Pacific Scoop

Rollback of the ‘Rudd block’ on Fiji policy set to begin

Voreqe Bainimarama

Fiji's regime leader Voreqe Bainimarama ... contemplating an about face in Australia's "hard line" policy. Photo: Graham Davis

Pacific Scoop:
Commentary – By Graham Davis

Australia is set make a dramatic about face in its policy towards Fiji –  re-engaging with Voreqe Bainimarama’s regime and assisting it with its plans to return the country to democracy in 2014.

After the Grubsheet/Sky News interview with Bainimarama at the weekend – which revealed the extent of Australia’s isolation from its ANZUS partners, Australia and New Zealand, in relation to Fiji – the mood for change in Canberra has hardened on both sides of politics.

The Australian reports today that the Opposition wants the incoming Labor foreign minister, Bob Carr, to set aside his predecessor, Kevin Rudd’s, hardline stance on Fiji.

That policy became known as the “Rudd block” in relations between the two countries. Five years after Bainimarama’s coup, it had demonstrably failed in its aim to force the regime back to the polls but Rudd was too proud and too obstinate to recognise that failure. Only his departure from the foreign affairs portfolio has been able to pave the way for change. And now that he’s gone, events are moving quickly.

News Limited newspapers are also reporting today that Bob Carr plans an immediate shift in policy and will discuss the about-face at his forthcoming talks in NZ with its foreign minister, Murray McCully, who had already broken ranks with Rudd and begun to engage with his opposite number in Fiji, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola.

It is a fair bet that Fiji will do everything it can to make Carr’s job easier. Bainimarama’s strident comments in the Sky/Grubsheet interview have achieved their purpose and the tone of that rhetoric will now be lowered to oil the wheels of diplomacy.

All through Saturday, the Fijian leader’s interview had played continuously on a Multiview channel on the one network that every Australian politician turns to for news.

Broadcast ignored
While much of the rest of the media – and especially the ABC – chose to ignore the Sky broadcast, today’s story in The Australian confirms its importance in changing attitudes. Whatever the politicians think about Bainimarama, many hadn’t grasped the interview’s central tenet that Australia was now the last man standing in refusing to have anything to do with him.

The fact that the United States and New Zealand had broken ranks had made Australia’s position untenable.

None of this is news to those whose job it is to ply the corridors of government in the Pacific gauging opinion. For months, American diplomats and the US military hierarchy have been privately expressing concern that the “Rudd block” on Fiji had become counterproductive and was weakening the position of the ANZUS allies where it really counted –  in containing China.

Abandoning Fiji had driven Frank Bainimarama into the arms of the Chinese. And his comments in the Grubsheet/Sky interview about his personal friendships with the Chinese hierarchy again underlined the folly of Fiji’s traditional friends turning their backs on him.

Of all his passions, Bob Carr’s love of the United States is one of the greatest. So it is to be expected that such a pro-American Australian foreign minister would share Washington’s view that Canberra’s policy on Fiji has long since passed its use-by date.

His arrival at DFAT is the clean slate needed to finally change direction. And he is set to begin that change in dramatic fashion.

Graham Davis is an independent Fiji-born Australian journalist. He publishes the blog Grubsheet and a transcript is of his interview with Fiji regime leader Voreqe Bainimarama broadcast by Sky News Australia and FBCTV in Fiji last weekend is here.

Carr softens Australia’s stance on Fiji


  1. Paul, 8. March 2012, 21:21

    Actually what’s worse is that the likes of Davis (and some in the media in NZ) claim the right to be regarded as ‘expert’ on Fiji simply because it was there place of birth, or because they spent a few years there – usually they’ve long gone. Usually ‘white, comfortably-off “WASPS” with a paternalistic view of the natives despite their claims to the contrary.
    Their expectation too is that we should all somehow indulge a man with a dysfunctional personality and appease a despotic regime – a man that is ready to try and dictate to Australia and NZ what their foreign policy should be (Silly as it might be), but doesn’t like it when his own shortcomings are pointed out to him.
    No thanks!

  2. tim, 12. March 2012, 20:42

    Btw, there was a first part to this comment that places it in context, but you seem to have ‘lost’ it. Never mind. It’s unfortunate though that some of the ‘alternative’ journalism that is usually prepared to look at things in more depth than the MSM with all its shortcomings, are prepared to look at Fiji through rose tinted glasses. Take a pill if necessary – but have a look more objectively and a little more deeply when you encounter ‘sages’ such as Gray-gray Davis….forget any mateships or past history…and shit like “he paid his dues” and ask yourself what actually might be motivating him. Ditto that NZ ‘expert’ that professes expertise on Fiji – Walsh I think…lest you fall prey to the
    talking head, star of the day ‘experts’ the msm are apt to indulge in..
    EVEN the likes of Russle Brown on Media 7 are beginning to fall for that habit.
    Let’s get my mate babosa – or whoever the knob is to give us some ‘in-depth/expert’ comment of something of significance.
    It’s becoming all very ‘clubby’ and its NOT a good practice.
    There’s at least ONE journalist that doesn’t seem to subscribe to the ‘he’s in with the in-crowd’ ahit – the reason I’m looking at this site in the first place – and that’s Gordon Campbell. There’s probably another that works for (shock/horror) Fairfax (Michael Field – check his predictions and commentary – factually and as far as predictions go – he’s been more on the mark than anyone). Bit of an inconvenient truth I know