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Tony Jones speaks with NZ Foreign Minister -

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Tony Jones speaks with NZ Foreign Minister

Broadcast: 05/12/2006

Reporter: Tony Jones

Tony Jones speaks with New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters, regarding the Fijian coup and
Australia and New Zealand's future.

Transcript

TONY JONES: Meanwhile the New Zealand Government has been in regular contact with the deposed
Fijian Prime Minister Qarase. Like Australia, they've announced a series of sanctions against the
coup leaders and plan more in the future. I spoke to the Foreign Minister Winston Peters in
Wellington.

Winston Peters, thanks for joining us.

WINSTON PETERS, NEW ZEALAND FOREIGN MINISTER: Thank you.

TONY JONES: Now were you at all surprised when Prime Minister Howard today revealed that his Fijian
counterpart, Mr Qarase, had actually asked for Australian military intervention to stop the coup?

WINSTON PETERS: Rather surprised, yes. We had had an unspecified request, which could have been
interpreted as maybe military aircraft to move people, but it wasn't anything specific of the
nature that sort of sounded like what Prime Minister Howard was saying.

TONY JONES: So it came as a surprise to you to hear that request had been made at all because
clearly, what Mr Howard is talking about is military intervention. He's ruled it out.

WINSTON PETERS: Well, so have we, because we just could not conceive of this being the best way, or
any way helpful, in this present crisis in Fiji.

TONY JONES: Mr Qarase as you know remains under house arrest, he's been surrounded, he's been
intimidated by armed men. Do you think his situation becomes more tenuous now that it's clear that
he's actually asked for military intervention from a foreign Government?

WINSTON PETERS: Well, the situation has been tenuous for some time. He has been under enormous
pressure and duress from the military, who clearly have been acting in an unconstitutional way. The
fact is that there's no role for politically the military in a democracy and that's the
disappointing, depressing thing that we have seen over many, many months and what has emerged in
the last few days is clearly a plan to contrive a Government, interim Government, without any
mandate at all; and there doesn't look to be any understanding of the complexity of Government from
the Commander, in his last announcement.

TONY JONES: Now your Prime Minister Helen Clark has been in what sounds like fairly regular contact
with Mr Qarase as he remains under house arrest effectively now. What is he saying to New Zealand,
what sort of help is he asking for and is there anything at all that you can do?

WINSTON PETERS: Well yes, we can do something and we're going to do it, in the sense that we wrote
a long letter to Commodore Bainimarama, we set out what the sad consequences would be, point by
point if he went down this path and we said there was no need for this to be inevitable.
Unfortunately he has gone down that path and so we have begun a series of sanctions, changes to our
treatment with respect to the Fiji military and their family and our defence ties and we will
unfold the rest in the next few days and weeks as the situation becomes clearer.

TONY JONES: The rest will be escalating the sanctions. Is that what you're talking about?

WINSTON PETERS: Well most certainly. There's got to be a consequence of the military taking over
for the fourth time in 19 years. The facts are that, you know, the Fijian people and New Zealand
people have had a long and abiding affection, and this is not against them, it's against the kind
of power play and abuse of the constitution that we are seeing most clearly today. But it's been
going on for some time. And it won't endure, it won't last, because sooner or later the Fijian
people will see what has to be done and they will set the matter right.

TONY JONES: Could I take it from your earlier comment that you agree with Mr Howard that any form
of military intervention is simply out of the question in the case of Fiji?

WINSTON PETERS: Well it's out of the question because it is likely to escalate this into a serious
loss of life and injury and it just does not - would not help the situation. We have to take a
longer term approach to bring the military to understand that this is not the behaviour where they
can have contempt for their own constitution, their neighbourhood and the wider allies around the
world.

TONY JONES: Commodore Bainimarama has been warning against foreign military intervention. Do you
think Prime Minister Howard was pretty much forced to make this kind of statement, so as to not
appear to give him any excuse for what he's doing?

WINSTON PETERS: Well that could be obviously the case, except that the Commodore has been abusing
the two very good friends of Fiji - Australia and New Zealand - claiming that we are involved in
plans of outside intervention, when we have not, would not, and the proximity of the Australian
navy was in the event that they would be required to be ready to be of use. I mean, not so long ago
Australia was involved in assisting the exit of Australians and New Zealanders out of Lebanon. This
is no different and it's sad to see someone misuse two very good friends' intentions, to stir up
some sort of latent nationalism and justification for his unjustified, unconstitutional actions.

TONY JONES: Can I ask you this? If Mr Qarase remains the legitimate head of Government in Fiji and
he makes a request for foreign military intervention, is that a legal request?

WINSTON PETERS: Well, he has got the right to make that request if it's within the constitutional
powers of his office, but how we would treat it and how Australia has treated it is a different
matter. Clearly Australia shares our view that this would only exacerbate a very serious situation.

TONY JONES: In does appear that the two main regional powers are pretty much impotent in the face
of what is a serious threat to regional stability, a military coup in one of the main regional
islands.

