Tuesday, May 14, 2013

'Opportunistic, reactionary alliance' - an open letter on Fiji

A one-time outspoken Fiji trade unionist, academic, author and commentator, Scott MacWilliam, who believes in free speech declares in an open letter to the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) president Ged Kearney why he won't be supporting the "Destination Fiji" campaign.

Dear Ged,

UNFORTUNATELY, on this occasion the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has the situation in Fiji wrong. As offensive as all democrats find a military regime, the party and trade union opposition to the Bainimarama government in Fiji does not have clean hands either.

The trade union officials who are, quite rightly, opposed to many of the restrictions imposed by the regime have been mostly supporters of a political party, the Fiji Labour Party, which is undemocratic, unrepresentative - except of a few cane farmers and long-term party hacks - and definitely not a desirable alternative to the present government. Indeed, the FLP is in the process of forming an electoral alliance with the most reactionary ethnic Fijian/itaukei party which includes all "the born to rule", anti-Indo-Fijian chiefs.  The alliance is purely opportunistic and represents a return to the past which produced the military regime in the first place.

Scott MacWilliam ... Australian,
NZ foreign policy "stupid, ineffective
and counter productive." Photo: ANU
Since you purport to know "the facts about the real situation" it is incumbent upon you to provide accurate data. However your figures on the proportion of the population living under the poverty line are dubious, with the figure probably closer to 35-40 percent. (Establishing poverty estimates in a country where the bulk of the population lives on smallholdings is extremely hard and the accurate poverty figures for Fiji are probably similar to many countries with this demographic feature, including PNG and others in the South Pacific.) There is no evidence that whatever the correct figure is has been brought about by military rule. Increasing poverty has been a feature of Fiji since the early 1990s at least.

It is a pity to see the ACTU, a progressive organisation, simply following the stupid, ineffective and counter-productive foreign policy position adopted by the Australian and New Zealand governments.

Instead of sanctions, which is all these governments have managed to implement, the ACTU should try to break from the official position and recognise the need to democratise the regime. Otherwise the ACTU will remain as ineffective as the ANZ governments in influencing what happens in Fiji.

The Bainimarama government has been very successful in establishing international credibility within and outside the region, which should tell the ACTU that its campaign will not succeed. Since the post-election government in Fiji is as likely as not to be dominated by a Bainimarama-led party, the ACTU should now try to work out how to affect this future regime rather than simply opposing and offending its key members.

So I will not be signing the ACTU’s petition and will be doing all I can to tell others whom I know to do likewise.

Scott MacWilliam

Scott MacWilliam is a long-time academic, former staff association/trade union official who was associate professor at the University of the South Pacific when the George Speight-led takeover occurred in Fiji in May 2000. Instead of leaving Fiji, MacWilliam stayed to continue teaching, researching and acting as vice-president of the staff association on behalf of colleagues, and defending freedom of speech at the university. MacWilliam helped organise conferences which sought to promote democracy in the South Pacific at a time when this was not always easy. He also wrote and spoke against the takeover, providing a contrary view to those who defended Speight and racist nationalism in academic and other circles. He is the author of Securing Village Life: Development in late colonial Papua New Guinea.

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