WASHINGTON, D.C. – According to a report released by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), Australia’s political policies toward Fiji have negatively impacted Australia’s reputation in the region and stunted development opportunities among the Pacific Islands. The report also states that international confidence in Australia’s regional leadership is strained as the Bainimarama Government continues to progress economically through freshly formed partnerships with China and other Asian powers.
The ASPI report comes only days after the announcement of Fiji’s groundbreaking economic plan, which reduces or eliminates taxes for 99 percent of taxpayers and improves the ease of doing business in Fiji for foreign investment through major tax cuts and the opening of new sectors.
Funded by the Australian government, ASPI is an independent think tank created to advise and inform Australian officials on alternative policies concerning defence, strategic positioning and foreign policy. The report, “Our Near Abroad” states that the Australian government’s constant pressure to isolate Fiji has in fact backfired and isolated Australia within regional organisations.
Australia’s exclusionary tactics have stilted regional collaboration aimed at improving maritime security, curbing transnational crime, pursuing trade negotiations, and expanding trade relations. Fiji, however, remains open to trade, investment and tourism from all of its regional neighbors.
“[Australia’s] current policy settings have…produced a dead end,” said Anthony Bergin, Director of Research Programs for ASPI. He added, “With respect to Fiji, the report finds that as we are now closer to the election in Fiji 2014, Australia ought to seriously reexamine the opportunities we now have to assist Fiji back to the path of parliamentary democracy.”
In his annual budget address last week, Fijian Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama reaffirmed the Fijian Government’s commitment and timeline for elections, which will be the first in Fiji’s history to uphold universal suffrage.
In recent years, the Bainimarama Government has implemented a host of reforms to modernize Fiji—including such laws that create equal rights for women and regulations that mandate greater transparency in government.