Newsreader: Fiji’s Prime Minister has announced an end to emergency regulations, and the beginning of a process to establish a new constitution. The country has been under emergency rule since April of 2009, but that will come to an end this Saturday. Commodore Frank Bainimarama made the announcement during his new year’s address, but he insisted that public order would be maintained.
Under martial law, meetings and protests have been banned in Fiji, and media outlets have been censored.
The Australian Government has welcomed Fiji’s decision, but says the military regime must do a lot more to try and restore democracy.
Well joining us now for more on this story is Richard Marles, the Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs.
Thank you for your time this afternoon Mr Marles.
What’s the government’s reaction to the news?
Richard Marles: Well Chris, this is a step in the right direction. And we welcome it. The public emergency regulations have been an abuse of human rights, and we've been calling for their lifting since April of 2009 when they were first introduced.
So that they are going to be lifted this weekend is obviously a step in the right direction, but there is a long way to go before we see Fiji return to democracy. And what we really need to see on the part of the interim regime is a serious engagement with everyone across the political spectrum so that we do have a genuine move towards elections.
Newsreader: Well given the strained relationship between our two countries, the sanctions that have been in place in the past, how do you think the government should engage with Fiji at this point?
Richard Marles: Well we have stood ready to work with Fiji, and we remain standing ready to work with Fiji on their return to democracy.
If there is a sign on their part that they are willing to return to democracy then we are very ready to be participating with them in that. And hopefully what we've seen in the announcement is that sign.
But I think we've got a little way to play out before we can be confident about that.
We do welcome the fact that there is a statement of wanting to begin a consultative process from February around the establishment of a new constitution, but for that process to have any credibility at all, it really does need to involve everyone, across the entire political spectrum, within Fiji.
But as I say, we stand ready to work with Fiji. We have the largest bilateral aid program with Fiji today. We have a very active high commission in Fiji.
We actually engage at a lower level with the Fijian, the interim Fiji Government every day. So we very much stand ready to be of assistance to Fiji, and let’s hope that this is the first step along the path to democracy.
Newsreader: And you said that Frank Bainimarama needs to engage with all areas of politics in Fiji. Well given the way his regime has dealt with opposition in the past, do you think that’s realistic?
Richard Marles: Well I think that’s why we say that there is a fair way to go before we see a return to democracy in Fiji, and I think that’s why we do need to look at this, welcome it, but welcome it in a cautionary way, and see how this plays out in the coming weeks and months to see how genuine this is.
But there’s no doubt that the lifting of the public emergency regulations are a significant step. And that’s why we're welcoming it. But we do think that there is a fair way to go.
And we'll be watching very carefully to see how genuine this move is.
Newsreader: Mr Marles, thank you for your time.
Richard Marles: It’s a pleasure. Thank you.
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