ABC Newsradio Breakfast, interview with Karen Barlow

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

Subjects: Fiji Prime Minister stepping down, Fiji elections, relationship with Fiji

6 March 2014

SANDY ALOISI: Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has indicated the Government is looking at relaxing the remaining sanctions against Fiji. It's after the country's interim Prime Minister yesterday stepped down as head of the military. At a nationally televised ceremony in the capital, Suva, Commodore Frank Bainimarama formally handed control of the Army to Brigadier Mosese Tikoitoga. Commodore Bainimarama continues as interim Prime Minister and is expected to contest the elections, which are due to be held in September.

The Foreign Minister spoke to Canberra correspondent Karen Barlow.

KAREN BARLOW: Julie Bishop, the interim Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama is no longer the head of the nation's military forces. Is this truly a handover of military power in Fiji?

JULIE BISHOP: This is an important milestone in Fiji's return to democracy. The Prime Minister handed over the military command to another military commander and, on that basis, we are pleased to see that another step has been taken towards democracy and the holding of elections. We see it as an important milestone and we also have congratulated the Prime Minister on this move. We do take it at face value that there has been a changing of the guard, a handover of the command of the Fijian military.

KAREN BARLOW: The military's successor to Frank Bainimarama, the now Brigadier General Mosese Tikoitoga, does Australia expect him to respect the result of September's Fijian general election?

JULIE BISHOP: Yes, we do, and we understand that Brigadier General Tikoitoga was, in fact, trained at the ADF Staff College here in Australia. He has been a military commander for some time and our expectation is that Fiji will hold an election in September and that as long as the election is deemed to be free and fair, then we expect a new Government to be sworn in and a new Prime Minister.

KAREN BARLOW: Is it time for Australia to end the Fiji sanctions?

JULIE BISHOP: We certainly have them under review. I met with Prime Minister Bainimarama in Fiji not so long ago and we talked about normalising the relations. This was a promise that we took to the last election and I'm pleased that we are delivering on that promise to normalise relations with Fiji.

We have the travel sanctions under review, but the fact is we have made exemptions in virtually every instance in recent times where an application for a visa has been made by one of those otherwise subjected to the sanctions. And so I'll go back to the cabinet and put forward another outline of how we can progress the relationship.

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