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Fiji policy a 'frustrating failure'
Sydney Morning Herald - December 19, 2010
Philip Dorling – Australia's hardline policies are driving Fiji's economy towards collapse while failing in their objective of bringing an end to the country's military rule, according to leaked US diplomatic reports.
The reports reveal that Australian policy makers and diplomats have been "deeply frustrated" with the lack of success for Australia's efforts to isolate the regime controlled by Commodore Frank Bainimarama, but see no viable policy alternatives.
They also reveal that former parliamentary secretary for Pacific Island affairs Duncan Kerr last year broke ranks with the then Rudd government and privately sought to encourage the US towards diplomatic re-engagement with Suva, despite the abrogation of Fiji's constitution and Commodore Bainimarama's decision to defer elections until 2014.
Leaked US embassy cables released by WikiLeaks and given exclusively to The Sun-Herald report that, at a meeting at his Parliament House office on August 12 last year, Mr Kerr told a senior US diplomat that Australia was "close to exhausting its diplomatic options on Fiji to little apparent effect".
The embassy reported that he "appeared sympathetic towards re-engaging with Fijian military strongman Bainimarama."
Mr Kerr was described as "pessimistic" about Fiji, highlighting the severe deterioration in Fiji's political, economic, and social conditions, and the potential costs for Australia in the event of economic collapse.
"[Mr Kerr] said 'We've made a cabinet-level decision that we don't want to see Fiji move to a social and economic collapse,' " the embassy reported to the State Department in Washington.
"Calling it the worst possible outcome, he said that Australia would be responsible for picking up a failed state, at a cost much higher than the [Australian government's] intervention in the Solomon Islands, while seeing Australia's progress in strengthening weak Pacific Island nations undermined by Fiji's collapse."
Mr Kerr said Fiji verged on "economic disaster" and that Australia would support intervention by international financial institutions, including budget support. However, he wondered whether Commodore Bainimarama was "emboldened by the belief that the international community may ultimately concede to financially rescuing the regime."
Mr Kerr expressed concern that after Fiji had been expelled from the Pacific Islands Forum and the Commonwealth, Australia would have "exhausted" its diplomatic arsenal. However, he said, the "diplomatic momentum and effort invested in punishing Fiji is difficult to stop, and a decision to change course must ultimately come from Prime Minister Rudd".
The US embassy reported that Mr Kerr, who has considerable experience of South Pacific politics, believed, "Bainimarama cannot give up power as he would end up at the mercy of his enemies, and suggested that the international community should find a safe way for him to step down."
Mr Kerr said Commodore Bainimarama was "the only military man who believes in a return to civilian rule, as less senior officers are getting the taste of being in power".
He worried "things could be worse if Bainimarama stops believing in his own rhetoric or if another military officer ousts and supplants him. He said Bainimarama will either be shot or we'll have to do business with him".