JOURNALIST Minister, what’s the Government doing to secure the release of the 60 Minutes crew?
JULIE BISHOP The Australian Government is maintaining close contact with the Lebanese authorities, indeed I’m in constant communication with my counterpart Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil. No formal charges have been laid, however charges have been recommended and a judge has been appointed to investigate the allegations. We are providing consular support and undertaking consular visits to all Australians detained as a result of this incident.
JOURNALIST Do you know at this stage how long they might be in detention? It sounds like a fairly involved process with a judge investigating the allegations.
JULIE BISHOP Lebanese law is different from Australian law. It’s based on the French system so there is this investigative stage, we don’t have a direct equivalent in Australian law, so we are taking advice but I understand that all of the Australians detained have retained lawyers, local lawyers, who will be advising them of their rights.
JOURNALIST Is Lebanon upset at what’s happened? What have you conversations been like with the Foreign Minister?
JULIE BISHOP I understand that the Lebanese authorities are treating this matter very seriously, hence the recommendation that charges be laid, but I stress that no formal charges have been laid and that a judge has been appointed to investigate the matter, and the lawyers for the various parties – for Ms Faulkner, for the 60 Minutes crew and others detained – will no doubt be advising them on their rights.
JOURNALIST Does it demonstrate the dangers of what the woman and her TV crew were trying to do?
JULIE BISHOP It underscores that we must abide by the laws of the country in which we are visiting; just as it would apply if people are in this country, they must abide by the laws of this country, but at this stage I don’t want to go into any detail. I think it would be counterproductive.
JOURNALIST Foreign Minister, what is the Government’s reaction and planned course of action in regards to China’s tightening its regulation on imported [inaudible] goods?
JULIE BISHOP Australia has a very strong economic relationship with China. We have a Free Trade Agreement with China, we will continue to press for open, liberalised trade to support not only the letter but the spirit of the Free Trade Agreements that we have with countries in our region including China.
JOURNALIST Local Chinese leaders have been rallying support for China in relation to the South China Sea dispute. Is that a concern for the Federal Government?
JULIE BISHOP The issue of different rights in the South China Sea is currently before the International Court of Justice as a result of an arbitration brought by The Philippines. I understand that there will be a judgment handed down sometime this year and I think it will be best to await the outcome of that hearing. In the meantime, Australia is not a claimant state in the South China Sea, we don’t take sides in the various claims that China and other countries are making. We do have an interest because about 60% of our trade passes through the South China Sea. So we urge all claimants to de-escalate any tensions, to ensure that any disputes can be settled peacefully, that negotiations can be carried out peacefully, and that parties can seek to have their matters arbitrated if they wish.
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