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Book launch of ‘Persona Non Grata’ by Michael Green

Book launch of ‘Persona Non Grata’ by Michael Green

Venue: Rutherford House, Victoria University.

Thursday 27 June 2013, 5.30pm

It is probably no secret that being a Foreign Minister is one of the most challenging and exciting roles in politics.

The position was also an enjoyable and rewarding one.

There were many reasons why that was so.

But a part of it was the experience of working with a highly talented, experienced and committed group of New Zealand diplomats - people like Mike Green.

He was a man of great integrity; the epitome of the quiet, highly intelligent, vastly experienced and dedicated public servant that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has produced for most of its distinguished history, and which has served New Zealand so well.

One can only hope that the disastrous restructuring of the Ministry we have seen unfold in the last couple of years does not permanently cripple what until now has been one of our finest institutions of state - on behalf of which it was a privilege to lead a successful campaign for much greater resources and a significantly extended reach.

Let's be clear too that there was never any justification for Mike Green's expulsion from Fiji - a point which then Prime Minister Clark agreed, and made very clear, at that time.

He always enjoyed the fullest confidence of the New Zealand Government.

Personally, Bainimarama and others in Fiji misread us.

They probably expected that over time we would revert to business as usual - as indeed had been done in respect of the earlier coups beginning in 1987.

But we didn't and rightly so.

In particular the smart sanctions - the travel restrictions - which we put in place in early 2007 had a real impact.

They were directed at the proponents of the coup and they have hurt.

It’s clear that Mike Green's expulsion had a lot to do with the coup leader’s frustration that we were not about to just sit back and timidly accept what had been done; particularly after we had gone to so much effort for the coup not to happen.

That frustration festered away over many months and was a major contributing factor to the illogical and unreasonable decision to throw our High Commissioner to Fiji, Mike Green, out of the country.

As sombre as it is, it nevertheless remains important that the major elements of those smart sanctions remain in place.

And they should stay in place until we get irreversible action to restore democracy, decency, the rule of law and fundamental human rights all of which have been serious victims of the regime.

That means action not words: action not promises.

Let's make no mistake: what has happened in Fiji is an on-going disaster.

A disaster for the people of Fiji and also for the wider region.

Who now looks to Fiji as one of the centres of Pacific excellence, in education for example, or health training for the region or development generally?

Who now looks to Suva as a key regional capital?

Regrettably, we had to forecast all that to Bainimarama – we warned that would happen.

As someone in frequent contact with Fiji’s leaders, we joined a delegation there in early 2006.

You may recall too that in the month before the coup we went to great lengths to bring both then Prime Minister Qarase and Bainmarama to a meeting in Wellington to work through the issues that had come between them.

A personal disquiet at the end of that meeting which hasn’t been shared until tonight, is that clearly Prime Minister Qarase was a reluctant politician, an honourable man, and someone who was moving a long way towards compromise and cooperation in order to forestall the threat of a coup.

The two hours of that Wellington meeting and saying farewell to him is a hauntingly sad memory.

Regrettably, that wasn’t a perception that was personally gained from Bainimarama who evinced an attitude and opinion of his role, backed up by numerous threats to take action, which clearly had no basis in the constitution of Fiji or the law of that country.

The great example of George Washington confirming authority back to the elected representatives in the early days after the US revolution seemed lost on Bainimarama.

What has played out in the intervening years has been at times sickening (those videos of police beatings for example), deeply disquieting and terribly sad, first and foremost for the people of Fiji but also for all of us who have a great fondness for Fiji and its people as a close friend and neighbour.

Remember government to government relations are important, as are minister to minister relations. But of most significance are the relations between two people, which is probably the greatest cause for hope that one day we will get on top of Fiji’s recent propensity to illegally challenge duly elected governments.

Looking back on it all from one’s time as a former Foreign Minister there are a number of lessons to take away:

· We need to put more effort into preventative diplomacy. We cannot always stop bad things happening. But we need to be able to say we tried everything, and make a much more sustained effort and focus going into thinking about preventative diplomacy drawing on the skills of our Foreign Ministry, and also other agencies such as the police who have skills which are highly relevant to try to stop tense situations becoming more serious.

· We cannot do anything alone. We need to work closely with Australia and our Pacific neighbours. In the case of Fiji it was vitally important that the region spoke collectively in response to the coup. It still is. And that means our regional diplomacy must be a top priority as we look ahead and it means we must have talented, experienced people on the ground in the region. And we must maintain a robust dialogue on Pacific issues with others who have influence in the region including the US, the EU and increasingly China.

· We must never give up on the people of Fiji even when we continue to disagree with their leaders. So smart sanctions are important whilst nevertheless maintaining humanitarian and other sorts of assistance. The people of Fiji are victims here and they deserve our support, understanding and solidarity.

· To train and recruit talented people like Mike Green, New Zealand must spend much more than it is spending of late. Foreign Affairs is our international footprint, and expenditure cuts demonstrate a shabby misunderstanding of our potential role in economic and international affairs.

Which brings us to one final point.

Why on earth is the UN continuing to use Fijian military ostensibly to restore law and order and democracy in other parts of the globe whilst being the principle cause for the loss of it in Fiji. There is no excuse for it. It is in its own way a betrayal of the people of Fiji by giving succour to their oppressors.

It doesn’t stop just with the UN. For the UK Government should also explain why their military continue to recruit Fijian soldiers.

The Fijian military need to know that there will be increased consequences for their encouraging some in their midst who have a contempt for duly democratically elected governments.

The ability of young Fiji men to access military career paths outside of Fiji is important to the Fijian military. That’s why UN and UK recruitment should stop immediately and New Zealand must keep saying so publicly.

Having got a copy of the book yesterday morning, it nevertheless provides one with a deeper understanding of the importance of a diplomat’s life and work.

This is a seriously interesting book and should be read by anyone interested in international affairs.

My personal thanks to Dr Gillian Green for sharing this evening with us, the book and a diplomatic family’s insights into what clearly was one rocky road because of the country of location where this unfortunate event took place.

But most of all, our thanks for maintaining, through all the underserved provocation, our country’s dignity.


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