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Goff Speaks To Democratic Develoment Conference


Hon Phil Goff
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Speech Notes

Democratic Development In The South Pacific
Council Of Trade Unions Conference

31 August 2000
Grey Lynn, Auckland


Thank you for the invitation to open this session of your conference on democratic development in the South Pacific.

The trade union movement in New Zealand has a proud history of contribution to the development of democracy and promotion of human rights not only in this country but also internationally.

Its challenge today is the contribution it can make to the development of a stable and democratic Pacific, though solidarity with, and support for working people in the region.

The tourist brochure image of a tranquil and friendly South Pacific has this year been shattered by events in Fiji and the Solomon Islands.

In other areas of recent conflict in the region, East Timor and in Bougainville, the situation has stabilised but not yet finally been resolved. Their position remains fragile.

There is a risk of conflict in West Papua as a momentum grows there for independence from Indonesia.

Separatist tendencies and economic and social problems also threaten to destabilise Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea.

Why have these problems arisen? Are there common factors in each? What can the government or the trade union movement, do to resolve the difficulties and create conditions for economic and political progress?

The events of May 19 and after in Fiji had a particular impact in New Zealand.
Fiji is close to us and well known by New Zealanders.

Notwithstanding the coup of 1987, it had what appeared to be a stable government that had been democratically elected by a landslide a year earlier.

Its institutions were similar to ours. We played rugby with Fijians, worked alongside them in peacekeeping operations, enjoyed our holidays there and lived alongside Fijian migrants who had settled here.

What happened?

After three or more generations of Indo-Fijian settlement in Fiji, the communities remained largely separate rather than integrated.

Ethnic prejudice is as old as human history and it is easy to scapegoat a group different from yours if something is no going right in your life.

Many indigenous Fijians remain low income. Dissatisfaction with slow economic and social progress made this group an easy target for failed politicians and opportunists like Speight to exploit.

While he used the rhetoric of indigenous rights, Speight's motivation had more to do with his dismissal from lucrative government positions and impending court charges against him.

While these problems were the responsibility of politicians who dominated the 30 year period since independence, the Fijian parties heavily defeated in the 1999 election sought to blame these problems on the new government which for the first time had an Indian prime minister.

Core support for Speight came from those who refused to accept their loss of power in 1999.

A power struggle between the Fijian chiefly confederacies caused further temptation to appeal to anti-Indian sentiments in order to win support.

None of this is to deny the importance of indigenous rights. Fiji is the cradle of a proud indigenous culture and language, to which protection should be given.

There is, in doing this however, no necessity to deny other sections of the population their basic human rights and make them second-class citizens in the land of their birth.

Ethnic tensions also underlie the conflict simmering in the Solomon Islands for the last two years, which erupted into open warfare between groups this year.

Since before the war, people from the island of Malaita had migrated to the more fertile less densely populated Guadalcanal. The Malaitans are energetic people. They bought land, married Guale women, did comparatively well in business.

Resentment at this by Guale men, fuelled by some genuine grievances on their part, resulted last year in the ethnic cleansing of more than 20,000 Malaitans out of Guadalcanal to Malaita or Honiara which was a Malaitan dominated enclave.

The ethnic cleansing was carried out by the Isatabu Freedom Movement, a militant group. On the other side the Malaitan Eagle Force was formed and violent conflict broke out between the two.

Both groups contain criminal elements and more poorly educated, unemployed and alienated youth who relished the sudden respect and power they gained from the barrel of a gun.

More than 80 people have been killed. The MEF now controls Honiara and forced a change in Prime Minister and government, though the government does have a majority of elected parliamentarians.

Law and order has totally broken down. The economy has collapsed and with it, government services.

Both Fiji and the Solomons have in common with Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu the failure of post-colonial government.

Each country has weak national affiliation, with primary affiliation to tribal groups.
The Solomon Islands has a population of 400,000 divided between 70 language groups or 'wontoks', Pidjin for 'one-talk'.

Papua New Guinea with a four million people has over 700 different languages, one-quarter of the world's total.

Colonial boundaries pulled together diverse groups without a sense of national identity or unity.

Poor governance, corruption and a feeling by regions that they were not getting a fair share of their resources have had a further dis-unifying effect.

Overpopulation, growing unemployment and poverty fuelled discontent and lawlessness. Limited natural resources and underdevelopment of human resources have meant an inability to sustain living standards.

Distance, small scale populations, instability and land tenure systems have discouraged outside investment and job creation.

All of these factors have undermined confidence in, and support for, the democratic systems of government belatedly set up by departing colonial powers.

