Chance to teach Australian minister some manners

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 July, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 July, 2004, 12:00am

Australia's justice minister blackened his country's reputation and damaged its relations with Hong Kong when he arrogantly refused to return two suspects wanted to face trial in our courts.

Now, he may find himself in the embarrassing position of having to ask for our government's help. It is an opportunity for Hong Kong to show Senator Chris Ellison how these delicate diplomatic affairs should be handled - and to teach him some manners.

For the first time since Senator Ellison's decision to block the extradition to Hong Kong, Australian police officers are hoping to secure the transfer of a suspect in the opposite direction.

The case is an unusual one. It involves a Hong Kong resident who faces possible charges arising from a car crash in which two of his passengers died. The suspect apparently refused to be questioned by police and is now believed to have returned to Hong Kong.

A file on the case is being considered by legal officials in Australia. If the extradition bid is approved, it will find its way to Mr Ellison's desk. It will then be up to him to decide whether to proceed with a request to Hong Kong.

Should he go ahead, the justice minister might consider how he would like to see the application received here. How would he feel if it was bluntly refused by our officials - with no explanation? Would he be satisfied with a patronising assurance that the refusal is 'for the best?' This was the way Mr Ellison treated the bid by Hong Kong.

Our government wanted to see two construction company engineers returned to face serious allegations of corruption arising from a short-piling scandal. As a result of Mr Ellison's refusal, they have both escaped justice. And we are still waiting for his explanation.

Until Mr Ellison's reasons are made known, relations between the two countries will remain under a cloud - even though Australia has since approved an extradition to Hong Kong in a different case.

Mr Ellison has denied that his refusal soured relations between his country and Hong Kong. He should now accept that this is simply not the case. Our government lodged a diplomatic protest with Australia in May. It is also seeking changes to the bilateral extradition agreement to ensure greater transparency in the future. But the fallout is most unlikely to prompt our officials to handle extradition requests from Australia in a similarly ignorant fashion.

The Department of Justice has already indicated that should such a request be received, it would be treated in the usual way. There will be no tit-for-tat measures.

This is what we would expect from our officials. They are courteous, respectful, and understand the meaning of the comity of nations. Mr Ellison would do well to learn from their example.