Doorstop interview, Perth

Subjects: Colin Russell.

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

3 January 2014

JULIE BISHOP:Thank you for being here this morning.

I am pleased that Greenpeace activist Colin Russell is back home in Tasmania however I am surprised that he has criticised the Government for the support that he received while in detention in Russia and I am surprised that he says that he has no regrets and would do it all again. I would hope that he has a regret about the cost to the Australian taxpayer for the consular and ministerial support that he received.

On six occasions consular officials from Moscow travelled to Murmansk and to St Petersburg to provide consular support for Mr Russell. On four occasions they travelled the 3000 kilometre round-trip to Murmansk. There were costs for air fares and accommodation.

Likewise on two occasions our consular officials travelled to St Petersburg, about a 1500 kilometre round trip to provide consular support to Mr Russell.

Our consular officials met with senior officials from the Russian foreign ministry. Our embassy in Moscow sought briefings from the Russian foreign ministry about the nature of the charges.

I met face to face with the Deputy Foreign Minister, Morgulov, on two occasions. I personally wrote to Foreign Minister Lavrov on behalf of Mr Russell and made representations. My ambassador in Moscow also met with the Ministry in Russia after my letter had been sent and made representations on Mr Russell's behalf.

We also ensured that his family was kept informed of what we were doing for him and his welfare, and the legal processes that were underway. In fact my department assures me that there were over 85 personal emails and phone calls and also senior officials met with Mrs Russell.

I also offered to meet with Mrs Russell to talk about her husband's case. So I am surprised that he has complained about this level of representation and I would suggest that before he undertakes to return to Russia and again seek to climb on board a Russian oil rig, he think of the time and cost and diversion of resources from Australian consular officials in order to support such activity.

JOURNALIST: Are you able to put a dollar figure on this cost?

JULIE BISHOP: I've been informed that it runs into the tens of thousands of dollars but at this stage we've not been able to put an actual cost on it. But there were not only the travel and accommodation costs but also the lost time and the diversion of resources.

JOURNALIST: So to your mind the Australian Government could've done no more to help Mr Russell?

JULIE BISHOP: We did all that we could given the circumstances. It was an attempt by Greenpeace to attract a response from the Russian authorities and they got that response. They sought to climb aboard an oil rig that was owned by a Russian entity.

Put yourself in the Australian situation. If activists sought to do that on the North West Shelf, how would the Australian Government respond?

So in terms of the consular support he received, we did all that we could and indeed I personally intervened by speaking directly to the Deputy Foreign Minister on two occasions and writing directly to Foreign Minister Lavrov.

JOURNALIST: Is it possible there's been a misunderstanding and maybe all of these things that the Government's done haven't been communicated to him?

JULIE BISHOP: We wrote to him on many occasions, to his family. There were 45 emails, 40 phone calls to his family. There was a meeting in Canberra with senior officials and his family. I wrote to Mrs Russell setting out what we had done and I also offered to meet with her. She cancelled that meeting because she went to Russia to visit her husband.

JOURNALIST: Given Mr Russell's comments then, are you concerned that more Australians, more protesters could potentially find themselves in these kind of situations?

JULIE BISHOP: Well it would be reckless to encourage people to undertake activities designed to provoke a response from overseas authorities - in this case the Russian authorities.

If Australians undertake activities overseas that risk breaking another country's laws, or risk breaking international laws, there is a limit to what the Australian Government can do once they're subject to another country's legal processes. The same would apply in Australia.

And so I do say to Mr Russell and the Greenpeace activists, they say they're going to do it again - well bear in mind the risk, the cost to the Australian taxpayer of having to foot the bill for the consular support that is required when they fall into the hands of the Russian authorities.

JOURNALIST: When Australian authorities engage in costly maritime rescues, sometimes there are calls for the people who got rescued to perhaps contribute towards the cost. Is it tempting to ask for Mr Russell to contribute to the cost of the consular assistance, particularly his willingness to criticise the level of it?

JULIE BISHOP: I haven't yet received a detailed account of what was involved; I'm told it was tens of thousands of dollars, but that's certainly something I'll look at. Greenpeace say that they deliberately went to Russia with a view to provoking a response from the Russian authorities. There was an attempt to climb aboard an oil rig owned by Russian authorities, and so therefore we'll look very closely at this issue. Of course cost recovery can be an important part of providing consular support.

JOURNALIST: So when you say you'll look at it, you will consider whether or not Greenpeace might be able to contribute to the cost of the consular assistance?

JULIE BISHOP: If it has cost the Australian taxpayer tens of thousands of dollars and Greenpeace is threatening to do it again, then I think the Australian taxpayer is entitled to ask why they should be footing the bill each time.

JOURNALIST: Was this part of your work over Christmas and New Year Julie?

JULIE BISHOP: This is all part of my work all of the time as Foreign Minister. There are many consular matters under consideration at any one time. There are many Australians, sadly, who are in detention or subject to legal proceedings of other countries, and we do what we can to support them. But there is a limit to what the Australian Government can do to support people who are within another country's legal system, and particularly if they are in detention.

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