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Australian-born judge advises Fiji's military -

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Australian judge advises Fiji's military ruler

Shane McLeod reported this story on Monday, November 9, 2009 12:22:00

ELEANOR HALL: The standoff between Fiji's military regime and the Federal Government has reached a
new low. Last week there were the expulsions of Australia's high commissioner from Suva and Fiji's
representative from Canberra. Now there's more detail of the central role played by Fiji's chief
justice.

Memorandum from the chief justice Anthony Gates - who's also an Australian citizen - all but urges
Fiji's military ruler to take action over the travel bans that he says stopped Sri Lankan judges
from taking up positions on the Fiji judiciary.

Shane McLeod has our report.

SHANE MCLEOD: Relations between Australia and New Zealand and Fiji's regime are at a new low after
the Government of military ruler Frank Bainimarama last week booted out the diplomatic
representatives of Canberra and Wellington.

That was precipitated by a dispute over the extent of travel bans Australia and New Zealand have
imposed on the Fiji Government and officials. Those measures had prompted a rare media conference
from the nation's Australian chief justice, Anthony Gates.

ANTHONY GATES: As head of the judiciary in Fiji, I must stand up against such interference. Fiji
must have a judiciary and it is not for Australia and New Zealand to tell us we cannot have one or
to tell us who we are to appoint.

SHANE MCLEOD: Chief Justice Gates was upset at moves by Australia to make it clear to seven Sri
Lankan judges they wouldn't be allowed to travel through Australia once they'd taken up their posts
in the Fijian judiciary.

ANTHONY GATES: Each one of the judicial officers was telephoned by a visa officer from the
Australian High Commission counselling them against taking up the appointments in Fiji. They were
each warned that if they took up the appointments, they would not be allowed to travel to Australia
during their time in Fiji and that they would not be allowed into Australia for medical treatment
for themselves or their families either.

SHANE MCLEOD: In response, Australia accused the chief justice of misrepresenting its approach to
the visas for the Sri Lankan judges. By Wednesday, Frank Bainimarama had moved to expel the high
commissioners.

Now there's more detail of the role that the chief justice played in that response from the Fijian
Government. The Australian newspaper has published a memorandum sent by Justice Gates to Frank
Bainimarama two days after his original media conference.

In it, he describes the Australian response to the question of visas for the judges as 'damage
control'. He

refers to an audio recording of a phone call from the high commission to one of the judges, in
which the chief justice says, the officer says the judge's visa has been denied.

A copy of that recording has been made available to Fiji's media but it does not appear to include
confirmation a visa was not issued.

EXTRACT FROM TELEPHONE RECORDING: Individuals appointed to the Fiji judiciary, regardless of
citizenship, became subject to these travel sanctions and that will obviously include yourself and
individuals affected by travel sanctions are not allowed to travel to or through Australia although
the travel sanctions policy is applied flexibly.

SHANE MCLEOD: The memo from Chief Justice Gates concludes with him pressing for action from
Commodore Bainimarama.

EXTRACT FROM MEMO FROM ANTHONY GATES: I have already said the judiciary cannot expect help from any
quarter, that is the nature of our independent role. However, from a political point of view, can
the executive allow such interference to continue?

SHANE MCLEOD: And the next day, the Fijian Government moved to expel the Australian and New Zealand
high commissioners.

Australia's Foreign Affairs Department has no comment to make on the memorandum, but it has
highlighted its response to the original claims by the chief justice, in which it described him as
having misrepresented Australia's handling of the visas. The World Today contacted the chief
justice's office in Suva seeking a response, but was told he would not be available.

The central role that he's playing in the dispute has come as a surprise to those who've known the
approach he's taken to his legal career over a number of years. Peter Ridgway served as deputy
director in Fiji's Department of Public Prosecutions. He playing a key role in dealing with the
perpetrators of the 2000 coup led by George Speight.

PETER RIDGWAY: His role in recent events particularly in the post-Bainimarama coup and things that
have followed, it is very difficult to reconcile with the highly principled staunch defender of the
judiciary and the constitution that I worked with in 2001-2005 period. So I find it very hard to
recognise the same individual.

ELEANOR HALL: Peter Ridgway is the former deputy director of the Department of Public Prosecutions
in Fiji. He was speaking to Shane McLeod.