WINSTON PETERS: It might appear that way tonight because we're not rushing in, quite rightly, we're
not rushing in, in the way that some people might suggest or request. But it will be time enough
for us and others to demonstrate to the Fiji military that this is not going to be business as
usual as it was in, say for example 2000. Here you've got someone who was the hero of 2000 because
he brought a quite improper, outrageous coup to an end and set up the base for a democratic
government to exist. But now he's repeating the same behaviour of the person he claims to have -
whose actions he claims to have rectified back in 2000.

TONY JONES: Here's the point, there have been two large-scale military interventions in East Timor
and the Solomons, on the requests of governments who are facing not quite the same but similar
threats. Why is Fiji so different? Is that a strategic assessment, that their military is too
strong and would likely resist?

WINSTON PETERS: Well, I think that would be one of the conditions which you would have to take
seriously into mind. There are others as well but that would be a very serious consideration.

TONY JONES: Is that the main consideration?

WINSTON PETERS: I would imagine so but I think - it's a main consideration in terms of the external
consider considerations but the central one to New Zealand is would this action, if taken, have any
chance of working to the advantage of the constitutional restoration of the government and the
safety of the people of Fiji. Now clearly it would not in our view and that's why it will not be an
issue for us.

TONY JONES: How much does the role of Fiji's President effectively backing the coup plotters change
the situation on the ground?

WINSTON PETERS: Well the President has put out a statement saying that he neither supports nor
condones the actions of the military. He has clearly come out on the side in the press statement,
anyway, of the Prime Minister.

TONY JONES: You recently sat down with Commodore Bainimarama, trying to negotiate a kind of
last-minute solution to this. Did you get the impression that he simply doesn't care about breaking
the laws and breaking the constitution?

WINSTON PETERS: Well you've got to be positive in this set of circumstances and New Zealand has -
and we still remain positive that there may be, even at this terrible stage in the behaviour of the
Commodore, an opportunity to change his mind and that of his officers. But I got the view really,
that the Commodore thought in some way that the future of Fiji was reposed in his personality and
his view of what is right and wrong. Now that is actually the view of a dictator and he must admit
that tonight if he carries on this present path.

TONY JONES: He was particularly angry that Andrew Hughes, the Australian who is occupying the
position of Chief of Police in Fiji, was planning sedition charges against him. Did he regard this,
or tell you he regarded this, as foreigners meddling in Fijian affairs?

WINSTON PETERS: Well, he didn't tell me that other than - I worked that out myself, that this was a
conclusion that he had reached because he didn't understand how critical the separation of powers
is in a democracy. And this is a man who has spent some time around the world and close to western
governments and western military operations in the world, where military operations he's associated
with, know fully where the limitation of power is where the military is concerned. He sadly doesn't
understand that.

TONY JONES: There is a growing theme, isn't there in the region, especially among Melanesian
nationalists, that Australia is becoming too pushy, too interventionist in their affairs? Do you
get the impression at all that this is playing a role in what we're seeing here in Fiji?

WINSTON PETERS: Well, let's put it this way, if by pushy they mean that somehow they can take the
efforts of aid and assistance from, for example, New Zealand and Australia and yet disregard the
requirements for accountability and transparency - if by that they mean pushy, then they may be
right, but then that's what we are required to do on behalf of the Australian and New Zealand
taxpayers. We've all got to account. And when some group of people don't understand that that
transparency is in the interests of their own people and the taxpayers of the countries who are
aiding - and part of the aid program, if they don't understand that, then they should be persuaded
to understand it, in the nicest, gentlest possible way, but democracy you know is not too difficult
to understand, particularly when you're dealing with somebody else's money.

TONY JONES: Winston Peters, finally I'm sure you would be aware that an Australian parliamentary
committee has recommended Australian - Australia and New Zealand should actually have closer ties,
a common currency and even move towards a full union in the future. Do you detect any enthusiasm at
all in New Zealand for a full union with Australia?

WINSTON PETERS: Well I detect the desire of New Zealanders for a very close association with
Australia, who have been and will remain our best friends. But I might just suggest this is a bit
of parliamentary adventurism. It gets a headline. But New Zealand is 1,200 miles away from
Australia and that's 1,200 reasons why I don't go along with that committee and nor will New
Zealanders.

TONY JONES: It certainly did get a headline because of very high-profile politicians, including
possible future leaders of this country like Malcolm Turnbull on that committee. They have actually
asked that a joint committee be set up between the two Parliaments of New Zealand and Australia to
look closer at these ideas. Do you think that would be possible?

WINSTON PETERS: Those sorts of suggestions have been going on for a long time. We have enormous
cooperation and association between our Ministers of Finance and your Treasurer, our Health
Minister, our Transport Minister, our Police Minister and our Defence Ministers and our Foreign
Ministers, but you know if you've been - as you have been - around politics for some time, you will
see how sometimes you can get a call from parliamentarians that has not generated - been generated
from the people themselves, neither in Australia nor New Zealand. But it did get a good headline
and perhaps that was where they sought to go.

TONY JONES: Winston Peters, we'll have to leave it there. We thank you very much for taking the
time to come in and talk to us tonight on Lateline.

WINSTON PETERS: Thank you.