Speech to Parliament: Fiji Elections an Important Success

I am pleased to add a contribution to this important motion congratulating the Fijian people on the elections that were held on 17 September this year. A number of us were fortunate to be part of an observer mission to view those elections and to play a role in this vital step that Fiji has taken on the path back to democracy. The successful and well-run elections on 17 September were an important first step on that path back to democracy.

The relationship between Australia and Fiji—and, indeed, other nations within the Pacific—is a very important one, and many of the Pacific nations have been willing Fiji back to democracy through a democratic election process. Fiji is of course the headquarters of the Pacific Islands Forum and a key economy in the Pacific. Historically, it is a nation that Australia has had very proud and long-lasting ties with. So it was pleasing to see that Australia played one of the leading roles as part of the Multinational Observer Group. That group was made up of representatives of 15 nations who did their best to cover most of Fiji and observe the process of the elections and ensure that they ran smoothly.

I want to congratulate and thank all of the nations that made a contribution to the process of the multilateral observer group. In particular, I think Australia can be very proud of the role that our bureaucrats played behind the scenes in working with the people of Fiji and providing advice to Fijian officials on how to conduct successful elections. That process was led by Andrew Goledzinowski from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, who did an excellent job in the lead-up to the elections and in working with the Fijian government and officials on the process and the multilateral observer group. We also pay tribute to Glen Miles, the Acting Australian High Commissioner in Fiji, who has done a very good job under difficult circumstances over recent years. Glen has been acting in that role because the Fijian government has not granted agrimont to our proposed High Commissioner, Margaret Twomey, and hopefully that issue will now be resolved given that Fiji has held successful elections.

I was fortunate to visit Labassa, a rural city on the northern island of Venua Levu. It is sugar cane territory in the grips of a severe drought. On election day, my colleagues and I observed the people of PNG come out in force. They were very excited and proud to have a say in their future once again. Despite the very complicated electoral process, we observed that the process ran quite smoothly. I must say that the result was broadly representative of the will of the Fijian people. But, as we all know, there is more to democracy than simply holding elections. In the wake of the 2006 coup, there was a military crackdown on dissent within Fiji. The media was heavily censored. I recall reading newspapers in Fiji where whole pages just had the word 'Censored' across the otherwise blank pages, because of the operation of the media decree. Freedom of speech was restricted and political campaigning was very much restricted.

Thankfully I observed on my second visit to Fiji in the last 12 months that things had improved. That is good, but there is still a way to go. The next period for Fiji is crucial. The parliament must be convened and the government must grant priority to establishing orders of the parliament that are transparent, accountable and provide faith for the Fijian people in the process of decision-making and law-making. That includes such things as freedom of information laws, abolishing the very restrictive media decree and removing restrictions on candidature for people to run in elections. Despite all of that, I think Fiji is on the right path. I am very proud to have played a role in the Fijian elections, and certainly the Labor Party looks forward to working with the people of Fiji in restoring democracy once and for all.

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