New Zealand’s decision, announced by the country’s Foreign Minister, Murray McCully, should ring alarm bells in Canberra where the Government is responsible for close to 1,000 refugees currently held there.
Mr McCully said the decision was taken to suspend the $1.1 million annual aid package because he feared his country would be seen “as part of the problem rather than part of the solution”. The clear implication being that he did not want New Zealand to continue to prop up an administration that was increasingly ignoring the rule of law.
And indeed there have been numerous examples of a Nauruan Government out of control and making war on those who dare to oppose it.
It began with the arrest and deportation of Nauru’s Chief Magistrate, Peter Law just as he was preparing an inquiry into the suspicious death of the Justice Minister’s wife, followed by the cancellation of the visa of the Chief Justice, Geoffrey Eames while he was out of the country.
Since then five Opposition MPs have been suspended from Parliament; journalists visiting the island have been told they must pay an $8,000 non-refundable fee; the Police Commissioner has been sacked after he launched an inquiry into bribry allegations involving the President and the Minister for Justice, and access to the social media site Facebook has been shut off.
Despite the inability of journalists to report freely, news has leaked out of beatings, rapes and general unrest involving the refugees, some of them children. Last month the Refugee Action Coalition highlighted the case of a female asylum-seeker from Iran who it says has been held in isolation since being sexually assaulted in May.
The Australian Government has repeatedly said that asylum-seekers who try to come to Australia by means other than its own processing system will never be settled there. Even so, it still bears responsibility for those it has sent to offshore detention.
As the Chair of the New Zealand Law Society’s Rule of Law Committee, Austin Forbes, pointed out in an interview with the ABC, Nauruan MPs are being held in prison without charge, legal representation has been denied: “We had to do something”.
The New Zealand Government has made it clear it regards Nauru as a country where the rule of law cannot be guaranteed. It is now over to Canberra to take up its moral and legal obligation to ensure the absolute safety of the men, women and children it has sent there.