Fiji has demanded that Australia conduct a thorough consultation with regional governments before it proceeds with its plan to transfer asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat to Papua New Guinea.
Reinforcing comments made by the Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama, on Friday, the Foreign Minister, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola made a hard hitting speech to the Australia Fiji Business Council in Brisbane in which he strongly criticised the Australian Government over the asylum deal.
He did so in the presence of Australia’s Pacific islands Minister, Senator Matt Thistlethwhaite and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop.
“We cannot remain silent when the Australian Government dumps this problem – which is arguably of its own making – on our doorstep. This deal continues a pattern of behavior on the part of the Australian Government that is inconsiderate, prescriptive, highhanded and arrogant”, he said.
Ratu Inoke said that to solve an Australian problem, Canberra had proposed a Melanesian solution that threatened to destabilise the already delicate social and economic balances in Melanesian societies.
“The Australian Government has used its economic muscle to persuade one of our Melanesian governments to accept thousands of people who are not Pacific islanders, a great number of them permanently. This was done to solve a domestic political problem – and for short term political gain – without proper consideration of the long-term consequences”, he said.
The Foreign Minister said the Australia-PNG deal had been done suddenly and unilaterally without any consultation with other Pacific countries in a manner that was “not the Pacific way” and had shocked many people in the region.
He said that while Papua New Guinea was a sovereign government entitled to make its own arrangements, the asylum seeker deal was also the business of Fiji and other Pacific countries, especially its partners in the Melanesian Spearhead Group.
“We are striving for more cohesion, more integration in the MSG, including the formation of a Melanesian Common Market with a free flow of goods, services and labour. This deal – and those mooted with Solomon Islands and Vanuatu – clearly threatens our interests by altering the fundamental social fabric of any member country that accepts a deal with Australia”, he said.
Ratu Inoke said Fiji was alarmed by some of the analysis in Australian policy circles of tens of thousands of resettled refugees in the MSG countries.
“We are deeply troubled by the consequent threat to the stability of these countries – and the wider Melanesian community – by the scale of what is being envisaged. History has shown us that such instability will have far reaching ripple effects for not only PNG but the region of the region. So it is our business and before this goes any further, we want thorough regional consultation. We want – no, we demand – to have our voices heard”, the Foreign Minister added.