ANDREW MOORE Peter Greste, first of all – have you spoken to his family last night or this morning?
JULIE BISHOP I’ve spoken with our Ambassador, Ralph King, a couple of times, and Ralph has been with the family. It’s quite clear that what has occurred is the appeal has been upheld, that’s good news. The conviction has been overturned, that’s good news. But a retrial was ordered, and I don’t think there was any other option to the court. But he’s now in a position of being an accused person facing a retrial rather than a convicted person facing seven years in jail.
The Egyptian law has been changed since he was first detained, so there are now more options and more avenues available to his legal team. And I understand from our Ambassador that his legal team and his family are pursuing these other options, and that includes a deportation order.
ANDREW MOORE Is bail an option?
JULIE BISHOP Yes it is, but not from this court. They have to apply to another court. And I would think that, given that he’s been in detention for 12 months, that a condition of bail ought to be that he be released. Now, that’s up to his lawyers to argue and it’s up to the court, but I would hope that there’s some breakthrough there. But this idea of being able to deport him is something that was not available to him earlier, the law has changed recently, and so that’s something that they are pursuing. In the meantime we remain actively engaged at every level. I’m waiting to hear back from the Foreign Minister, I’ve spoken to him on numerous occasions, and I want to speak to him again today.
ANDREW MOORE You talk about the possibility of having him deported, what sort of role do you, and the Australian Government, play in that?
JULIE BISHOP Well, our consular officials have been deeply engaged at every level and will continue to be so. Our Ambassador Ralph King has been at every hearing, he’s been giving constant consular support for Peter Greste while he’s been in detention, as much as has been allowed, and will continue to do that. Our Prime Minister has spoken with the President on a couple of occasions, I’ve spoken to the Foreign Minister on numerous occasions, and other government departments, other Ministers.
So while there are obviously no quick fixes, and it’s frustrating, and I share the frustration of the family and his supporters, and friends and relatives, this is part of the complexity that arises when an Australian is subject to the legal system of another country. And in this case, Egypt has had a change of government, a change of President, and more recently a change of law. So we are doing what we can to work within that legal system.
ANDREW MOORE Well, and I mean the legal system here hardly rushes through. Is there an indication, if this thing goes to another full trial, about the time span?
JULIE BISHOP We’re still awaiting the detailed written judgement to be handed down. That will be days away, and then I understand a period of time has to elapse before you can apply for a trial, but these are the sorts of details his legal team are working through, and the Australian Government is providing whatever support we can through our consular officials. And I have to say, Ambassador Ralph King has been deeply engaged with this matter ever since it first arose 12 months ago.
ANDREW MOORE Well I’ve got to say too that it seems, anecdotally at least, as though Peter Greste is doing his best to keep himself occupied, I think he’s going for a degree online and obviously trying to be as positive as possible.
JULIE BISHOP Well that’s good news, and it must be a harrowing experience for him. We have been making representations at every level that he should not have been convicted in the first place, he should not have been detained, and he should be brought home. But I have to say the Egyptian government representatives have made many statements, publicly and privately, they have all indicated they would like the case dealt with as quickly as possible, but likewise they have said that you can’t interfere with the independence of their court system, just as we would say if an Egyptian national was subject to court proceedings in Australia. But we are working through the system at every level – politically, and legally, administratively, diplomatically, bureaucratically – to see if we can get a positive outcome.
ANDREW MOORE Well, you mentioned there are a number of legal options available to the courts now in relation to all of this. With a retrial – does that take a Presidential pardon, the possibility of that, off the table?
JULIE BISHOP Well you see, a presidential pardon is normally granted in circumstances where a person has been convicted. Peter Greste’s conviction has now been overturned, so he’s now in the position of an accused person, that’s why we’re looking at the prisoner transfer opportunity that didn’t exist when he was first detained 12 months ago.
ANDREW MOORE Alright, obviously you’re aware of the front page story in the Daily Telegraph today that is causing our listeners some concern, and rightly so, that those who authorities believe had been over to Syria, or similar places, linking up with that death cult, Islamic State, yet because laws can’t be retrospective, they’re walking around the place, free as a bird. What’s your reaction to the article this morning, and the fact that these people may not be accountable for what they may or may not have done?
JULIE BISHOP Well Andrew, if in fact we have evidence that someone has been fighting with a terrorist organisation overseas, they can be investigated, they can be arrested and they can be prosecuted. The challenge of course is to obtain the evidence. We don’t have a mission in Syria, it’s very difficult to gather the kind of proof that would be required. But it doesn’t mean that these people can’t be investigated at all. I can’t go into individual circumstances but we have changed the laws and put in place a series of measures to ensure that anyone supporting terrorism, either here or overseas, can be investigated.
For example, I as Foreign Minister have the power to declare an area overseas off limits, and I have done that. Al-Raqqa province in Syria, which is where ISIL’s headquarters are situated, that’s now off limits to Australians unless they have a bona fide reason for being there. We can also cancel passports, suspend passports, while our law enforcement agencies carry out investigations, and we have done that. So it’s gathering the evidence to support a charge of a terrorist-related activity that is the challenge.
ANDREW MOORE So if someone has gone over there now, as of January 2 2015, and indicates they’re going to fly back, is it possible for them just to come back to Australia? What happens, what’s the process?
JULIE BISHOP Well, if we know who they are, if they are under investigation, of course we can detain them on their return if there is proof that they have been carrying out terrorist activities, or promoting or supporting or fighting with terrorist organisations. But you just can’t arrest somebody on a whim, you have to have some proof that they have been involved in a potential offence. But we have much broader ranges of offences now, because the government changed the laws and got these changed laws through the Parliament as quickly as we could.
ANDREW MOORE Alright Minister, I know you’re busy. I appreciate your time this morning, Thank you.
JULIE BISHOP My pleasure.
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