Australia urged to follow suit as New Zealand suspends Nauru funds
The New Zealand Government has suspended its funding for Nauru’s justice sector, citing concerns about democratic rights and the rule of law.
It follows the unanimous passing of a motion in parliament in July, outlining concerns over “the Government of Nauru’s alleged interference with the judiciary”.
The move – which will only affect the $NZ1.2 million dedicated to the country’s justice system – has sparked calls for action within Australia, with Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young calling for the Abbott Government to follow suit.
Senator Hanson-Young said that Nauru was “gripped in the throes of a systemic legal collapse”.
“The Nauruan Government should not be receiving kickbacks from Australia,” she said.
“New Zealand have realised that the Nauruan justice system cannot be trusted with its money, but Australia is so desperate to lock refugees up there that it will apparently turn a blind eye to anything.”
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said she had spoken with President and Foreign Minister of Nauru, Hon Baron Waqa on Thursday.
“I understand that the legal processes involving Opposition MPs in Nauru are progressing and judicial processes are being followed,” she said.
“I received assurances from President Waqa that the rule of law will be upheld. We will continue to engage with Nauru until this issue is resolved.
“Australia’s development assistance to Nauru, which supports health, education and public sector management, is not under review.”
The push comes just four days after a Senate Committee called on the government to ensure Nauru had sufficient resources to keep its “police, judicial, prosecutorial and other law and justice entities” up to international standards.
In a report published on Monday, the committee said its inquiry had heard concerns over the capacity of the Nauru Police Force to investigate allegations relating to the immigration detention centre on the island.
It stated that since September 2012, a total of 50 matters related to alleged incidents at the immigration detention centre had been referred to the Nauru Police Force for investigation. As of June 2105, only two sentences had been handed down.
Former Chief Magistrate on Nauru Peter Law told the committee that the force had “limited resources and capacity to investigate serious allegations”.
Mr Law said his concerns increased following the removal of the Australian-seconded police commissioner in July 2014.
“They were very reliant on support from the Australian Federal Police,” he said.
“… The subsequent departure or termination of the contract of Richard Britten, the then commissioner, on 19 July, was a very regrettable fact. I say that because, through him and his predecessor, Commissioner Ced Netto, they were able to offer their expertise and their assurances of independence and proper investigation.
“It was my observation that after their departure those factors were missing from the Nauru police force.”
Another former Chief Justice, Geoffrey Eames, told the committee that “there is a serious question about their independence and about their willingness to investigate allegations against Nauruans who are charged with assaults of non-Nauruans”.
“If Australia is to take responsibility for the welfare of people transferred by the government to Nauru, then the Nauru and Australian public must be assured that allegations of assault and other criminal conduct will be genuinely and thoroughly investigated,” he said.
“Where such thorough investigations might be seen by Nauru police to be unwelcome, so far as the Nauru government is concerned, it is unlikely that they will be undertaken.”