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Australia maintains hardline over Fiji -

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Australia maintains hardline over Fiji

Lyndal Curtis reported this story on Wednesday, November 4, 2009 12:10:00

ELEANOR HALL: We begin today with the diplomatic row between Australia and Fiji.

The Australian Government said today that it is considering its response to the decision by Fiji's
self-appointed government to expel the high commissioners of Australia and New Zealand.

But the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says he won't back away from his Government's tough approach to
Fiji because he doesn't want to see what he calls the culture of military coups spread in the
Pacific.

In Canberra chief political correspondent Lyndal Curtis reports.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Fiji isn't backing away from its claim that Australia has been meddling in its
affairs by warning Sri Lankan judges they would be banned from coming to Australia if they accepted
a job with the Fijian judiciary.

Fiji's acting Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khayum has told Radio New Zealand the sanctions imposed
by Australia and New Zealand are hampering the rule of law in his country.

AIYAZ SAYED-KHAYUM: Now the question that needs to be asked is why is Australia and New Zealand
doing this? Because on one hand they're talking about well, you know, we support rule of law, we
must encourage you know the institutions that pertain to the rule of law to function properly, yet
they're trying to stop that from happening. Is it some form of a concerted effort to try and
essentially undermine all the institutions in Fiji?

LYNDAL CURTIS: And he says the governments have miscalculated in their approach.

AIYAZ SAYED-KHAYUM: But unfortunately for the Australian and New Zealand governments they took a
very extreme and a public position which they are now finding themselves hard to extricate from
without losing face. I think that is essentially the bottom line. They should be able to say look
these judges aren't actually political appointment. That there is - the judiciary is independent,
why should travel bans apply to them?

LYNDAL CURTIS: But Mr Rudd says Australia isn't about to give any ground.

KEVIN RUDD: We have travel sanctions applying to the coup leader himself, his supporters, his
families, to interim government ministers and their families, ranking members of the Fijian
military and interim government appointees including judicial appointees because we are not about
to legitimise what is a regime which has obtained power through military force and we do not want
that culture to spread anywhere else in the South Pacific.

LYNDAL CURTIS: New Zealand's Foreign Minister Murray McCully has told Newsradio the decision by
Fiji's military leader Commodore Frank Bainimarama is serious.

MURRAY MCCULLY: Well it wouldn't be the first time that we've seen a moderate and temperate
criticisms of both New Zealand and Australia from the Commodore and the basis for that criticism
remains what it's been in the past and that's zero.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Both countries are considering what action to take. Mr McCully says New Zealand is
looking at retaliating.

MURRAY MCCULLY: Last time this occurred we quite quickly made a directly commensurate retaliatory
step by declaring persona non grata the head of the Fijian Mission in New Zealand. We'll obviously
look at a similar step in the hours ahead and I'll make an announcement probably today as to what
we'll do.

I've been keeping closely in touch with the Australian Government during these proceedings and
we'll obviously discuss this with Australia again today as well.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Australia too is looking at the available options.

KEVIN RUDD: We'll consider an appropriate response to these actions taken by Bainimarama in the
last 24 hours.

LYNDAL CURTIS: What then are your options? What things could you consider?

KEVIN RUDD: Well we will discuss that appropriately, calmly methodically today as the Australian
Government does in response to one challenge or another. This is another one. Obviously there is a
menu of possibilities but I should emphasise the nature of the sanctions regime we already have
imposed, which has of course caused the Fijian regime to react with some anger towards Australian
action.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Mr Rudd believes that the sanctions already imposed, the process of isolating the
regime diplomatically, has been effective.

Although Murray McCully says many people have tried to find a way forward with the Fijian regime,
re-establishing democracy there is no closer.

MURRAY MCCULLY: I know the international community I think has been very clear about its
expectations, about the need for democracy to be restored, the rule of law to be established and
human rights respected. We're no closer to that objective today than we were I think when the coup
occurred and the people of Fiji accordingly are suffering significantly as a consequence. Sadly
there's a point where there's not much you can do about that.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Australia's High Commissioner to Fiji, James Batley, was already back in Australia
when the decision to expel him was announced. Commodore Bainimarama has also announced he would
recall Fiji's Acting High Commissioner to Australia.

The Acting High Commissioner was seen leaving the Fijian Mission this morning to go to the
Department of Foreign Affairs.

The announcement of Australia's response to Fiji's actions is expected later today.

ELEANOR HALL: Lyndal Curtis reporting.