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Wednesday, 6 December 2006
Page: 79

Dr SOUTHCOTT (2:52 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Would the minister inform the House of developments in Fiji over the last 24 hours? How is the government proposing to respond to these most recent changes?

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —First, I thank the honourable member for Boothby for his question and for his interest. The government strongly condemns the unlawful overthrow of a democratically elected government in Fiji. Yesterday was not just a tragic day for Fiji; it was also a tragic day for the Pacific. Commodore Bainimarama claims to have assumed executive power and he claims that he has dismissed the democratically elected Prime Minister and government.

The fact is that the actions of Commodore Bainimarama are illegal and he should ultimately be held accountable for acting illegally in the way that he has done and those responsible for the coup should ultimately be punished for their actions. After all, let us not forget that Commodore Bainimarama claimed that those responsible for the coup in 2000 should be held accountable for their actions in conducting an illegal coup and breaking the law of Fiji. Commodore Bainimarama and his colleagues, likewise, should be held accountable and ultimately should be punished.

One of the first symptoms of a dictatorship is to muzzle free speech, which is precisely what Commodore Bainimarama has done. The Fiji Times newspaper was effectively shut down yesterday when its editors quite rightly, quite appropriately and quite bravely refused to accept any intimidation by the military, who demanded that they should be able to censor that newspaper. We condemn in the strongest of terms the way that newspaper and the media generally are being treated in Fiji. We will certainly do what we can to encourage the restoration of freedom of speech, freedom of association and other fundamental freedoms in Fiji.

This morning I called in the Fiji High Commissioner, who I know is deeply disturbed and distressed about what has happened to his beautiful country. I informed him that Australia was now introducing a series of sanctions against Fiji. We will impose travel bans to Australia on Fijian military personnel and their direct families. We will also ban from Australia members of any unconstitutional, illegal government that Commodore Bainimarama chooses to appoint. We have suspended now our defence cooperation program with Fiji and I believe that the Commonwealth will consider and probably accept a proposal to suspend Fiji from the Commonwealth at a meeting of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group at the end of this week. The coup has been deplored by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan; he said that he strongly deplored the coup.

Let me just say in conclusion that the Prime Minister and I have spoken personally on a number of occasions in the last few days to Prime Minister Qarase. This is a man of very great courage. He has not bowed to the intimidation of the military. He has held his ground. He has shown a strong commitment to decency, to democracy and to the freedoms that the ordinary people of Fiji expect to be their own. We will stand by Prime Minister Qarase, his government and the Fijian parliament at this very difficult time.

I have spoken to a number of other people during the course of the morning and—I am sure that all members of parliament would agree with this—I think the ordinary people of Fiji and the institutions of government in Fiji should show passive resistance to this imposition of a dictatorship on their country. I do not think public servants should cooperate with the commodore and the military. I do not think the police should cooperate with the commodore and the military. I think they should show passive resistance to this regime. Commodore Bainimarama should understand that there is an urgent need to restore the ownership of government in his country to the people of that country through their democratically elected parliament and institutions.