Looking Beyond the Headlines
Looking beyond the headlines and blogs about Fiji
January 30, 2013
David Farrar recently wrote a post on his Kiwiblog and linked to a story by Michael Field about the alleged burning of the new constitution by Fiji Police, then he linked to another story, again by Michael Field about a troublesome priest being asked to leave Fiji.
Michael Field is banned from traveling to Fiji. It is likely that he sourced both of his stories from the anti-government blog Coup 4.5, who are almost all exclusively Auckland based.
What is particularly galling is that the major media and gullible bloggers simply repeat what Michael Field and the anonymous bloggers at Coup 4.5 have to say. They invariably do not read more widely and find out the exact details of what precisely happened and when in Fiji.
With regards to the alleged burning of the new constitution you can’t really go past getting the true story from Graham Davis and some additional facts about the Ghai document. Compare and contrast the reporting from Michael Field and wonder how he manages to keep his job.
Now to the meddlesome priest article. Again this appears to have been a manufactured story by Michael Field, one that Farrar unfortunately gave more oxygen.
Regular readers will know that I recently visited Fiji, and also that I maintain good connections in business in Fiji. The story concerned me and so I made a few calls. What I found out about the situation is in stark contrast with what was reported by Michael Field.
My government contacts refused to comment on the record and their off the record comments were that this was a storm in a tea cup unhelpfully stirred up by journalists with agendas. There won’t be an official statement from the government.
As I stated previously this story appears to originated from the anonymous bloggers at Coup 4.5. If you read Graham Davis’ story about the Ghai documents then you get some understanding of the dishonesty of those who write for Coup 4.5.
Notwithstanding that my sources in Fiji say that although it is probably true that Father Barr was spoken to harshly by the Prime Minister, this was not the reason for cancelling his permit. Father Barr is an Australian in Fiji on a religious permit which allows him to work for the church and in certain other activities. It does not however allow him to engage in politics, something he appears to have forgotten recently with political statements concerning the minimum wage and certain decrees such as the Essential Industries Decree.
The final straw appears to have been met when Father Barr appeared in a photo supposedly supporting the formation of a trade union political party. These actions clearly breached the terms of his permit and the government is felt it was entitled to cancel his permit. He is not a permanent resident of Fiji and nor is he a citizen of Fiji.
After 32 years in country he still maintained his Australian citizenship and passport. Accordingly he is a foreign resident who was engaging in and participating in local political process. We wouldn’t tolerate this in New Zealand and we certainly do not appreciate churches, with their tax free status meddling in politics in the first place.
Accordingly Father Barr was informed his permit was being cancelled, due to repeated breaches of terms and conditions, and he should leave the country of his own accord. This is hardly deportation, which in New Zealand at least involves the Police and immigration officials, handcuffs and an escort tot he plane.
The Fijian government has now reversed its decision and Father Barr is free to remain in Fiji for the duration of his permit on the understanding he will abide strictly by the terms and not engage in political activity. He isn’t a citizen after all and further he is a clergyman. Most countries around the world eschew the involvement in politics of the church. Father Barr apparently agreed to abide by the conditions of his work permit and will now stay.
Which brings me to the hypocrisy of our major media outlets. The removal of non-citizens from countries for political reasons is not unheard of in New Zealand or Australia. Interestingly, the case of Maciu Navakasuasua and others like him are rarely reported in the media in NZ. Maciu Navakasuasua was convicted and sentenced to a term of imprisonment for his role in the 2000 civilian coup. After release from prison he went to Australia where since 2004 he has lived and worked with his family. He had a change of heart concerning his role in the 2000 coup and even apologised to Mahendra Chaudhry. He was living contentedly in Australia until he recently came out in support of the Bainimarama-led government. He has now been informed that his application for residency has been declined and he will need to leave Australia. A situation not too dissimilar to that faced by Father Barr.
There are other examples where people that have spoken out in support of the Fijian government have received arbitrary responses such as cancellation of their work permits. I am not saying this should not happen. After all, it is a privilege not a right for a non citizen to live in another’s country. But these things work both ways. Should Maciu Navakasuasua be suddenly denied a residence permit for publicly expressing his political views? In fact, anyone in Fiji who publicly expresses support for the Fijian government is liable to go on a travel ban to Australia. This is Australian government policy, the consequence of expressing your opinion because it does not accord with the official Australian government line.
Interestingly, all the judges and Magistrates in Fiji are banned from Australia. No judge or magistrate in any other country in the world, even from Syria, Iran, Libya, Zimbabwe or Burma, is on a ban to Australia. In fact the Australian sanctions go so far as to apply to Fijians in Fiji who even speak out in favour of the Bainimarama government. The Autonomous Sanctions Regulations 2011 apply to, amongst others, “a person who the Minister is satisfied is a supporter of the coup which Commodore Bainimarama is associated, based on any combination of the person’s position, actions and statements”.
Anyone who supports freedom of speech should be appalled at this Australian government policy. But we say nothing in New Zealand about it, instead our government insists on maintaining ‘smart sanctions’ against Fiji while ignoring the excesses of our other neighbours.
So essentially Fiji cancelled the work permit of an Australian for breaching the terms of his permit to reside in Fiji and it is major news but the Australian policy of banning people for expressing a contrary opinion from the Australian government is never mentioned.
I do not know what the NZ position is in terms of banning or expelling Fijians who disagree with the government line but I suspect it would be similar. We certainly do not allow anyone remotely connected with the government of Fiji to even transit, much less come here for medical treatment or schooling.
Finally, why is Fiji, particularly at the hands of Michael Field, continually subjected to the minuteness of scrutiny when other countries are not held to the same standard? For example, I do not recall anything in the NZ media concerning the illegal activities of the Australian government in relation to another Fijian, Julian Moti, the former AG of the Solomons, who was kidnapped by the Australian Federal Police and deported to Australia to face spurious charges in order to remove any obstacle to the RAMSI mission. The evidence against him was finally thrown out by an Australian court and he was released from prison. This however represented a significant abuse of authority by the Australian government. Any article on this by Michael Field? Thought not.
Instead of New Zealand always acting and talking from the bully pulpit it would useful to provide some meaningful assistance to the government in order to assist them in a return to democracy. Unfortunately the policy in New Zealand and Australia toward Fiji has not changed despite changes in our respective governments. It is abundantly clear that the present policy position hasn’t moved the Fijian government one iota on setting their own path toward democracy.
It is high time that New Zealand at least engaged in meaningful dialogue with Fiji.