June 17th 2000

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: Australia’s Pacific role

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Why “sorry” avoids the real Aboriginal issues

ECONOMICS: Foreign debt hits $255 billion

COVER STORY: Wrong way on drugs: new book

Straws in the Wind

ECONOMICS: From bad to worse: the future of world trade

PRIVATISATION: Telstra under fire

Australia and the world


REGIONAL AFFAIRS: West Papua: Jakarta takes the strain

MEDIA: “Australia Week”, junkets and the GST

MEDICINE: Trust me, I’m a bureaucrat!

ASIA: New era for Taiwan

Books promotion page


by Various

News Weekly, June 17, 2000
Fiji coup


There is a lot of nonsense being trumpeted by our media and our politicians in relation to the situation in Fiji.

As a regular traveller to Fiji every year for the past 12 years, I have a deep affection for that country and, although that doesn’t make me an expert, I have managed to gain a certain understanding of how the people feel.

In summary, the Indians (44%) and the ethnic Fijians (51%) live entirely separate lives. While the Indians run most of the businesses, the ethnic Fijians own 80% of the land which is leased to the Indian traders and farmers. Under that arrangement they have tolerated each other for generations but there is almost no assimilation.

Since the onset of the drama in Fiji, the media have been falling over themselves to report the story in full technicolour, even down to details of what everybody is wearing. In all this coverage, however, there has been one aspect which our Defenders of the Truth have carefully chosen to ignore — and it is probably the crux of the whole problem.

It has been stated by many commentators that as Mahendra Chaudhry’s team gained government, then there must have been many ethnic Fijians who voted for it. Well, did they?

Whilst I would be the last person to condone any gangster-type tactics, I think that before we jump in and criticise, we need to consider all of the facts. Two weeks ago George Speight, in an interview with the Nine Network’s Hugh Riminton, said that in Fiji there used to be a first-past-the-post voting system but that now they have a preferential system. He said that Fiji is not ready for that sort of democracy.

It should be remembered, of course, that the Fijians are a lot less sophisticated than we pretend that we are. They are a peace-loving, happy and religious race, with a strong nationalistic streak and an obsession with football. The multi-racial Constitution, implemented in 1997, was largely not understood; certainly the majority of ethnic Fijians had no inkling as to the significance of a preferential system of voting which the Constitution introduced.

The outcome was that, at the last election, Sitiveni Rabuka’s party won almost double the number of primary votes, but Mr Chaudhry — the first Indian leader of the opposition Labour Party — had all the support from the Fijian Indians and thus, because of the preferences, the ethnic Fijian vote was diluted to the extent that an Indian-led government attained office.

George Speight says that, in view of the fact that the land-use leases expire this year, the ethnic Fijians have become increasingly nervous and do not trust an Indian Prime Minister to handle this, their most important resource, responsibly. Bearing in mind that it is reported (Australian Financial Review) that Mr Chaudhry has been paying compensation to those Indian sugar cane farmers who leave the land but has refused to give any assistance to Fijian landowners who are then obliged to run the plantations themselves, this has only fanned the flames of resentment.

It is reported that the former Rabuka government was corrupt — well, show me a government anywhere in the South Pacific that isn’t to some extent.

As expected, Australia’s Foreign Minister is now threatening to limit aid to that country. Perhaps it should be pointed out to him that if we do that it will be the ordinary Fijian villager who will suffer. They are entirely innocent of any wrongdoing and, thus far at least, there has been no deliberate bloodshed and the whole situation has been handled with a certain amount of dignity.

Bereft of aid, the country will collapse and we shall be deluged by applications for refuge by the Indians, while those left behind have no means of support.

Meanwhile, of course, we still give millions of dollars to those who murder, rape, pillage and burn in Indonesia, amongst other places.

The indisputable fact — for anyone who knows anything about the Fijian people — is that they do not want, and never have wanted, an Indian-led Government; they will not accept the Chaudhry Government, regardless of what foreigners might think about it; and they will be more than ready to fight to the death for their land and their rights, if necessary.

If we cut off aid to Fiji, we shall be largely responsible for causing a tragedy in what has been probably the most stable and potentially prosperous country in the South-West Pacific.

June Beckett,
Bay Village, NSW

Indonesia editorial wrong


Regarding News Weekly’s editorial of June 3, “Foreign policy: new direction needed”, it is morally wrong for our country to have a foreign policy which accepts colonisation of West Papua; a program of genocide; and the stealing of resouces in West Papua (which was absorbed by Indonesia in the 1960s), all in the name of building and maintaining the closest of relationships with Indonesia.

People must understand history. Indonesia today is the Dutch colonial empire — now run from Java by the Javanese in the main — which has never been decolonised. There are captive nations which have every right to be independent and free from occupation and all that this brings.

The policies pursued by our country from 1975 to 1998 contributed towards the deaths of 300,000 East Timorese. We must not make the same mistakes by accepting these policies again.

John Howard’s finest hour was the organisation of “Interfet” and the action in East Timor. He did what was right.

He is also right when he says that Australia’s relationship with Indonesia will never be the same again. We should all reject a return to the days of the previous foreign policy towards Indonesia which your editorial apears to advocate.

Lee Nightingale,
Oxley, Qld

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