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Thursday, 14 May 1987
Page: 3203

Mr HAWKE (Prime Minister) —by leave-The Government has been deeply distressed and disturbed to learn that a few minutes after 10 o'clock this morning Fiji time-8 a.m. Canberra time-a group of soldiers from the Royal Fiji Military Forces moved into the Parliament building in Suva. The soldiers informed parliamentarians there that the armed forces were taking over the Government and they escorted from the building a number of Ministers, including the Prime Minister, Dr Bavadra. There are reports that troops involved in the coup have taken control of some major Government offices and utilities.

The Government is monitoring the situation very closely and remains in communication with our High Commission in Suva. Obviously not all of the facts have yet emerged. In particular we do not yet know whether the armed forces takeover is supported by all of the armed forces. We understand that the coup is led by Lieutenant Colonel Rabuka, number three in the Royal Fiji Military Forces. The Commander of those Forces, Brigadier Epeli Nailatikau, is in Australia at the moment for the ceremony this weekend marking the handing over of the first of the Pacific patrol boats, a program in which Fiji is participating. Two Royal Australian naval vessels happen to be on a routine visit to Fiji at the moment but have been instructed to stay clear of the situation other than to facilitate communication between Australia and the High Commission in Suva.

The Australian Government, and I am sure the Australian Parliament and people, condemn this attack on a government in the South Pacific and the Commonwealth, elected through the proper constitutional and democratic process. Since its independence in 1970, Fiji has achieved a proud tradition of parliamentary democracy. This form of government has been a major factor in harmonising the interests of the different racial groups which make up the Fiji community. We were impressed at the way in which Fiji was managing the transition following last month's general elections in the normal way of parliamentary democracies. Australia has had close and friendly relations with Fiji, which is a highly valued member of the South Pacific community of nations. For many years, successive Australian governments maintained close relations with governments led by Ratu Mara. We had looked forward to having the same good relations with the Government of Dr Bavadra and constructive dialogue had begun.

Instability in the South Pacific is a direct concern to Australia, as I have several times made clear in recent weeks in condemning the intrusion into the region of Libyan destabilising activities which have played such havoc in other parts of the world. Today's events are particularly deplorable as the first military coup against an elected government in the South Pacific. I call on all elements of the Fiji community, including all the parties who contested the last elections, to work for a speedy return to parliamentary democracy in Fiji.

I am pleased to learn that, so far at least, there has not been any sign of breakdown of law and order in Fiji and no reports of imminent danger to Australian residents or visitors, among them a number of Opposition representatives from this Parliament, including the Deputy Leader, Mr N. A. Brown, who are attending a conference outside Suva. The Department of Foreign Affairs has convened its emergency task force and the Government will continue to keep the situation under close review, particularly from the point of view of caring for the safety and welfare of Australian citizens.