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Aussies Snubbed?

Aussies Snubbed?
Member of the Opposition Biman Prasad outside the Australian High Commission at Princes Road, Tamavua, yesterday. Other guests who attended also included; 1. The New Zealand High Commissioner to Fiji, Mark Ramsden, Japanese Ambassador to Fiji Takuji Hanatani, Permanent Secretary for Immigration, National Security and Defence and Acting Permanent Secretary for Employment, Productivity and Industrial Relations Osea Cawaru (left), and Acting Permanent Secretary for Rural and Maritime Development and National Disaster Management Setareki Tale. Photos: Paulini Ratulailai
January 28
11:28 2015

Top Government and Judiciary members conspicuously stayed away from the Australia Day celebrations in Suva last night.

It underscored continuing concerns in Suva over attitudes of Australian diplomats here, including High Commissioner Margaret Twomey, well informed sources said.

Among those not at the high commission’s function were Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama, Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum and Chief Justice Anthony Gates.

All were invited and all were in town.

It came at the end of a day when Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop had warmly praised Fiji in a message published only by the Fiji Sun. But in marked contrast High Commissioner Twomey same time barely mentioned Fiji in a message published by both daily newspapers.

This reemphasised concerns of a chasm in attitude towards Fiji. This is between the warmth of Ms Bishop – potentially Australia’s next Prime Minister – and hardline bureaucrats and diplomats working in the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

These are the people who drove the now widely discredited failed Australian policy of trying to isolate Fiji.

Questions are being asked about whether these attitudes have changed at the high commission and the role Ms Twomey is playing in this since her arrival from Canberra.

An example is Chief Justice Gates, whose judiciary was a major victim of the isolate Fiji policy. He is believed to have been sent an invitation which addressed him as “Mr Gates”. That is without the honorifics of his position. In terms of protocol that is regarded as a significant slap in the face.

The high commission also continues to snub such senior figures as Director of Public Prosecutions Christopher Pryde, a New Zealander, and prominent Australians who have worked for the Bainimarama Government. These include Sharon Smith-Johns, the former Permanent Secretary for Information.

Such a continuing generally high handed attitude from the high commission is said to be causing growing offence.

There are also questions over the high commission’s local media strategies.

Local media were told last night’s event was closed to the media. But Fiji Times general manager/publisher Hank Arts was seen driving into the walled high commission compound on Princes Road to attend.

The former local communications specialist at the high commission, the now retired Dennis Rounds, has been negative about the Bainimarama Government on social media.

His successor, Mere Nailatikau, is the daughter-in-law of Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA) leader Ro Teimumu Kepa.

Only two ministers attended, Mereseini Vuniwaqa, Minister for Lands and Mineral Resources, and Jioji Konrote, Minister for Employment, Productivity and Industrial Relations. Expectation was high yesterday that Mr Bainimarama would attend after his positive message to his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott.

Mr Bainimarama said: “It has given me great pleasure to witness the Fiji and Australia bilateral relationship soar to new heights and I am confident that the friendly relations which our two countries share will continue to prosper and strengthen.”

Ms Bishop, gave a glowing account of Fiji’s progress in her Australia Day Message in the Fiji Sun.

She said: “Fijian people have much to celebrate – the successful recent elections, their nation’s impressive economic growth and its expanding regional and international presence.”

She said Australia and Fiji “are natural partners.”

“Our histories and people are intertwined,” she said. Ms Bishop said Australia was committed to being a partner in Fiji’s economic growth.

Her statement was in stark contrast to the low-key message by Ms Twomey, the Australian High Commissioner to Fiji. She said the celebrations were a time “when we reflect on the past couple of centuries of our recorded history. And it is about confidence: about the strength of our nationhood will carry us there, as it has through other challenging times.”

Other Government officials who attended were:

– Acting Permanent Secretary for Employment, Productivity and Industrial Relations and Permanent Secretary for Immigration, National Security and Defence, Osea Cawaru

– Acting Permanent Secretary for Rural and Maritime Development and National Disaster Management, Setareki Tale

– Acting Permanent Secretary for Education, Heritage and Arts, Kelera Taloga

– Director for Immigration Nemani Vuniwaqa

– Police Commissioner Bernardus Groenewald

– Mohammed Saneem, Supervisor of Elections.

National Federation Party leader Biman Prasad was also present.




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