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The depths of common cause between Australia and Nauru

  • 14 July 2015

Nauru is a small country, heavily reliant on aid from Australia and New Zealand. To Australia, whose government and opposition have been tirelessly highlighting the dangers inherent in uncontrolled rights to citizenship, judicial decision-making and freedom of expression – and has recently made great progress in curbing or blunting these in a number of areas – this smaller island nation represents a shining example of the exciting possibilities open to a government willing to combat these liberal evils in the service of staying in power at all costs.

In 2014, following a series of court decisions against the Government in this tiny country whose (phosphate) mining boom has long since come and gone into the hands of big businesses and overseas powers, the resident magistrate and non-resident Chief Justice were removed from office (and, in the Chief Justice’s case, expelled), leaving Government-trained lawyers as the only lawyers on the island. (Overseas lawyers who have sought to come to Nauru to help fight the Government in court have had their visas denied.)

In an impressive demonstration of how the revocation of citizenship can be made to work to defend the national reputation and lifestyle of a country against those who would wish it harm, five of the country’s seven opposition MPs (in a 19 member Parliament) have had their passports cancelled for 'damaging the reputation and development of the country'. In Australia, at least for the moment, damaging of Government property will still be required for the Minister of Immigration and Border Protection to revoke citizenship under the new anti-terror provisions in s.35A of the Citizenship Act. (At least one lawyer has, however, pointed out that blowing the whistle on embarrassing intelligence operations would also probably be a good way to lose your Australian passport under the new legislation.)

All of the five Nauruan MPs who have had their passports suspended have also been expelled from Parliament indefinitely (leaving their seats vacant for over a year now) and three of them have since been arrested without bail for protesting against what they see as the Government’s heavy handed policies. This degree of enthusiastically political policing has not yet happened in Australia although, as we were reminded this week, three opposition leaders – including two former Prime Ministers – have been subpoenaed to appear before a Royal Commission established by the new Government which, like its Nauruan counterpart, was elected in 2013. (The New