CHRIS UHLMANN: Julie Bishop, what does this conviction tell us about the new
JULIE BISHOP: We are utterly dismayed by this verdict and appalled by the
severity of the sentence. We’ve been making representations for a very long time
to the interim Egyptian government about our concerns over this case, that it
was politically motivated, and now the new Egyptian Government has an
opportunity to prove to the world that it is on the path to democracy, it does
believe in freedom of speech and freedom of the press which are the pillars of
democracy and so we hope that our representations to the new government will see
Peter Greste home as soon as possible.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Now you were wanting to call in the Egyptian Ambassador but he
is in Cairo, so what will you do?
JULIE BISHOP: Well we are calling in the Deputy Ambassador, who is here in
Canberra, but the Egyptian Ambassador is back in Cairo and we’re seeking to make
contact with him in Cairo. I’m also arranging to speak again with the Foreign
Minister, Foreign Minister Shoukri. He’s the new Foreign Minister; I spoke to
him over the weekend. He’s apparently travelling outside of Egypt so we’re
seeking to make contact with him so that I can register our deep concerns about
this case and the verdict. And likewise, we’re also taking steps to lodge a
formal diplomatic-level request of the President that he intervene in the
proceedings at this stage. We have been informed that the President cannot
consider a plea of clemency or a pardon until such time as all of the legal
proceedings have been concluded and that includes an appeal and the Greste
family are currently considering whether or not to appeal.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Is there any way of knowing how long that might take?
JULIE BISHOP: We don’t know how long an appeal would take. We understand
there are timeframes within which an appeal must be lodged, but I know that the
Greste family have a legal team and are seeking their advice on those sorts of
matters. But in the meantime, we will do what we can to make representations.
On the political side of things, Egypt has been at pains to point out that
they have an independent judicial system and of course we respect that, because
likewise in Australia we have an independent legal and judicial system. But
having seen the evidence, we just cannot understand how this verdict was
reached. Now there haven’t been reasons for the decision provided yet, I
understand that they will be given to Mr Greste’s legal team in the near future
and then we might have a better idea of how or why this verdict was reached.
CHRIS UHLMANN: But is there really any doubt that this was a politically
JULIE BISHOP: Well there’s no doubt that the proceedings in the first place
were politically motivated because this was at a time when the military had
taken over the government. The Muslim Brotherhood had been the democratically
elected government and then there was a military coup and the Muslim Brotherhood
was deemed a terrorist organisation. So Peter Greste was reporting on those
political scenarios at that time.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Has Peter Greste been caught in a political dispute between
Egypt and Qatar which funds Al Jazeera?
JULIE BISHOP: Well that’s another aspect to this case which makes it so
complex and the issues so difficult to grapple with because Al Jazeera is
clearly seen as part of the Qatari Government and the Qatari Government and
Egypt are currently at odds, so this is a very difficult and complex issue.
Unfortunately these kinds of cases are so difficult for us to get an outcome
because you have a change of government. I’ve been dealing with different
foreign ministers, our Prime Minister has spoken to the interim President and
now the current President, President el-Sisi, and so we’ve been having to deal
with an interim government that was put in place as the result of a military
coup. There’s now been an election, there is a new government and so we will be
appealing to that new government to call this verdict for what it is and
CHRIS UHLMANN: Is there any sign though that the Egyptian Government actually
cares about international displeasure? Because as you say, you’ve spoken to on
four occasions to two Foreign Ministers, the Prime Minister has spoken to the
President, John Kerry has spoken directly to the Foreign Minister overnight and
yet Egypt is not listening.
JULIE BISHOP: In fact we had called in aid, other governments very early on.
From early this year we have been working with other government – governments
that are closer to Egypt, governments in the region and asking them to make
representations on our behalf for Peter Greste and I know they’ve been doing
that at every level.
And so at this stage it’s hard to see how these representations have made a
difference, however that doesn’t mean we should stop; in fact we should increase
our level of representation because this new government now has an opportunity
to prove to the world that it is on the transition to democracy and it does
respect freedom of the press and freedom of speech.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Now on another matter, you told this programme last week that
as many as 150 Australians are fighting in Iraq and in Syria. Do Australia’s
international intelligence gathering agencies like ASIS and the Australian
Signals Directorate need more powers in order to monitor them?
JULIE BISHOP: We are currently considering a range of powers for our
intelligence community including ASIS, ASD, ASIO because we are deeply concerned
by what I see as one of the most significant domestic security developments that
we’ve seen in quite some time with the number of young people in particular, who
are being attracted to the conflict, not only in Syria but also Iraq, but more
disturbingly are training with ISIS which is a particularly brutal terrorist
group. It’s listed as a terrorist organisation in Australia. To engage with this
terrorist group is committing a terrorist offence and that can be punishable by
up to 25 years imprisonment.
CHRIS UHLMANN: What sorts of powers would the government be seeking for these
JULIE BISHOP: We are looking at giving ASIS the capacity to carry out
activities on Australians in Syria and Iraq.
CHRIS UHLMANN: And also linking in with ASIO and Australia because there has,
I understand it, been a difficulty in the past for ASIS to be able to work with
ASIO on some of these matters?
JULIE BISHOP: Well we’re concerned about the silos, or the stovepipes as they
are called in the United States, that is, intelligence communities not being
able to cross-refer information and we want to ensure that there’s a seamless
flow of information across our intelligence community so that we can monitor and
track and, if necessary, arrest, detain and prosecute people who are engaging
with terrorist organisations.
CHRIS UHLMANN: You can stop a dual national from coming home by cancelling a
passport but you can’t stop an Australian citizen from coming home, can you?
JULIE BISHOP: If I cancel a passport of an Australian citizen overseas they
can still return to Australia but then there is the opportunity to detain them
and arrest them and if necessary, prosecute them. So, an Australian citizen can
still come back to Australia but then the fact that I’ve cancelled their
passport means that they are a person of interest and so we would seek to detain
them at the border.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Now on a broader note, does the Australian government need to
lead a debate here about the responsibilities of living in a democracy – that
its foundations are secular, that its Parliament makes the laws, that the courts
enforce that law, that men and women are equal before the law and that you are
able to believe in your religion as long as you believe that everyone else has a
right to theirs?
JULIE BISHOP: Well I think that’s a very fair statement and it’s what
Australia stands for, it reflects our values as a nation. We, as a Government,
always seek to project and protect our reputation as an open liberal democracy
with a commitment to the rule of law, democratic institutions and the
fundamental freedoms. I mean, that’s who Australia is, they are our values and
that is a debate that should be ongoing and most certainly at this time when
we’re seeing disturbing development of Australians going overseas to fight in
conflicts that involve shockingly brutal terrorist organisations, the mass
executions carried out by ISIS, this is just an appalling situation then of
course we must uphold our values even more strongly than we have in the past.
CHRIS UHLMANN: Julie Bishop, thank you.
JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure.
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