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Policy overboard: Australia's increasingly costly Fiji drift

2 May 2011   |   Policy Briefs   |   By Jenny Hayward-Jones

Australia’s tough-love policy towards Fiji has failed to convince the government of Voreqe Bainimarama to restore democracy. The Fiji government has instead developed new partnerships which undermine Australia’s influence. Australia’s reputation for regional leadership and as a creative middle power on the world stage is at risk of being diminished by the Fiji government’s resistance to pressure. In this Policy Brief, Jenny Hayward-Jones, Director of The Myer Foundation Melanesia Program at the Lowy Institute, argues that Australia should redefine its relationship with Fiji to focus more sharply on Australia’s long-term interests.

‘If Australia wants to be a credible power in its own region and create middle power on the world stage, it should start by making a difference in Fiji.’

Fijian dancers
Flickr/littlenomads
Fijian dancers
Key Findings
Australia’s approach to Fiji has failed in its objective to apply enough pressure on the regime to force Bainimarama to hold elections
Canberra needs to focus on protecting Australia’s long-term interests and supporting democracy
Australia should build a new coalition with traditional and non-traditional partners that helps Fiji develop a package of assistance for reform, and implement confidence-building measures

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    SUMMARY

    Australia’s tough-love policy towards Fiji has failed to persuade the government of Voreqe Bainimarama to restore democracy to Fiji and may even be helping to entrench his regime. The Fiji government, resistant to external pressure, has instead developed new allegiances and partnerships which undermine Australia’s influence. Australia’s reputation as a major power in the South Pacific and as a creative middle power more broadly may be diminished by the Fiji government’s continued intransigence. Over time the Fiji people’s once-strong connections with Australia may dwindle and Australia’s relevance to Fiji gradually diminish unless the Australian government takes decisive action now.

    Canberra needs to redefine its relationship with Fiji to focus more sharply on protecting Australia’s long-term equitiy there and on supporting democracy rather than on increasingly hollow demands for early elections. The Australian government should build and lead a new coalition with traditional and non-traditional partners that works with Fiji to develop a package of assistance for electoral and constitutional reform. To support this effort, Australia should also offer a range of confidence-building measures to prepare the ground for Australia to assist Fiji’s transition to democracy. The Foreign Minister should foster support for this new approach in the region and with other key international partners. In doing so one objective should be to put the onus for action back on the Fiji government, where it properly belongs.