Democratic conventions have not taken root in the population.

Westminster democracies with adversarial traditions have been artificially grafted on to the traditional tribal structures and the two have often been incompatible.

What then should be our response to the specific situations, which have developed in Fiji and the Solomons, and the underlying problems that have fuelled conflict?

In Fiji, New Zealand has consistently condemned the illegal and violent overthrow of the Chaudhry Government and called for those responsible to be brought to justice.

After months of appeasement of Speight and his supporters and a drift towards anarchy in the absence of clear authority, the interim government backed by the military has finally taken action against the hostage takers and law breakers.

Speight and his closest supporters are being tried for treason. We support that action and the reassertion of law and order to curb the growing violence, racist intimidation and lawlessness.

We do not, however, recognise the interim government as constitutional. It is self-appointed and unrepresentative and has no democratic mandate. It cannot condemn Speight for treasonous actions while being content to remain the beneficiary of what he has done.

We will deal with the interim government because it is the defacto authority in Fiji.

But we have stated our expectations that it should stay in power only for the minimum feasible time necessary to ensure a stable transfer of its power back to a democratically elected body.

As an interim government, it should also be as representative as possible. The interim Government has only two former Peoples Coalition Government ministers and only one Indian minister.

For it to have credibility, it should establish itself as a government of national reconciliation and unity, absorbing key ministers from the Chaudhry Government.

The proposed transitional period suggested by Mr Qarase as three years should be no more than a year. The review of the 1997 Constitution should affirm that constitution which established by consensus after widespread consultation.

The New Zealand Government has resisted calls to impose comprehensive economic sanctions because these would deny innocent people their livelihoods. This type of sanction would destroy the Fijian economy and with it the authority of government with the real risk of anarchy and wholesale violence and killing.

The primary victims of this would be the Indo-Fijians already disadvantaged by the coup.

Instead we adopted an array of sanctions that have ended sporting contacts, military co-operation and development aid other than for projects that support human rights or humanitarian assistance. Those sanctions will be lifted when there are concrete signs of restoration of democracy.

We have also targeted those directly responsible for the coup. A list of 154 people who were involved in the overthrow of Fiji's government is on the New Zealand Immigration Service Computer and will prohibit their entry into New Zealand as visitors or prospective residents.

Unlike the 1987 coup there must be long term costs imposed on those who use terrorist tactics.

In the Solomons New Zealand has been working closely with the Australians to bring about a peace agreement and return to normalcy.

Currently the Te Kaha is in Honiara to provide a safe and neutral venue for peace talks. Last weekend, church groups, women's groups, non-governmental organisations and the central and provincial governments met on Te Kaha. The meeting was successful and established an agenda for peace talks between the warring factions to take place.

The Te Kaha will also be the venue for a meeting between representatives from these groups and the Isatabu Freedom Movement and the Malaitan Eagle Force which will seek to advance peace plans.

Our aid programme to the Solomons has been boosted to protect vulnerable groups from the collapse of the economy and keep vital social services such as education going.

Longer term, our Government, trade union movement and NGOs need to work to promote throughout the Pacific democratic structures and government. Whatever local or cultural characteristics it may exhibit, the system of governance must be democratic and must uphold the rule of law and a judiciary independent of executive control.

Capacity building in the areas of policing, the military and the judiciary is a key challenge in the region.

Training, resourcing, dealing with corruption and entrenching a code of ethics in these organisations are vital for the protection of democracy and human rights.

Over half of our bilateral aid programme is spent in the Pacific. We are currently conducting a review of how this money is spent. I believe this will emphasise the role of New Zealand's aid in the Pacific and the need to target more funds towards good governance and the underlying causes of instability.

A free and independent media, an effective fourth estate, is likewise critical for democracy. In both Fiji and the Solomons the media has managed to stay largely objective in spite of the difficult circumstances. The media is the strongest potential safe guard to ensure accountability and transparency.

Thriving non-governmental organisations including strong trade unions must provide a balance and a safeguard against arbitrary action by an all powerful and predominant state apparatus.

Building public commitment to the democratic values is the central task. Only through people's awareness of their rights and the responsibilities can governments be kept accountable, transparent and truly representative.

The Pacific is our neighbourhood. As a country with traditional links and the large numbers of Pacific people living in New Zealand, we have the ability and responsibility to play a role in promoting democracy and prosperity in the region.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today and for the contribution you have made, and are continuing to make, to promote democratic development in the Pacific.

My best wishes for a successful conference.

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