Fijian PM Frank Bainimarama says relations with John Key are 'very cordial'
Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has compared his relationship with John Key to the "rough and tumble" of the Bledisloe Cup match the pair will attend on Saturday night.
In a wide-ranging speech in Auckland on his first visit to New Zealand as Prime Minister, Bainimarama said he was "Frank by name, and frank by nature" and that his relations with Prime Minister John Key were "very cordial".
In Key's visit to Fiji in June, Bainimarama raised ten years of personal grievances in a speech heralding his arrival.
In it, he defended his 2006 coup and stood by his ban of some New Zealand media from Fiji.
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But in a speech to open the Fiji Trade and Investment symposium on Thursday, Bainimarama downplayed his June speech and said it had been misinterpreted by media and their "unrelentingly negative and unbalanced" reporting.
"I deeply appreciated Mr Key's gesture in coming to Suva back in June, when we had our first encounter and were able to give the Prime Minister a warm Fijian welcome," he said.
He was glad of the opportunity to convey the Fijian people's gratitude for New Zealand's assistance in the wake of Tropical Cyclone Winston.
It was "unfortunate" that some of the New Zealand media's reporting of Key's visit suggested he'd given Key "a hard time", he said.
"It's true that I politely [told] him the reasons we chose to embark on a radical programme in 2006 to create a level playing field for every Fijian, that we had fulfilled our promise to return Fiji to parliamentary rule in the election of September 2014.
"I also said that it was a shame that New Zealand and Australia and certain other countries had failed to understand what we were trying to do."
The speech was not an insult, he said.
"I think John Key understood that the speech I made was merely outlining our position and that no disrespect was intended. Away from [the media] gaze the atmosphere between John Key and I personally was very cordial and we got on famously.
"It is true that I have had a couple of issues with him saying I shot my mouth off about the Pacific Islands Forum ... but it hasn't unduly effected the warmth of our relationship.
"He knows that I'm Frank by name and frank by nature, and I know that he's a similarly plain-speaking Kiwi which is undoubtedly why the New Zealand people keep on voting him back into office."
The pair were "big enough" to say what they thought and move on, he said.
"I want to thank him for being a straight shooter and not taking anything too personally and especially for giving me the opportunity to get together with him again in New Zealand and enjoy each other's company in the similar rough and tumble of the Bledisloe cup.
"This time it will be the Kiwis and the Aussies slugging it out and no-one can blame me for anything."
Bans on individual journalists visiting Fiji had now been lifted and journalists were welcome, with a caveat, he said.
They were free to report without restriction but were asked to cover events "fairly and in a balanced manner", he said.
"I hope you will come and see for yourself the progress we have made on the back of seven straight years of economic growth, and to see for yourself the institutions of state are functioning properly and we are strengthening [them] to ensure they are truly independent and free from personal and political influence as has happened far too often in the past."
Elsewhere in the speech Bainimarama highlighted the importance of the New Zealand market to Fiji, with two-way trade worth $470 million and more than 125,000 Kiwis visiting each year.
There had been a "dramatic" improvement in Fiji's diplomatic relationship with New Zealand and Australia, Bainimarama said, which he hoped would lead to more trade in future as Fiji put its "lost years" behind it.