The Writer’s Story

mailife - - Literature - By SU­SAN MERRELL Pho­tos by IVA ROKOVESA

I al­ways knew I’d even­tu­ally write the book, I’m a sto­ry­teller and Ju­lian Moti’s or­deal, played out over more than a decade, across four Pa­cific na­tions, was one of the most dis­grace­ful sto­ries of po­lit­i­cal scan­dal the Pa­cific has ever seen and is badly un­der­stood, of­ten com­pletely mis­un­der­stood. I had fol­lowed the case as it un­folded through the Aus­tralian courts af­ter Moti had been un­law­fully de­ported from the Solomon Is­lands and fol­low­ing his sub­se­quent ar­rest in Bris­bane. Dur­ing this time, I had fought a bat­tle, of epic pro­por­tions, to get de­tails of the case pub­lished against a hos­tile Aus­tralian press that were not in­ter­ested in any­thing but toe­ing the Aus­tralian govern­ment line. My suc­cesses were very lim­ited. Dur­ing those years, there was only one na­tional news­pa­per in Fiji (Fiji Sun) and an­other in the Solomon Is­lands (The Solomon Star) that were game to pub­lish the de­tails of a scan­dal that ex­posed the im­moral­ity of the Aus­tralian govern­ment as they used heinous crim­i­nal charges, pre­vi­ously re­solved in Moti’s favour, as a smoke­screen for their agenda: to rid the Solomon Is­lands of Moti’s le­git­i­mate po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence. And while I con­sid­ered I had a story that ri­valled the ‘Water­gate’ scan­dal in the USA (and I did), the Aus­tralian me­dia were doggedly de­ter­mined to ab­ro­gate their watch­dog fourth-es­tate role and they would al­lo­cate no space to re­veal­ing what was re­ally go­ing on, al­though I had am­ple ev­i­dence. Iron­i­cally, some­one coined the term ‘Moti­gate’ to de­scribe the saga. But, in this case, it was not the Aus­tralia me­dia that ex­posed the story – that was left to the High Court of Aus­tralia to recog­nise. It is down to the un­der re­port­ing in the Aus­tralian main­stream me­dia that the Moti saga is so thor­oughly mis­un­der­stood and the rea­son writ­ing the book took on its own moral im­per­a­tive.


While the world con­sists of many sto­ries, there are just a hand­ful of themes into which they fit – and the ‘theme’ to the Moti story re­sides in the bib­li­cal ‘David and Go­liath’ bat­tle. One man took on the might of the Aus­tralian govern­ment and won. And right­eous­ness was on the side of Moti – just as it had been with David. Re­deem­ing Moti ac­knowl­edges the ge­nius of the lawyer and the mag­ni­tude of the bat­tle he’d fought. For Moti turned the ta­bles on the Aus­tralian govern­ment and put them on trial. He would not an­swer, for a third time, the al­le­ga­tions that two com­pe­tent courts in Van­u­atu (where the al­leged of­fence(s) had oc­curred five years pre­vi­ously) had found so spe­cious that the case had not even pro­ceeded to trial. “How many more times must I prove my in­no­cence?” Moti asked. At the cen­tre of the Van­u­atu charges that the Aus­tralian govern­ment were re­gur­gi­tat­ing, was an ex­tor­tion de­mand by the fa­ther of a 13-year-old girl for $50,000 that would en­able him to get the visas his fam­ily needed to stop their im­mi­nent de­por­ta­tion from Van­u­atu. The fa­ther threat­ened that were

the money not forth­com­ing his daugh­ter would al­lege that Moti had raped her – it wasn’t and she did. Doc­u­ments un­cov­ered post the Van­u­atu de­ci­sions and dur­ing the later and sub­se­quent Aus­tralian trial, at­tested to the re­viv­i­fied charges be­ing po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated. In Aus­tralia Fed­eral Po­lice (AFP) min­utes it was writ­ten that their in­for­mant – Pa­trick Cole, the Aus­tralian High Com­mis­sioner to the Solomon Is­lands, was urg­ing Moti’s pros­e­cu­tion in or­der to curb Moti’s po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence which, by that time, in­cluded the mooted, and later re­alised, At­tor­ney-Gen­eral role. This sorry chap­ter of Moti’s life only ended when the full seven-per­son bench of the High Court of Aus­tralia, in a six to one rul­ing, recog­nised the ex­cesses of the Aus­tralian govern­ment and granted Moti a per­ma­nent stay of pros­e­cu­tion on one of them – his un­law­ful ren­di­tion to Aus­tralia from the Solomon Is­lands. The Aus­tralian au­thor­i­ties, by their abuse of process and ar­guably of their power too, had lost the right to put him on trial. With only an abid­ing faith in the law, like the prover­bial sling­shot of David, Ju­lian Moti QC had de­feated the mon­strous Go­liath that the Aus­tralian govern­ment had be­come.


