Saturday, December 09, 2006

Money vs Morality

The coup in Fiji has been a farce of epic proportions. Sadly so too has been our Government's handling of the crisis from beginning to end.

Firstly, in an attempt to steal a diplomatic march on Australia, Foreign Minister Winston Peters and Prime Minister Helen Clark involved themselves in clandestine talks with the two main protagonists Fijian Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase and head of the Fijian Military Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama.

Bainimarama was in NZ at the time visiting family and the media knew he had to be meeting Winston Peters. The two are old friends and have been known to spend a convivial night in each others' company (ask the barstaff at the Green Parrot). Yet the Minister's office was a cone of silence when asked what was going on between the two men.

Unfortunately in a fit of Trans-Tasman comradely behaviour our Government was keping Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer in the loop. Mr Downer then gleefully leaked the goings on to the Australian press with the end result of NZ's foreign policy being announced across the ditch. Reportedly Clark was spitting tacks at this.

Clark and Peters then announced they'd managed to set up a meeting between Qarase and Bainimarama. Face to face talks, they trumpeted, could be a way of averting a crisis. Yet behind the scenes the story was very different. They knew Bainimarama was mad as a march hare and any statements he made had about as much value as a bucket of warm spit (this was reinforced by an interview the Commodore gave the day before the meeting in which he said Qarase would have to meet his demands, no ifs, no buts, no maybes). However they had to be placatory in their approach as it was felt being publicly critical of Bainimarama would result in a coup happening sooner rather then later.

Well in that they were borne out to a certain degree. The coup did come later rather than sooner. But it's been remarkably apparent the meeting between Qarase and Bainimarama had little, if any, value. All the NZ Government achieved by its actions was a temporary appeasement.

It's the actions of the Government subsequent to Bainimarama's coup that deserve scrutiny. Helen Clark's decried the Commodore as being deluded and announced a series of sanctions. These include freezing aid, suspending military conections, banning coup instigators from NZ, and a sports ban. However the ban doesn't stop NZ teams from going to Fiji and it doesn't stop the Fijian Rugby sevens side from playing in Wellington in February next year. The reason being given is that the sevens tournament is an international event organised by the IRB and while we could stop the Fijians from entering NZ it would likely result in the event being moved to Australia. That, says Minister of Sports Trevor Mallard, would punish NZ more than it would Fiji.

So on the one hand we have our Government expressing moral outrage at the damage being done to democracy in Fiji, yet on the other hand they're not prepared to back up their stance because it would cost us a rugby tournament.

It would appear the value of democracy in Fiji (such as it was) isn't more precious than a game of rugby. I find that kind of sad.

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