November 29, 2019 20:43:18

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie has slammed the retrial of a long-running case against a group of former opposition MPs and their supporters in Nauru, dubbed as the Nauru 19, saying Australia should intervene.

Key points:

  • The original case in 2015 was thrown out by an Australian judge
  • But the case has been brought back and the defendants denied legal representation
  • Australia has spent billions of dollars to fund the offshore immigration detention centre on Nauru

Speaking to the ABC, Mr Wilkie called on the Australian Government to “speak up and express its concern about the way the Nauru 19 is now back before the court”.

Mr Wilkie said Australia should be using “our leverage” with the Nauru Government and called the Pacific country “virtually a failed state” if it was not for Australian funding.

The so-called Nauru 19 were charged with rioting and disturbing the legislature over protests outside the nation’s Parliament in 2015.

The original case in Nauru’s Supreme Court was thrown out last year when retired Australian judge Geoffrey Muecke ruled it was a “shameful affront to the rule of law”.

However, a newly-appointed judge has overruled that decision and a retrial of the remaining dissidents began earlier this month. The case is now adjourned until Monday.

“The fact that they’re now back before the court with a new and presumably compliant judge without legal representation … [is] shameful,” Mr Wilkie said.

‘Australia has great leverage’

Australia has spent billions of dollars to fund the offshore immigration detention centre on Nauru.

Multiple sources who spoke to the ABC have also said Australia has funded the prison where members of the Nauru 19 are being held until the outcome of their trial.

For Mr Wilkie and Justice Muecke, that means Australia has an obligation to intervene.

“When you drill down a bit deeper, it’s hardly a sovereign country, I mean, Nauru virtually a puppet state of Australia,” Mr Wilkie said.

“It’s a barely disguised secret that Australia has great leverage over Nauru.

“And surely it should empower us to use our leverage with the Nauru Government for them to lift their game. We shouldn’t be associating ourselves with any country that behaves this way.”

In a letter shared with the ABC, Mr Wilkie formally asked Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne for Australia to urgently intervene, quoting “political interference in the judicial process”.

“The fact they’re before a court on nonsense charges — without legal representation — surely that should concern Australians,” Mr Wilkie said.

“The injustice in Nauru is ongoing. And there’s been great silence from the Australian Government.”

Member seeks political asylum in Australia

In September this year, Squire Jeremiah, a member of the Nauru 19, and his cousin Rutherford Jeremiah, fled to Australia seeking political asylum.

He said the Nauruan Government is determined to have them convicted.

Justice Muecke’s told the ABC a fair trial was not possible because of government interference.

He ordered a permanent stay on the proceedings against the Nauru 19 last year — meaning the trial would not go ahead. However, his contract not renewed by the Nauruan Government after his ruling.

Now the former South Australian judge says the Nauruan Government is overriding the rule of law by passing legislation that limits their access to legal representation.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs has been approached for comment.

The Nauruan Government has not responded to the ABC’s request for comment.








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