It has taken me al­most six years to re­visit the Ju­lian Moti story, al­though, once I com­mit­ted to writ­ing the book, things moved along rapidly with a first draft of the book on paper af­ter only two months. I know the sub­ject well. The years in be­tween cov­er­ing the trial and tack­ling the sub­ject again were nec­es­sary space to ob­jec­tively and fairly re­visit what was, for me, a fraught time. Moti’s was a case that had com­pletely chal­lenged some par­a­digms that I held dear. I had never be­fore con­sid­ered that the Aus­tralia, where I live and vote, had in­cum­bent gov­ern­ments that were un­prin­ci­pled and/or rogue; that would ruth­lessly and bla­tantly flout laws and know­ingly ruin in­no­cent lives and use the courts and heinous crim­i­nal charges to ef­fect a base po­lit­i­cal agenda - bor­der­ing on neo colo­nial­ism. This case shat­tered my il­lu­sions. More­over, given that the saga crossed over the change of Aus­tralian govern­ment from a Lib­eral-Party-led govern­ment to a La­bor-Party-led one, there was no chance of blam­ing a par­tic­u­lar po­lit­i­cal ide­ol­ogy – it was bi-par­ti­san. No longer could I be se­cure in the fact that an Aus­tralian govern­ment, that I live un­der, would treat me fairly. The prece­dent was es­tab­lished. It also made me scep­ti­cal of all the lip ser­vice the me­dia in­dus­try gave to ‘ethics’. There were of­ten times dur­ing the court process when the raw hos­til­ity that I en­coun­tered from news­pa­per edi­tors in Aus­tralia – al­most uni­ver­sally – when try­ing to sell (or even give away) copy, made me ques­tion my own per­cep­tions. And while my crises of con­fi­dence were mostly short­lived, that sort of hos­til­ity takes its toll mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to main­tain any pro­longed en­thu­si­asm for the task. I was glad when the High Court de­ci­sion was handed down and it was over. Yet, if this is the af­fect that the case had on me, how much more dev­as­tat­ing must it have been for Ju­lian Moti?


On that sub­ject, I am happy to say that Ju­lian Moti has proved him­self to be re­silient. This much ma­ligned man is not bit­ter and says that, in many ways, it has re­newed his faith in the rule of law while lament­ing that the law has not man­aged, in Aus­tralia, to curb ‘ex­ec­u­tive law­less­ness’ that had run rife through his case. Dur­ing the launch of Re­deem­ing Moti in Suva on May 11 (hosted by the Univer­sity of Fiji) Moti announced that af­ter more than five years the Aus­tralian govern­ment had apol­o­gised as part of the set­tle­ment of his claim for com­pen­sa­tion. As he noted, it has not been of­ten that the Aus­tralian govern­ment has made such a ges­ture, so it was sig­nif­i­cant. Yet, to me, it seems they have done the least they can do. His ‘apol­ogy’ states: “…Mr Moti has re­solved his claim against the Com­mon­wealth and as part of that res­o­lu­tion the Com­mon­wealth states that it re­grets that Aus­tralian of­fi­cials fa­cil­i­tated the un­law­ful de­por­ta­tion of Mr Moti QC from the Solomon Is­lands to Aus­tralia to face crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion.” There’s not a lot of deeply felt re­morse ev­i­dent there. And while I’m sure they “re­gret” that they fa­cil­i­tated this un­law­ful act, I’d haz­ard a guess that they re­gret even more that they were caught out. Un­der these cir­cum­stances, and oth­ers that I’ve not men­tioned in­volv­ing the other two cul­pa­ble na­tions, I’m not sure that there has been much re­demp­tion for Ju­lian Moti. But I’m just the sto­ry­teller - per­haps re­demp­tion is not mine to give.

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