John Key heading to Fiji for landmark visit

  • 09/06/2016
Prime Minister John Key (AAP)
Prime Minister John Key (AAP)

John Key will be the first New Zealand Prime Minister in a decade to visit Fiji when he touches down in the capital Suva on Thursday.

The Pacific nation's return to democracy in 2014, and the gradual rebuilding of diplomatic and political ties between New Zealand and Fiji since then, has paved the way for Mr Key's landmark visit.

But question marks remain over the extent to which Frank Bainimarama's elected government has embraced democracy, and there are concerns about the treatment of opposition MPs and the media.

Mr Key arrives in Fiji less than a week after an opposition MP, Tupou Draunidalo, was suspended from parliament until 2018 for calling the Fijian Education Minister a fool.

There have also been renewed calls for Fiji to lift its ban on a number of foreign journalists, including TVNZ's Pacific correspondent Barbara Dreaver and former Fairfax journalist Michael Field.

"We're going to Fiji because we support the fact that they've restored democracy," Mr Key told reporters earlier this week.

"Frank Bainimarama's been quite popular and doing quite well there. I'm not saying it's absolutely perfect, but there are probably quite a few countries in the world that have a form of democracy that we wouldn't always say is perfect.

"The advice we got at the time was that the elections were free and fair."

Mr Key said he would raise the plight of the banned journalists with Mr Bainimarama during their talks.

"We believe absolutely passionately in the freedom of the press and the press should be free to travel," he said.

Labour leader Andrew Little said Mr Key must take up human rights issues with Mr Bainimarama.

"If we want to engage with Fiji, or we want a genuine improvement in the relationship, it's got to be on our values, which are the values of freedom of association, freedom of speech, freedom of the press and the right of citizens to do as they wish," he said.

The relationship between New Zealand and Fiji broke down in 2006, when then-military leader, now-Prime Minister, Mr Bainimarama seized power in a coup.

Following elections in 2014, New Zealand has gradually rebuilt its relationship with Fiji.

Mr Key first met with Mr Bainimarama in September last year while the two leaders were at the United Nations general assembly.

In the aftermath of tropical cyclone Winston, which pounded Fiji in February, New Zealand committed $15 million of aid and deployed more than 500 Defence Force personnel to some of the hardest hit areas.

On Friday, Mr Key will visit one of the villages that Kiwi soldiers helped rebuild.