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Upton-on-line: Disenchanted Evening

Upton-on-line July 14th

Disenchanted Evening

It is too soon for upton-on-line to make an assessment about the future of Fiji – or New Zealand’s relations with this frayed corner of paradise. But it is clear that the New Zealand Government’s difficulties are really only beginning.

While hostages were cooped up in the parliamentary compound, it was possible to say that the first priority was their release and anything else was secondary. That meant being able to defer sensitive decisions about sanctions, smart or otherwise.

But now that events have played out fairly predictably – an end to the hostage crisis, an end to the constitution, an end to the democratically elected government and Speight et al free to walk the streets – the Government will have to decide just how much unilateral pressure it can bring to bear, how much it should seek to do in league with other countries and at what level it should pitch its rhetoric.

In upton-on-line’s view, the Government is most at risk on the last consideration. Its immediate assertion that Fiji is on the brink of anarchy may yet be found to be a bit over the top – notwithstanding the real uncertainty that persists. More important still will be the way it pitches its judgments.

This is an intuitively progressive Government that is quick to assert universal human and political rights. Its instinctive response is to lecture in the certain conviction that it is right. And of course it is from within our secure political culture.

The difficult question is how best it can bring round to its viewpoint a Melanesian community whose post-colonial experience of democracy as we would recognise it is barely a generation deep.

Pitched at the wrong frequency, a lecture will simply switch receivers off. On the other hand, too relaxed and tolerant an attitude will be mis-read in Suva and enrage the Fijian Indian community in New Zealand.

Upton-on-line has long thought Foreign Minister Phil Goff one of the luckiest men alive in coming to office after East Timor’s fate was decided and all the difficult decisions taken. His bristling rhetoric in Opposition would have been much more difficult to modulate had he uttered it first as a Minister.

The last few weeks must have presented the Minister with a stark lesson in the gap that exists between what a small country like New Zealand can say and what it can do. He must now recommend to his colleagues measures that leave the Fijian authorities in no doubt that their reputation has been seriously damaged while leaving lines of communication to those authorities open. There is certainly no case for boycotting regional forums. Upton-on-line has checked back and found that no such steps were taken after the 1987 coup. Neither should they be now.

Every step New Zealand takes – bi-laterally and multi-laterally – must be able to pass the test of being useful in nudging Fiji back down the road to constitutionality and a political modus operandi that does not turn half the population into second class citizens.


A Green Light for Les Tricoteuses

There has been much giggling around the corridors of parliament in the wake of one of Mr Speaker’s more notable rulings, published as the House went into recess last week. Amongst a new set of rules governing visitors to the Debating Chamber and the Galleries is this little jewel:

“7(2) Seats in the front row of the Speaker’s gallery are reserved for members’ spouses for the first half-hour of an evening sitting. Members’ spouses may knit or embroider in the Speaker’s gallery if they register their intention to do so with the messenger on duty.”

We are sure that Burton Shipley and Peter Davis will be pulling out their patterns in a hurry. But the precedents for mixing knitting and politics are not auspicious.

Upton-on-line was reminded by one of the House’s historical magpie minds that there are strong overtones of revolutionary France at work here. In the Place de la Concorde and in the Convention Nationale between 1792 and 1795, lewd and toothless Parisian crones would sit offering unsought comment on the decapitations and revolutionary excesses that accompanied the tender birth of Liberty in European political culture.

Named tricoteuses (from the French verb tricoter – to knit), these harpies pearled and plained while Marat, Danton and Robespierre plotted and murdered their way through the terror of 1792-95.

Is the 46th New Zealand Parliament about to descend into the same turmoil? Guillotinings have been de rigeur in the wider public sector for some time now. The Prime Minister saw off assorted TVNZ and Timberlands West Coast personalities with lightning speed. In recent times the slaughter has moved onto the floor of the House with Dover Samuels already beheaded. The Health Minister, Annette King, has sniffed the wind and concluded that to save her head others’ would have to roll. Mass execution was the swift and ugly fate of the Tairawhiti Health board.

Where will it end?


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