Australia has egg on face: Bainimarama

Australia and New Zealand are the only two nations to decline an invitation to attend the Engaging Fiji meeting, which began in Fiji on Thursday.

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Tensions between the countries have been on the rise since Fiji expelled Australia’s acting high commissioner Sarah Roberts earlier this month – the second Australian diplomat to be kicked out in nine months.

Bainimarama told The Australian that Ms Roberts had tried to stymie a meeting of the Melanesian Spearhead Group, which has since been postponed and replaced with the Engaging Fiji summit.

In an extended version of the interview, aired on Sky News, Bainimarama said he didn’t speak to Ms Roberts personally, but read about the allegations in the local media.

“She was interfering in our domestic affairs,” he said, noting that she was twice warned about her behaviour before being kicked out.

“Australia was trying to undermine Fiji’s authority … and embarrass us in front of the international community.”

The Australian government now has “egg on its face” because so many Pacific nations are attending the two-day talkfest in Fiji, he said.

It’s unlikely Fiji will consider another Australian high commissioner, Commodore Bainimarama said, noting Australia had been against him from day one.

He said the deferred election was on track to take place in 2014, but preparations could be stifled if Fiji keeps “getting hit in the side by Australia and New Zealand”.

“Come 2014 we’ll have the election, but if Fiji’s not ready … it will go back to 2006 … and that’s probably what Australia and New Zealand want,” he said, referring to the coup in which he seized power.

When asked about his government’s crackdown on foreign media, Commodore Bainimarama said the decision was about “transparency”.

News Limited, which owns The Australian, has been given three months to sell or close its Fijian newspaper The Fiji Times, to meet the requirement media organisations are 90 per cent locally owned.

“Like everything else people need to toe the government’s line, including Fiji Times,” he said.