Where is Nauru?
Most Australians have heard of it through the political pawn it has become as a nation within the Pacific Solution, but does anyone know where it is, its history, culture and the sorry tale of mining exploitation, bankruptcy and continued reliance on Australia.
Nauru’s basic information
Located in the south-western Pacific Ocean, approximately 4000 km. away from Sydney.
Nauru’s 9,488 residents live on an oval shaped coral island previously rich in phosphate, with a surface area of 21 square kilometres. This is smaller than the City of Sydney council area.
The country is also the smallest island nation, and third smallest independent state behind Monaco and The Vatican.
History of Nauru
Inhabited by Micronesians and Polynesians for nearly 3000 years, the island became a German protectorate in 1888.
Invaded by Australia during WWI and maintained as a League of Nations Mandate until Nauru was brutally invaded and enslaved by the Japanese during WWII, the Nauruan people have been through difficult times since occupation.
The discovery of phosphate and the capitalist greed displayed by colonial powers Australia, the United Kingdom and New Zealand (primarily Australia as the administrative power) in extracting the phosphate saw Nauru exploited in the post war years.
Independence in 1968 saw a change in fortunes as mining royalties remained with the Nauruan people, with the country seeing unprecedented per capita wealth increases. Nauru had one of the highest per capita GDP’s in the world in the 1970s.
However the gross exploitation of the land and the misuse of the recent wealth saw incomes decline and the environment deteriorate.
Nauru has since struggled to be self sufficient and relies on Australia and New Zealand for aid. The main driver of its economy now stems from reliance on Australia’s detention of asylum seekers in camps set up on the tiny island nation.
The Pacific Solution
During the infamous ‘Tampa’ affair in 2001, Prime Minister John Howard and then immigration minister Phillip Ruddock formulated the Pacific Solution which saw Christmas Island, Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and Nauru used as detention centres to deter asylum seekers from making the journey to Australia by boat, as the redefinition of Australia’s maritime borders meant that claims would not be processed in Australia, and that resettlement in Australia was unlikely.
The newly elected Rudd Government dismantled the Pacific Solution in 2008. This reignited the issue of refugees and asylum seekers in politics and continues to divide the Australian public. Julia Gillard’s Labor government reintroduced the Pacific Solution following the illegality of the Malaysian refugee swap deal.
With bipartisan support we now find refugees remain on Nauru in horrendous conditions, with Australia flagrantly breaching international law and our obligations as signatories to various United Nations treaties and agreements.