Yesterday in Port Moresby Prime Minister Rudd issued the Port Moresby Declaration. It indicated that a truly new relationship may be developed, based on self-respect and mutually advantageous economic development. But if Rudd is serious about encouraging democracy and accountability in PNG and the Solomon Islands, the Australian government and the Regional Assiatance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) must account for their actions over the Julian Moti affair.

Tomorrow, the Rudd caravan reaches Honiara in the Solomon Islands. Mr Rudd and new Solomon Islands Prime Minister Dr Sikua have already met in Canberra, soon after Dr Sikua was elected on 20 December 2007. Significantly Dr Sikua, unlike his predecessor Sogovare, agreed to remove Julian Moti QC from the office of Attorney- General and allowed Australia a free hand his “extraction” from the Solomon Islands to Australia on child-s-x charges — which until then had been a major sticking point between the countries and, according to news reports today, the reason why “relations between PNG and the Howard government broke down”.  

But one of the problems associated with RAMSI is that the locals have adopted the saying: “Weitim olketa RAMSI bae kam stretem.” Or: “Wait for RAMSI to come and fix it.” The involvement of RAMSI expatriates in the “anti-corruption roles” in the Solomon Islands has “divorced” the locals from the process of Law and Justice.

Increasingly the locals have become unwilling to co-operate and have left it to the RAMSI expatriates to do their own “law and Justice” work. Even the new Prime Minister Dr Sikua, in February at a South Pacific Foreign Ministers Forum, has officially called for a RAMSI exit strategy to be devised in the near future.

If Rudd is not to treat the Solomon Islands like “our own backyard” (to use Howard-speak) and leave unfinished business behind he should ensure that his Foreign Affairs Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Islands Affairs take a close look at the Julian Moti matter; instead of leaving it to the Attorney General and the Australian Federal police.

This may well save the Rudd government its own Haneef and Ul-Haque debacles all wrapped in one.

Our governments should not run roughshod over very basic principles of the Rule of Law and the sovereignty of our smaller, near neighbours.

Yet on 27 December 2007, under the Rudd government watch, Australian citizen Julian Moti QC was forcibly removed by Australian authorities from his home in the Solomon Islands and placed directly on a flight to Brisbane. This appears to have been done in direct contravention of Solomon Islands court orders made some six days earlier.

The court orders were ignored notwithstanding the fact that the Australian authorities and their agents had sought to have the orders set aside, and the decision was still pending. The judicial officer had reserved his decision, to be handed down later on the very day when Mr Moti was forcibly removed.

When the decision was handed down the judicial officer stated: “The interim order made of December 2007 has been breached and overtaken by the arrest and deportation of the plaintiff [Moti QC] on 27 of December 2007”.

Why could the Australian authorities not have waited for the decision of the court to be delivered before taking further action, and what was the point of appearing in court and presenting arguments, if there was no intention to await the court’s decision?

Is the way in which Australia apparently treated with open contempt the Solomon Islands judicial officer, the way in which Australia is leading countries such as Fiji under the “aegis” of RAMSI, to provide near South Pacific neighbours with “capacity building” in the law and justice area?

Moti’s s-x-tourism prosecution (more than seven years after the matter had been judicially resolved) and only after he started (on behalf of the Solomon Islands elected government) challenging the legitimacy of RAMSI’s actions in the Solomon Islands hardly reflects well upon Australia’s own adherence to Rule of Law and transparency issues.

Peter Fray

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