JOURNALIST Now to the efforts to free an Australian hostage in West Africa. Dr Ken Elliott is still being held by an al-Qaeda militant group, despite his wife being freed. Jocelyn Elliot has been released to Australian authorities in Niger where she appeared before local media. The conditions of her release have not been made public. The couple, in their 80s, were kidnapped around three weeks ago in Burkina Faso. They run a medical clinic and have lived in the West African country for more than 40 years.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop joins me now from Canberra. Good morning. I understand you've spoken with Jocelyn Elliott. How is she?
JULIE BISHOP I did speak to her yesterday morning and she was very relieved to be with the Australian officials who are looking after her. She was very tired. She was keen to sleep in a “lovely bed” as she put it and her concerns of course were for her husband, Dr Kenneth Elliott who has not yet been released.
Our overriding issue now is to secure his safety and look out for his welfare. So Australian authorities are continuing to work with governments in the region, including the Government of Burkina Faso who is leading the effort and the Government of Niger who was able to facilitate her release. She is well, she is tired but she is very relieved to be with the Australian authorities.
JOURNALIST Interesting, they are still holding Ken. Do you, did she tell you that she is OK?
JULIE BISHOP I didn't question her, I was more reassuring. I told her I had spoken to her family. So I have left the questioning and trying to find out the details to our experts who are over there. We have a number of people from relevant agencies who are in the area, and they will work with her to find out as much as they can about who is holding Dr Elliott and where.
JOURNALIST OK. All right, we will watch, wait and see on that one. To another story, the launch of this long range rocket by North Korea. Is it a missile test?
JULIE BISHOP We have no doubt that the reports are correct. The suggestion by North Korea that it's a weather satellite or something is, quite frankly, ridiculous. It is a destabilising, provocative and dangerous act on the part of North Korea. It follows on its fourth nuclear test that it carried out recently. It is in gross violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions and Australia joins with the international community in condemning North Korea and calling on the North Korean regime to focus its efforts on its long suffering people, rather than continue with this provocative destabilising behaviour which is a threat, not only to the region, but to world peace.
JOURNALIST Absolutely. Another issue now this morning. Geoffrey Robertson QC, calling on Australia to help Julian Assange. The UN's panel has called for him to walk free. Let's have a listen to what Geoffrey Robertson said:
I think the Australian Government should remind the United Kingdom and Sweden of their duty to accept the tribunal's decision, not argue with the umpire when given out and to enable these charges to be withdrawn and to issue Mr Assange with an Australian travel document, a passport if necessary, his seems to have been confiscated and to facilitate, in so far as it can, his return to Australia.
JOURNALIST Would we do that? Would we give him a passport and get him out of there?
JULIE BISHOP He has a valid passport at present but he surrendered it to the UK authorities as part of his bail conditions back in 2010. I met with Geoffrey Robertson and another member of the legal team on Thursday in London just prior to flying home. So I had quite an extensive conversation with them. This was just before the report had been released but there was an expectation that this is what the report would say, that he had been arbitrarily detained. The report is not binding on any countries, and so we are ascertaining from the UK and from Sweden as to what they propose to do. It would seem at this stage that the United Kingdom maintains its bail conditions remain in place and therefore they will not be giving back his passport. I am still to ascertain whether if he leaves the Ecuadorean Embassy he would be arrested.
The British authorities have indicated that would be the case. Therefore the question of a passport wouldn't arise but I have offered consular assistance to Mr Assange's lawyers, to pass the message on to him that Australia will provide consular assistance should he request it.
JOURNALIST A story in the papers this morning, a question about one of your Ministerial colleagues Stuart Robert. News Corp is reporting that Mr Robert made a secret trip to Beijing, in support of a Liberal Party financial backer who was finalising a mining deal in China. Could this be a breach of ministerial guidelines?
JULIE BISHOP I understand from his office that it was a personal visit, and of course, that's perfectly acceptable. I don't know how you can make a secret visit to China, but anyway, China knows a great deal of what is going on when it comes to its borders but nevertheless, I understand it was a private visit. Matters of the Ministerial Guidelines and the Code of Conduct are matters for the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
JOURNALIST OK. Julie Bishop, thank you for your time this morning, we appreciate it. We know you are busy. We will let you go.
JULIE BISHOP It's my pleasure. Thank you.
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