Mr. Trevor Garland AM, CSI, has hit back at a report published in the Solomon Star that accused him of threatening to use his influence to close down the '10 beds program' between St. Vincent's Hospital in Sydney and the Solomon Islands if the Solomon Islands' High Commissioner, Victor Ngele, was not replaced.

In Sydney on Monday, Mr. Garland challenged the unknown 'sources' to reveal themselves, saying that taking libellous pot shots from a position of anonymity was "cowardice" and "gutter journalism."

Mr. Garland claimed that the alleged conversation with the Solomon Islands' government never occurred.

"No threats or ultimatums were made by me," Mr. Garland said. "The decision to replace the High Commissioner was a decision of the Government and purely of the High Commissioner's making. I believe that Victor Ngele was ineffectual in his position but I would never allow that to jeopardise the program or the welfare of future patients."

Mr. Garland was instrumental in the design and inception of the program, first referring a sick patient to St. Vincent's Hospital in 1978 while Director of Health Services in the Western Province Catholic Mission. He went on to oversee its formalization 15 years ago and has co-ordinated it from the Sydney end since accepting a diplomatic role.

"The program is bigger and more important than one man," Garland asserted.

The Minister for Home Affairs, Mr. Peter Tom concurs. Speaking in Sydney on Monday, he said:

"The allegations [in the Solomon Star article] are not true. It's a Solomon Islands government issue."

Sister Clare Nolan CSI, a Sister of Charity at St. Vincent's Hospital, also dismissed the allegations as mischievous. Working alongside Mr. Garland for more than 25 years, she assists in the administration of the program.

"Trevor would never act like that," she said. "He's a high-principled person. He's honourable, truthful and a tireless worker."

Rather than seeking to curtail the program, Mr. Garland has been campaigning to have the program expanded according to Sister Clare, exploring the possibility of opening a St. Vincent's Hospital in the Solomon Islands.

As to the added accusation of the program only catering for Solomon Island elites, Sister Clare shook her head. Asked to contemplate a situation where there was only one bed remaining on the program and two worthy recipients - one a Member of Parliament and another an ordinary Solomon Islander - who did she think Mr. Garland would favour - she laughed and said:

"Trevor would persuade us to take both. Under Trevor's active encouragement the 10 beds have expanded to 20 and sometimes 30 beds."

The Minister for Home Affairs who is himself a current recipient of the 10 beds program has also dismissed the 'favouritism' accusation as untrue.

"There are lots of different people here," he said

The Solomon Islands' High Commissioner in Canberra had no one available who could comment when they were contacted on Monday. Mr. Ngele had left the post that morning, according to the Commission.