Ged Kearney address to ALP National Conference in Sydney, Sunday, 4 December 2011

Recently the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) has called for regional sanctions against Fiji to be lifted and for the Australian government to re-engage with the Fiji regime.

The Lowy Institute claimed that Australia’s ‘tough-love’ policy towards Fiji should end. The Institute called for increased diplomatic contact by Australia in order to rebuild relations and a softening of travel restrictions

The Australia-Fiji Business Council has repeatedly called for both governments ‘to set aside difference and engage in serious bilateral dialogue aimed at restoring a normal bilateral relationship’.

But delegates, now is not the time to weaken our position on Fiji

The ASPI report quite rightly notes that awareness is limited in Australia about the deteriorating political situation in Fiji.

For many Australians, Fiji is an island paradise, a beautiful holiday destination.

What many Australians do not know is that Fiji has been ruled by a military dictator since 2006. Nor are many aware that when the court in Fiji found the coup to be illegal, Commodore Frank Bainimarama (the leader of the coup) sacked the judges, abrogated the constitution, and appointed himself Prime Minister.  

We know from our experience with South Africa during apartheid, and more recently the campaigns in response to dictatorial regimes in Zimbabwe and Burma, that Australians do not think that it is acceptable for people to live in communities where human rights violations occur on a daily basis and there is a lack of democracy.

We know that it is not acceptable to censor all media.

It is not acceptable to curtail the movement of people, including making it offense for three or more people to meet without a permit.

It is not acceptable for the military and police to detain people without charge for up to ten days.

It is not acceptable that people are intimidated, harassed, threatened with violence and assaulted for not sharing the view of the regime or for simply being trade unionists.

We know that it is not acceptable to tolerate a military-led regime that threatens rape to intimidate political activists.

That is now what is happening in Fiji.

The ASPI report characterises Australia’s relationship with the Pacific Islands region as one built on friendship and maintained by mutual respect. I would argue that there can be no respect for a military dictator that removes a democratically elected government, abrogates the constitution, shows no respect for human rights, and takes every step to hold on to power at any cost.

We are calling for respect for human rights in Fiji.

We are calling for Australian business operating in Fiji not to profit from taking advantage of anti union, anti worker decrees.

This resolution reflects a primary concern for the people of Fiji, and their fundamental human rights.

I commend the resolution to you.