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Ladder Award: Prime Minister John Key & Envoy to Fiji Sir Paul Reeves

John Gallagher wishes to propose New Zealand Prime Minister John Key and Commonwealth Special Representative Sir Paul Reeves for a joint Ladder Award for supporting a resumption of dialogue with the Fiji coup administration.

John Gallagher writes in support of his nomination:

Key is coming in on a deep and protracted problem that Sir Paul Reeves has been working on over a long period. Fiji had had three coups in almost 20 years when Commodore Frank Bainimarama led a fourth in 2006. Since then, he and his regime have been at loggerheads with New Zealand, other Pacific Forum members and the Commonwealth, from which organizations Fiji has been suspended. New Zealand and Australia have imposed travel bans and economic sanctions on Fiji and Fiji has expelled their high commissioners (as “ambassadors” between Commonwealth members are known). New Zealand and Australia then responded in kind.

John Key
On Wednesday 24 December, John Key announced an attempt to break the deadlock.  He told the Auckland’s Indian community’s Radio Tarana that he wanted to renew engagement with Fiji and was writing to Bainimarama accordingly. See Michael Field’s report Fiji welcomes Key stance change.

This wish to restore dialogue is in keeping with the broad philosophy of diplomatic brokerage behind John’s speech at the Copenhagen climate change conference, as noted with my recent Ladder Award nominations in relation to that event. See Copenhagen Ladder Awards: Prince Charles, Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Key.

John there said there how New Zealand was “acutely aware” of the challenges climate change posed for vulnerable Pacific Island neighbours, and that such nations needed to be listened to. His latest move could also help to restore to full strength the “Pacific Way” of seeking dialogue and consensus – time will tell. This Way has taken a battering with the Fiji controversies. See The Pacific Way Wanes by Graeme Dobell.

Paul Reeves
I think it is appropriate here to recognize also the abiding efforts of Sir Paul Reeves (see Special Honours: Sir Paul Reeves) for which I think that he, too, very much merits a Ladder Award.
He is a former New Zealand governor general and Anglican bishop with a Maori background who has long worked hard at brokering communication and settlements between the parties to conflict in Fiji as well as between Fiji and New Zealand. He chaired the Fiji Constitution Review Commission from 1995 until 1997 and helped to write its 1997 constitution. He also visited Fiji last September as a Special Representative of the Commonwealth Secretary-General. On 3 December he gave his latest assessment of Fiji to an Auckland University Pacific policy conference on Pacific Democracy, What’s Happening?.

It was not going to be easy to resolve the Fiji situation or to satisfy all of the parties to its conflicts or the various commentators. Whatever was behind the original 1987 coup, what followed was an unravelling of deep-seated, structural conflicts and issues that have shaken the country ever since. In this first coup, the government was overthrown only a month after being elected. The structural issues affected related to economic and political rivalries between and within the indigenous Fijian and Indian populations brought there by the British colonisers as labourers, and attempts to blend traditional tribal and modern constitutional approaches to governance. As can often also be the case with small Pacific Islands, expectations and pressures from outside interests have frequently added to the list of difficulties Fijians have had to try to manage. Sometimes this outside interest could be productive, while at other times it may not be so helpful.

At the Auckland University conference (December 2009) Sir Paul called for a change of approach to Fiji. He said incentives were needed to move to democracy, and not punishment, as the sanctions against Fiji are not working. (See NZ should rethink stand against Fiji – Reeves in Fijivillage and Military ruler will simply thumb his nose at us in The Sydney Morning Herald).

Sir Paul pointedly put out the challenge that, as the interim Prime Minister, Commodore Frank Bainimarama has stated he wants democracy, he must then be asked what help he needs. See Sir Paul Reeves says sanctions against Fiji aren’t working.

Connecting academia and policy
Paul’s work and this particular statement to the university’s Pacific Policy conference will have helped to set the scene for John Key’s initiative.

There are a number of observers and analysts who have a range of views on how to understand and help to resolve the Fiji situation. For instance, some strongly anti-Bainimarama opinion is very critical of Sir Paul’s approach (For instance, Paul Reeves needs a reality check” in Raw Fiji News)

The combination of Sir Paul’s on-going efforts, the policy conference in Auckland, and John Key’s political initiative begin to show how academia and policy can work together constructively. Could a new “team New Zealand” approach to policy, specifically Pacific policy, be in the making here? I would love to think so. I wonder what New Zealand universities could do to create relevant and helpful knowledge, understanding and connections with respect to Fiji? Are some already doing so?

I would be interested in any comment, whether by way of a response below this blog or by email.

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