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Government challenged on Fiji stance -

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ELEANOR HALL: An Australian academic is warning Canberra to tone down its rhetoric on Fiji and ease
the sanctions that it imposed in response to the 2006 coup.

Instead, in a paper for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, professor Richard Herr says the
Australian Government should re-engage with the Fiji military.

Professor Herr told Linda Mottram that the existing policy has not worked to bring back democracy
and that the Australian-Fiji standoff is threatening regional unity.

RICHARD HERR: We see it with the issues of the headquarters. We see it over issues in terms of
PACER (Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations) and PACER plus and the fact that Fiji really
is unwilling to be excluded from issues which are central to its own economy and therefore has
already begun to create difficulties of its own or at least play to the rules really more than
anything else with regard to the forum secretariat.

That's created other tensions that we've seen. Within the region there are those who are speaking
about the forum secretariat itself as an agent of Australia - New Zealand policy which is clearly
not in the two largest members of the forum's interests.

LINDA MOTTRAM: Would you argue that Frank Bainimarama has the best interest of Fiji at heart?

RICHARD HERR: I don't think it's up for me to say. I can't say that I know him intimately or his
mind intimately. All I can say is that his assumption is that he is doing what he thinks Fiji
should want and in that sense his overt program has been in the direction most have wanted for Fiji
- that it's a non-racial democratic Fiji free of corruption.

LINDA MOTTRAM: None of that changes the fact though that in the Australian view this is a military
leader who has abrogated the Constitution after overthrowing democracy and that is unacceptable.
The Pacific is a democratic space and therefore the line in the sand is there must be a return to
democracy.

Why should that not be the continuing position of Australia?

RICHARD HERR: Well I think there's no problem with that at all. Even (laughs) as I say that's the
Fijian Prime Minister's position as well. It's just that he believes that the process will now take
until 2014 to do.

In some ways he is, seems to be convinced in his own mind and in his public declarations that he
has actually met the requirements of both the forum and the Commonwealth secretariat in laying down
a roadmap for the return to democracy.

LINDA MOTTRAM: If Australia was to re-engage with Fiji it would be a major climb down.

RICHARD HERR: I'm not quite sure Linda that I could agree with that. What I haven't suggested is a
complete elimination of sanctions. Indeed even the Fiji Government hasn't asked for that.

What I've suggested is that the sanctions that would be inappropriate within Australia, for example
the victimisation of family members for the presumed sins of their fathers or husbands or whatever,
should be removed because they're simply inappropriate. We wouldn't accept them in Australia for
you or your family to be victimised if your parents had done something wrong.

To apply a contrary principle abroad, that seems a curious way of restoring faith in the rule of
law.

But this is not a one-way street. I mean it's still the case that Fiji itself has to want to
restore relations.

LINDA MOTTRAM: One of your other proposals regarding re-engagement is at the military level. Now
that is going to be very contentious with the Australian Government. I mean obviously using
military bans is a typical diplomatic tool against pariah regimes. Why shouldn't that be the case
in the case of Fiji?

RICHARD HERR: Well I mean it hasn't been the case with all military regimes around the world first
of all, so Fiji sees some inconsistency I guess in approach.

But in this case the simple fact is that if we honestly believe that this is a military regime
controlled entirely by the military, not talking to those that hold power seems to be somehow
counterproductive, especially if we want them to listen to us.

ELEANOR HALL: That's professor Richard Herr, the author of a paper for the Australian Strategic
Policy Institute on Australian-Fiji relations. He was speaking to Linda Mottram.