Australian Silence Endures As NZ Joins UN and US In Concerns Over Nauru

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New Zealand is ramping-up pressure on Australia to respond to the degrading political and legal situation on Nauru, with the country’s Foreign Minister confirming he will have a one-on-one meeting with Nauru’s President at a Pacific Island Forum meeting in Sydney on Friday.

Politicians from across New Zealand’s political divide have united in recent weeks, criticising the Nauruan government for a crackdown on opposition figures and civil rights since coming to power.

While Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is also reportedly seeking assurances from the Nauruan President, she has declined to publicly criticise the country’s leaders.

“The Australian Government is monitoring the developments in Nauru closely and continues to engage with the Government of Nauru and other regional partners,” a spokesperson for Bishop said.

Hundreds of asylum seekers who had attempted to reach Australia by boat remain interned on the island, with hundreds more tyring to settle into the community having been processed as refugees and released from detention.

Documents lodged at an ongoing Australian Senate Inquiry revealed allegations of sexual assault and violence in the centre have continued in recent months.

Meanwhile, Nauruan President Baron Waqa and influential Justice Minister David Adeang have found themselves at the centre of a damning investigation into corruption on the island, with the ABC unearthing emails suggesting mining company Getax paid the men thousands of dollars in bribes.

In January 2014 the Nauruan government confirmed it would increase the cost of a visa for visiting journalists from $200 to $8,000. Since then, Facebook has been blacked-out, a decision which drew condemnation from the US State Department and the United Nations.

A number of opposition MPs have been arrested in recent weeks, or prevented from returning to the island. The local media is banned from interviewing them.

A former magistrate who was expelled from the island has blasted it a “rogue state”, and said the government had not demonstrated a commitment to the rule of law.

In response, New Zealand has upped its criticism.

On Monday evening Prime Minister John Key said a response from both Australia and NZ would be “beneficial”.

“Certainly, what we’re seeing taking place up there is worrying to us,” he said.

The New Zealand parliament last week unanimously passed a motion expressing concern about the government’s alleged inference with the judiciary, and removal of civil and political rights.

Despite the worsening situation, Australia remains the country’s major backer. In 2013-14 Australia provided 20 per cent of Nauru’s domestic revenue, and $25.9 million in aid is expected to be delivered this year.

New Zealand has not ruled out cutting its aid contributions to Nauru, which total just $2.3 million.

The Senate Inquiry into the Australian backed detention centre has unearthed shocking claims, including that guards paid refugees for sex and then distributed the footage, and that Senator Sarah Hanson-Young was spied on when she visited to inspect the island.

Max Chalmers

Max Chalmers is a former New Matilda journalist and editorial staff member. His main areas of interest are asylum seekers, higher education and politics.

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