealand’s official attitude and policy towards Fiji. Addressing some 250 diners, mostly made up of Indo Fijians, Brash was critical of New Zealand’s policy towards Fiji, which he saw as being not only harmful to Fiji’s interest, but to that of New Zealand as well.

Brash also saw the hypocrisy and inconsistency of New Zealand’s foreign policy and observed that “New Zealand does not ban visits to New Zealand by the leaders of all the countries which fail to live up to New Zealand’s standards of democracy.” He noted that over the years, New Zealand had more or less normal relationships with countries having a very wide range of government systems – from western-style democracies, to so called “guided democracies”, to countries which oscillated between democratic government and military rule, to countries which were more or less benign dictatorships, to countries which were brutal dictatorships.

The ACT Party leader also observed that it now appeared to be getting clear that that most of Fiji’s immediate neighbours wanted to engage constructively with Fiji, although there was absence of any resolution to that effect at the meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum summit in Auckland earlier in September. He noted that earlier in the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) meeting in Fiji, the representatives of 11 of Fiji’s Pacific neighbours – including Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Tonga – issued a communiqué which reaffirmed “Fiji’s Strategic Framework for Change as a credible home-grown process for positioning Fiji as a modern nation state and to hold parliamentary elections”, and noted the importance of Fiji’s “full participation in regional development initiatives and programmes”.

The somewhat controversial Sydney-based Lowy Institute for International Policy survey on Fiji did not escape Brash’s radar. “Although it’s always difficult

to measure public opinion accurately when people are afraid to speak freely, a survey of Fijian opinion conducted last month found that 75% of Indo-Fijians and 60% of indigenous Fijians felt that Bainimarama was doing a good or very good job as Prime Minister, “he told the diners. He noted that despite its criticism and academic shortcomings of the survey, and even discounting for the influence of the military regime on people’s willingness to answer such surveys honestly, it seemed likely that the Bainimarama regime enjoyed quite considerable popular support within Fiji. Majority of Fiji citizens held favourable view of the government’s performance in delivering education, transport and health services, in ending racial inequalities and divisions, and in improving land ownership laws.

From the facts and rationale submitted by the National Council for Building a Better Fiji, it was obvious that Fiji was suffering from a coup culture and political instability. He attributed these vices to Fiji’s constitutional arrangements which had been designed to entrench the power of indigenous Fijians and, within that community, the power of the traditional chiefs.

He cited Frank Bainimarama wanting a “colour blind” Fijian constitution that granted equality to all its citizens. Quoting the “People’s Charter for Change, Peace and Progress” which was published at the end of 2008 after an extensive round of consultations throughout Fiji, he said that” its overarching objective was to rebuild Fiji into a non-racial, culturally vibrant and united, well-governed, truly democratic nation; a nation that seeks progress and prosperity through merit-based equality of opportunity and peace.”

Don Brash recorded good attributes of Fiji’s Charter for Change which wished Fiji to urgently remove all unjustifiable systems, policies and programmes which were based on racial discrimination or narrow communal considerations. He cited that the Charter noted that “Fiji’s electoral system is racially discriminatory and undemocratic… The current communal system of representation entrenches inequalities by not providing one value for one vote, has contributed to the ‘coup culture’, and the consequent ethnic-based politics that has impeded our national development. We commit ourselves to a free and fair electoral process that promotes one people, one nation, and one identity.”

Brash equated this vision for equality in Fiji’s Charter to his party’s manifesto.. “A constitution where every citizen is equal under the law is exactly what the ACT Party stands for in New Zealand – one law for all, irrespective of race, irrespective of when people arrived in New Zealand – so not surprisingly I find that commitment one which I strongly endorse, “ he said.

Brash said he had read the “People’s Charter” and found hardly a word in it which he would change. He wondered whether John Samy, one of the author’s of the Charter and who was one of the organisers behind the Friends of Fiji dinner event, had read the ACT Party’s manifesto, which like the Charter, also advocated equality for all.
Also present in the dinner were some stalwarts of the Act Party. These comprised of current Parliamentary Leader Hon John Boscawen and Epsom candidate and former Auckland mayor, John Banks together with Indo Fijian list candidate Pratima Nand. Former Fiji resident and diplomat, Surendra Sharma was the master of ceremonies and earlier he gave reason why this concerned group decided to call Don Brash.

“So far, we have all been witnessing our government`s policy of non-engagement and so-called `smart sanctions`, treating Fiji as a rogue nation and a pariah, condemning the fate of over 800,” Sharma told his audience. He added that it was time for action and engagement, and it was time for people of Fiji origin who have closer understanding and appreciation of Fiji’s fundamental issues. He urged them to highlight these to their fellow Kiwis and political leaders to ensure a more productive and pro-active influence in the region and on Fiji. It was with that aim that they had decided to call on Dr Don Brash to speak his ACT Party’s foreign policy on Fiji.

This was echoed by audience one of who said that he was confused why New Zealand and Australia were not supporting Fiji which was trying to bring equality to its entire people. A political commentator and academic, Subhash Appana summed it well –“past models of democracy in Fiji had been imposed on the people by the outsiders. Now Fiji wishes for a home-grown solution and New Zealand should support Fiji in this process.”

[E-mail: Thakur Ranjit Singh is a political and media commentator]

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