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Fiji, MFAT and our piffling Parliament

  • May 17th, 2012

 NBR Editor Nevil Gibson ventures some heresy on Fiji, properly noting "My comments about Fiji should not be taken as gospel, given I was there for only a few days"

I'll do the same.

I was In Fiji with the family to celebrate Cathy's birthday at a dive camp. We had tents and huts without air con and only solar lights, but wonderfully relaxing. All four kids and their husbands and partners are scuba divers.

 It was my first time in Fiji for nearly 20 years. Last time I went up to see Dr Timoci Bavadra,  at Viseisei Village shortly after rebels deposed him as PM.

 This time I wasted no time on politics – it was purely to enjoy Cathy's happiness in the uninterrupted company of our adult children, with no cooking or other obligations.

Quite apart from the glorious reef diving I’d forgotten just how hospitable Fijians are – the astonishing missionary achievement that turned the Cannibal Isles into a deeply civilised place (in the real sense of the word civil) despite its poverty.

 It reminded me also of the dismaying absence of discussion in New Zealand of the foreign policy debacle that is just now coming to an end. The Hon Murray McCully was up there the week after us, signalling failure to oust Bainimarama.  From now on our boycott will be a matter of petty pride.

We’ve not brought them to heel, and we’ve forced the Fijians into flogging their fishing and other resources to an eager China, while squandering our reputation for punching above our weight diplomatically. EU and US policy has always respected what they saw as our ability, with Australia, to keep our corner calm and secure. They’ve watched, appalled as the mask slipped in our home patch as we moralised and harangued to no effect and watched ineffectually as the door opened to China.

Finally it is ending. But did you hear any debate on this in Parliament?  Instead Parliament was in paroxysms over the lumpy progress toward saving $24m in the MFAT budget. The opposition was demanding enquiries.

What about an inquiry to discover whether our disastrous Fiji performance speaks of feeble analysis or naive idealism within MFAT that will cost us far more than $24m if it is a capability matter. Hopefully it is all attributable to political over-rides on sound advice, but I fear otherwise.

The UK has tried to learn lessons from the mistakes that took them into the Iraq war. Our Parliament perhaps does not even know our Fiji policy has diminished our strategic position in the Pacific. Yet when trouble strikes, a strategic failure can be the equivalent of billions in wasted spending – certainly more than $24m.

This time in Fiji  I volunteered no political questions. And I draw no firm conclusions from casual holiday conversation. But I  I met no one who wanted the undemocratic chiefly rule back or the demagogic Indian Labour Party. Unprompted, different people told me of their respect for Bainimarama, including an Indian tourist operator, two taxi drivers, two long term expat business people from Europe, several indigenous Fijians, and some Tuvalan Fijians whose told us their parents in 1947 bought an island in Fiji in anticipation of the submersion of Tuvalu.

They like Bainimarama's even-handedness among the races, his hostility to corruption, and the relative efficiency of the military governors in their districts. They respect the obstacles he's faced.

 Of course they'd prefer freedom and functioning democracy, but they can not see a way to it. So in the meantime they are grateful that their dictator is benign.

While NZ was chewing on failure, Bainimarama was in India, meeting their President. Compared with that shouldn't we be asking why it appears we've had no clear objectives, no intelligent self-interest, no practical power to determine outcomes on Fiji, and now no success.

Isn't time for a bi-partisan review of the quality of our foreign policy capacity, both political and official. John Hayes has paid a political price within  National for daring to question the pompous orthdoxy Murray McCully took over from Winston Peters.

We're convinced we punch above our weight in world affairs. Some of us think it is because we can preach to others from a postiion of moral virtue. The Hon Phil Goff should do us that last service of making it politically possible to do a clear-eyed review of what went wrong on Fiji. We'll never get an opposition leader better placed to help the ruling party educate New Zealanders to the realities of our region and our feebleness without the respect of our former allies.

Labour is in a mood for confronting some past errors. It would be cleansing for them to put distance between then and now on foreign affairs.
They should get in before Gerald Hensley's upcoming expose of Lange's deception of the New Zealand public as well as our allies, shows them up for a continuing pattern.


  • peterquixote
  • May 17th, 2012
  • 7:57 pm

 Why it is always Stephen who kicks , where are you others, where are  the defenders,  sorry I forgot,  this is  a wimp sick society time, tell us about socialism again. do you remember Helen Clarke, suck here weakling NZ  , Chris Trotter write here and thendie

  • AngryTory
  • May 18th, 2012
  • 8:29 am

The problem with Fiji wash't our diplomatic approach, but our military capacity. Without the ability to remove Bainimarama's regime, NZ could do nothing.
<i> I met no one who wanted the undemocratic chiefly rule back or the demagogic Indian Labour Party. </i>
Interesting that in comparative economic terms, Fiji has done better than NZ under Clark and certainly better than NZ under Key — they're not borrowing billions every week to pay for welfare!

  • Paranormal
  • May 18th, 2012
  • 9:07 am

You are so right Stepehn – we do need a review of exactly what happened in our response to the coup.  from the early days it seemed our response was inept and completly at odds with whatwas happening on the ground in Fiji.  I have a sneaking suspicion clear headed MFAT advice may have been overridden by the parties in power at the time…

  • Roger Strong
  • May 22nd, 2012
  • 9:58 pm

 I recall Helen Clark saying that New Zealand was a moral 'super power' and I think she really believed it.  Paul Reeves also had a lot to answer for with regard to Fiji..


[…] within days comes another surprise from a Kiwi exposed to the reality in Fiji – this offering from Stephen Franks, the former ACT Party MP and principal of specialist Wellington law firm Franks and Ogilvie. […]

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