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Monday, 29 May 2000
Page: 16401

Mr TIM FISCHER (2:03 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Would the Minister for Foreign Affairs inform the House of the Australian government's position on recent developments in Fiji just alluded to by the Prime Minister? What is the Australian government's reaction to these developments, every bit as ugly as events in Eritrea and elsewhere?

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the honourable member for Farrer, who, as all members of the House would know, has a great interest in Fiji and a concern for the situation there. I am sure also that all members of the House share the Prime Minister's deep concern for this tragic crisis that has occurred in Fiji and are outraged at the activities of Mr Speight and his colleagues. As of today the immediate concern for all interested parties is the release of all the hostages, including the elected Prime Minister and his ministers.

The government has been in very close consultation with the New Zealand government. I have in the course of this morning spoken with the New Zealand foreign minister and both our cabinet and the New Zealand cabinet have been giving consideration to this issue today. Both of our countries believe that we should maintain all necessary measures to prevent Speight from entering either Australia or New Zealand and I will also move against other individuals involved in the hostage taking. I have instructed our missions abroad to seek the cooperation of other like-minded governments to take measures against what can only be described as terrorists.

Along with New Zealand, we have reviewed a range of other measures which we will put in place unless constitutional government is returned to in Fiji. The measures that the New Zealand government is announcing today are somewhat similar to ours, but there are slightly different circumstances for New Zealand and so there are some variations. I would like to pay tribute to the New Zealand government for the cooperation there has been. I think it makes a great difference if our two countries operate in a cooperative way, and we have certainly been able to do that.

The measures that we will take unless constitutional government is returned to in Fiji are: a suspension of the Australia-Fiji Trade and Economic Relations Agreement; the downgrading of our aid relationship, in particular the suspension of projects involving the Fiji public sector and the awarding of new scholarships; the suspension of forthcoming naval visits and joint military exercises; and a thorough review of sporting contacts, including in particular a possible ban on the Fiji national rugby union team from visiting Australia. I am expecting to attend the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group meeting in London on 6 June, that is next Tuesday, and, unless there are some positive developments in Fiji between now and then, I will be moving at that meeting for the suspension of Fiji from the Commonwealth.

The government has also decided that in the circumstances it would be entirely inappropriate for the Olympic torch, which after all is a symbol of peace, to pass through Fiji. The New South Wales Minister for the Olympics, Michael Knight, and I have also agreed that, in the light of the deteriorating security situation in Fiji, it would also be inappropriate for the torch relay to visit Fiji, and that is of course a particular formulation that SOCOG would wish to emphasise.

We have decided, in the event of these sanctions being imposed, not to reverse the decision to extend the import credit scheme which the government made following the recent visit to Australia by Fiji's Prime Minister. To apply trade sanctions of that kind and more generally would have a wholly disproportionate impact on the Fiji-Indian section of the community. The government obviously has to weigh that in the balance. Finally, my department has just issued a further travel advice which urges all Australians to consider deferring travel to Fiji. Australian citizens currently in Suva are strongly advised to either leave Fiji or temporarily relocate within Fiji. I have instructed the department to reopen the crisis centre to monitor ongoing developments.