Australia raises concern over Kiribati law

Australia is urging the Kiribati government to respect the rule of law and urgently restore the independence of the court system.

Kiribati's government suspended all superior judges in the island nation that ruled against it and appointed Attorney-General Tetiro Semilota as chief justice.

New Zealand's high commissioner didn't attend a special high court session for the new chief justice after she was sworn in, with Wellington citing concerns about a conflict of interest.

Australia's high commissioner also didn't attend, but the Department of Foreign Affairs said it was due to a prior commitment.

Although, High Commissioner David Yardley wasn't invited to the chief justice's swearing in ceremony.

Australia has made over a dozen representations to the Kiribati government about the rule of law and concerns over eroding democratic practices.

The Pacific nation's government had tried to deport Australian Justice David Lambourne before the order was blocked by Chief Justice Bill Hastings.

The New Zealand judge was subsequently suspended as well.

Pacific division head Elizabeth Peak told Senate estimates on Thursday Australia is "quietly encouraging the Kiribati government to move forward expeditiously to ensure an independent judiciary".

Ms Peak added that Australia would welcome Kiribati back to the Pacific Island Forum table after it left the region's primary diplomatic body in July.

"We have a strong view that in the Pacific Islands Forum, unity will be central to our effectiveness going forward," Ms Peak said.

"The message to Kiribati is that the door to Pacific Island Forum membership is open."

Foreign Minister Penny Wong added: "We have expressed to other members of the forum that people won't always agree but having a strong regional body is really important".

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi toured the Pacific and met with multiple leaders as Beijing seeks a regional security deal after netting one with the Solomon Islands.

Some Pacific island nations rejected the initial proposal on the grounds that any security deal needed to have a regional consensus, which would be achieved through the forum.

The Sino-Solomons pact raised concerns about the prospect of a foothold for the Chinese military in the Pacific.

A recent report of aid to the Pacific revealed while Chinese aid in the region is shrinking, Beijing is targeting support to the Solomon Islands and Kiribati.