Tyrants and tourists


Planning a holiday? Burma sounds good — idle beaches, palm trees, plenty of sun and cheap tourist deals. Just ignore the pesky regime thugs who clamp down on the local press, change the law at a whim and refuse to hold free and fair elections.

Not to your taste? Try Fiji instead. Political repression is a local pastime there too, of course, but that doesn’t stop thousands of Australians turning the South Pacific pariah into a favoured holiday destination.

On some estimates, in July a record 25,000 Australians zoomed off to Fiji to escape the depths of winter.

Last year, 247,608 Australians visited Fiji — a whopping 42 per cent of the total number of foreign tourists.

Now the self-appointed military regime has booted Australia’s high commissioner out of the country and has recalled Fiji’s top envoy from Canberra. This is a serious affront. In days gone by, a move of this kind was seen as a presage to war.

Australia can claim to have kicked out Fiji’s representative in turn — as the Rudd Government did yesterday — but, in truth, this was entirely a crisis concocted and directed by Fiji’s ruler, Commodore Frank Bainimarama. He has repeatedly taunted Australia since assuming power and is so far winning. Fiji told Australia of its intention to pull out its envoy at the same time that it kicked out Australia’s man.

How to respond next? Sanctions targeting regime officials are already in place and were the trigger for the present stoush, so arguably they are hurting. Yet it’s doubtful such measures will change behaviour and hasten Fiji’s return to democracy. Rather, the restrictions force the regime to look for succour elsewhere from countries outside the sanctions net.

In the past, Canberra has ruled out a wider official ban on Australian tourists visiting the country, arguing such punitive measures would only hurt the Fijian people. It’s a fair point, as the tourist industry makes up a large chunk of the Fiji economy.

But surely the tourist dollars flowing into Fiji are also bolstering the regime. That should lead Australians to ask themselves where they would rather spend their money. A travel ban does not need to be official for people to make a consumer choice and send a firm message.