Fiji and the priest

Cam Slater at Truth writes more extensively on the saga of the priest:

Notwithstanding that my sources in say that although it is probably true that Father Barr was spoken to harshly by the Prime Minister, this was not the reason for cancelling his permit. Father Barr is an Australian in Fiji on a religious permit which allows him to work for the church and in certain other activities. It does not however allow him to engage in politics, something he appears to have forgotten recently with political statements concerning the minimum wage and certain decrees such as the Essential Industries Decree.

The final straw appears to have been met when Father Barr appeared in a photo supposedly supporting the formation of a trade union political party. These actions clearly breached the terms of his permit and the government is felt it was entitled to cancel his permit. He is not a permanent resident of Fiji and nor is he a citizen of Fiji.

After 32 years in country he still maintained his Australian citizenship and passport. Accordingly he is a foreign resident who was engaging in and participating in local political process. We wouldn’t tolerate this in New Zealand and we certainly do not appreciate churches, with their tax free status meddling in politics in the first place.

Actually our churches do meddle in politics all the time. I actually don’t know that churches should have tax free status. If they have a charitable arm like Presbyterian Support Services, then that should be tax free, but can’t see why a religious organisation should be charitable in its own right.

The Fijian government has now reversed its decision and Father Barr is free to remain in Fiji for the duration of his permit on the understanding he will abide strictly by the terms and not engage in political activity. He isn’t a citizen after all and further he is a clergyman. Most countries around the world eschew the involvement in politics of the church. Father Barr apparently agreed to abide by the conditions of his work permit and will now stay.

I’m glad the Government reversed their decision. Although the deportation decision was legal, that doesn’t mean it was desirable. There is a chilling effect if writing a letter to the editor gives you a personal phone call from the head of government abusing you, and then deportation. The challenge for Fiji going forward is to not consider dissenting views as a bad thing, but as a good thing. And yes politics is for permanent residents and citizens, but after living in a country for 32 years I think you can regard someone as more than a foreigner.

I want Fiji to have non-racial free and fair elections. They are making some steps towards that, and as they do the NZ Government should relax their sanctions. But what worries me is that the Commodore seems to have a view that his view is the only one that counts and anyone who says anything unpalatable becomes an enemy – whether they be the independent head of the constitutional review group or the priest in question (who had been a supporter of his).  Dissent is not treason. In some cases it is in fact patriotic.

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