Time of opportunity comes out of the ANZAC Winston help
Tropical Cyclone Winston has come and gone. The world knows of the great devastation it caused us. But it also brought some unexpected possible benefits.
That’s in quicker rebuilding of official and military relations between Australia and New Zealand on the one hand, and Fiji on the other. New Zealand and Australia – along with many others - sped to help as the terrible damage done by Winston became apparent. Their planes, ships and servicemen and women were quickly in the country bringing much needed support and relief efforts. Notably for the worst affected remoter areas, the savagely hit islands and villagers of Koro and Vanuabalavu. Humanitarian aid assistance rendered by Australia and New Zealand showed that despite recent differences they had a heart to unstintingly help Fiji.
Any remnants of the soured official relationship from 2006 were put aside. To underscore their support their Foreign Ministers - New Zealand’s Murray McCully and Australia’s Julie Bishop – both visited the country. Mr McCully said: “When there is an urgent need for humanitarian support everybody in this neighbourhood understands that you just knuckle down and deal with those needs and that’s what we’ve tried to do and I know that’s very much appreciated and everyone I met in Fiji told me that.” The director of the Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies at Canterbury University, New Zealand, Steven Ratuva, said Cyclone Winston had reinforced regional solidarity.
Of course, the people-to-people relationship between Australians, New Zealanders and Fijians has never wavered. These warm ties are unbreakable no matter what the Australia and New Zealand politicians and media elements might say.
But at a political and military level longstanding links were torn apart because of the way the Australian and New Zealand politicians, diplomats and bureaucrats reacted to the 2006 takeover. They tried to damage us at many levels over many years. Some of the things they did will take a long time to forget. But out of Winston has come an opportunity to faster reset the post-elections relationship.
Amidst all the current goodwill much will still, of course, depend on attitudes in Canberra and Wellington.
Both at political and bureaucratic levels. And by their diplomats on the ground in Suva. If they treat Fiji as an independent nation and an equal – and do not interfere in our affairs – there can be many sunnier days ahead. Out of the adversity of Winston and the Australian and New Zealand response to this has come that opportunity. Let’s hope it is taken by Canberra and Wellington and built on. Finally, as they begin to head home we thank especially the men and women of the Australian and New Zealand military. Their role – including working with the men and women of our military - has been outstanding. The legacy of this is not just in what they did, but in opportunities now all round.