Australia could do more on Nauru governance, says academic
Australia is partly to blame for enabling an authoritarian approach to government by the Baron Waqa-led administration on Nauru, according to an Australian academic.
Australia is partly to blame for enabling an authoritarian approach by the Baron Waqa-led government on Nauru, according to an Australian academic.
Stewart Firth, a State, Society and Governance research fellow at the Australian National University, says with Nauru's election approaching, the government has made it very difficult for any group to unseat or criticise it.
Dr Firth spoke to Johnny Blades who asked if Nauru's regional partners should be concerned.
STEWART FIRTH: Well I think they should be alarmed and I think New Zealand has been alarmed because New Zealand has actually taken action suspending aid to the justice sector in Nauru last September and that hasn't been renewed as yet and of course last year New Zealand Parliament passed a motion deploring what was happening to the judiciary in Nauru and the rule of law in general. So New Zealand has taken action but of course Australia has said very little.
JOHNNY BLADES: There have been suggestions that perhaps the Pacific Islands Forum or the commonwealth could step in to do something but they would have to be invited first.
SF: Well there has already been a commonwealth mission and they went and talked to the chief justice right Ratu Joni Mandrawiwi and other figures and their conclusion was the judiciary is still free in Nauru and certainly you would have to say Ratu Joni has a rather distinguished in Fiji for taking a principal stand on these issues so it is perhaps more shades of grey than black and white. More than we think.
JB: Nonetheless the selection coming up it is in everyone's interest in the region that this be free and fair. And the prospects of that look increasingly dim so what can the region do or what can the region hope for?
SF: As you say there is always the Biketawa process but it also requires an invitation. I think if you are trying to explain what has happened in Nauru you have to start with the internal politics of the place and what really happened was as you know Nauru had a very long period of political instability where I think they had 36 changes of government up to 2010 since independence and what happened in 2012 was that they finally agreed to make it an odd number of parliamentarians, 19 instead of 18. It had always been a problem of deadlock because one side got nine and the other got nine and neither was prepared to put up a speaker because the otherside would become the government. But unfortunately stability has been an invitation then to a sort of authoritarian approach particularly I think inspired by David Adeang the justice minister.
JB: He seems to be the key play-maker.
SF: He has taken the opportunity that is really provided by this sort of strange symbiosis with Australia whereby Australia is loath to criticise what happens on Nauru or as Julie Bishop the Australian Foreign Minister tends to do, she says well this is all just a sovereign internal domestic matter for Nauru. And the Nauruans know that of course and the present government is making the most of it. So it has given them the freedom that they would not otherwise have had.
JB: So you would probably have to lay some blame perhaps at Canberra's feet?
SF: Yeah I wouldn't put the primary blame there because I think the real source of it lies in the politics of Nauru itself. But it is also the case that if Australia had taken the kind of stand that New Zealand had taken things would not be the way they are in Nauru.
JB: It is not too late for Canberra to do something?
SF: It is not too late for Canberra to do something but of course we too are coming up to an election in July and once again border security is a major issue.
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