CHRIS UHLMANN: Julie Bishop, what does this conviction tell us about the new Egyptian regime?

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 motivated sentence?

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 intervene.

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 agencies?

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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