11 October 2008
Doorstop Interview, ABC TV Newcastle
QUESTION: Okay. Well Stephen obviously the tests revealing that this is indeed the body of Britt Lapthorne. Obviously very disappointing news as far as the government's concerned.
SMITH: Well it's a tragedy for the Lapthorne family and I think all Australians' hearts go out to them. I rang Ms Lapthorne earlier this morning to relay the condolences and sympathies of the Government but also indicated to her that I think every Australian is feeling for them today. Everyone's got a daughter, a wife, a girlfriend, a sister. It's just the terrible human tragedy. And I've also indicated that we will assist Mr Lapthorne and his son, Britt's brother to return to Australia when they want to return and also will assist in every possible way with the return of Britt to Australia.
QUESTION: So what form will that assistance take?
SMITH: Well in the first instance, Britt's body will be released by the Croatian authorities when further autopsy reports have been - and studies have been done. We expect that that will be available on Monday, at the earliest. And that will assist in the further enquiries.
We will have our consular officers remain in Dubrovnik, giving assistance to Mr Lapthorne and his son for as long as they want to remain there. And then when they decide when they want to return with Britt, then we will facilitate and help with their return and Britt's return to Australia.
QUESTION: And that will mean paying airfares et cetera?
SMITH: Well we will render them every assistance that's required in these terrible circumstances. When this occurs to Australians overseas we render them assistance and we'll do everything possible we can in this case.
QUESTION: I guess many people would say the Government's stepping in to assist now that we know what's happened. Could more have been done in the last three weeks, while they were desperate for help finding their daughter?
SMITH: Well today's not the day to engage in a conversation about the different views about what assistance was applied to this case. I'm satisfied that Australian officials and the Australian Government did everything possible that it could to assist in this matter. But today's not the day to have that conversation.
I've also made it clear that given the terrible human tragedy that the Lapthorne family were going through that they were entitled to say whatever they wanted to say, publicly or privately. They wanted their daughter back and it's just a tragedy that it has ended up in this way. So they have nothing but our sympathy and our support. And we'll render the family every assistance in their return to Australia and Britt's return to Australia.
QUESTION: And will there by any review of what DFAT has done in this case and whether more could have been done, at a later point?
SMITH: Well we always review the assistance that we provide. You always learn new things from new cases. But this is not the time to contemplate those things. I'm satisfied that Australian Government and its officials did everything possible and we're also satisfied that the Croatian police authorities are doing everything possible they can to try and bring the investigation to a conclusion.
What we don't know today is the cause of Britt's death and that will be part of an ongoing investigation and for the present the Australian Federal Police officer who was there will remain liaising with the Croatian police authorities and assisting on the enquiry.
QUESTION: Does it concern you that the family was given such conflicting information about the identity of this body? Does it concern you about the way the police in Croatia have handled it?
SMITH: Well the Croatian authorities on this matter said to the family that they wouldn't be speculating about the matter until they had the scientific result.
QUESTION: They certainly did indicate though that it was unlikely to be their daughter's body.
SMITH: Well the advice I have is that the Croatian authorities made it clear to the family that when they had the results available they would let the family know. The family were told, Mr Lapthorne and his son were told in the early hours of the morning, Australia time, and they were in the company of the Australian Federal Police officer and also the of Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade consular officials. So they were with Australian officials when the Croatian police advised them.
In matters such as these, the only sensible course is to wait until we have the scientific evidence. Today the tragedy is that that evidence confirms that it's Britt and it's a terrible human tragedy and the family have got nothing but our sympathy and I think that's true of all Australians.
I think everyone has been touched by this terrible tragedy. Everyone has a wife, a sister, a daughter, a girlfriend. And this has been just the worst possible nightmare for the family and it's a terrible ending to it.
QUESTION: You mentioned that the final tests and autopsies would be done by Monday. What sort of time frame can you see Britt's body getting back home to Australia?
SMITH: Well that'll be a matter in the first instance for Croatian authorities, who will need to formally release the body and then it'll be a matter for the family to decide how they want to bring her back. As I say, we will give every support and assistance to the family when they decide how they want to come home and when they want to come home. And we will help them get back and we'll help Britt get back.
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