JULIE BISHOP: Australians stand in solidarity with the people and Government of France at this terrible time. We are united with those around the world who have condemned this violent attack in Paris and we condemn in the strongest possible terms this atrocity that has killed 12 people – 10 journalists and two police – and has injured others.
Overnight I have spoken to the Australian Ambassador in France, Stephen Brady, and he has confirmed that the French authorities say that no Australian citizens, no dual residents were in fact involved or killed or injured and all Australian Embassy staff have been accounted for.
We note that the French domestic terror threat level has been raised to its highest level - 'alert'. We urge all Australians who are in Paris or in France to register their details on the Smartraveller website. We know that there are about 3650 Australians already registered on the Smartraveller website but there are many more Australians in France at this time and we urge them to register their details and to receive the regular updates on travel advice off the Smartraveller website. The Australian Government has reissued the travel advisory for France to take into account of the incident that occurred in Paris and we will continue to provide updates as new information comes to hand.
Ambassador Brady described the scene in Paris, he said around our Embassy, which is near the Eiffel Tower, the streets were eerily quiet, that the usual tourist sites were vacated but that there were thousands of people attending a rally near the Bastille to show their support for freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedom of ideas and freedom of the press and to show that they will not be cowered by terrorist attacks of this nature.
So our advice to Australians who are in France or thinking of travelling to France, please register your details on the Smartraveller website. In the meantime, we continue to express our sorrow and our thoughts are with the families of those killed, with those injured who are recovering, and the people and the Government of France.
JOURNALIST: Apart from registering your details, is it still safe for Australians to continue to travel to France?
JULIE BISHOP: We haven't changed our travel advice in that regard but we advise Australians in France or travelling to France to take account of our travel advice but also the advice from the French authorities. Obviously the situation in Paris is volatile in that there are police operations under way. There are an extra 3000 police that have now been deployed to tourist locations, to the metro, to the underground, to religious sites around Paris and in other cities, so we urge people to follow very carefully the advice of the French authorities at any time.
JOURNALIST: Do we need to be more cautious, the general gist seems to be “it is not going to happen to me”, are we being naïve?
JULIE BISHOP: The Ambassador in France, Stephen Brady, said to me that the people of Paris have been bracing for some kind of attack because there have been other random attacks during December. But even so when it occurs on such a scale and with such a ferocity as this one, the gunning down of innocent journalists and police, then people are profoundly shocked.
So of course we have to be cautious, we have to exercise a high degree of caution, but we also must be aware that there are people in the world who are hell bent on destroying our way of life and what we stand for and that includes the freedoms that we take for granted.
This incident in Paris seems to be an attack on freedom of the press, the freedom of journalists to express ideas, however controversial, snd so we can't be complacent but we can't let the terrorists win. So we have to continue to go about our lives, but when we are in another country, to exercise a high degree of caution and take note of the advice that the authorities are providing to local people and tourists alike.
JOURNALIST: So on that theme, the Perth-based self-styled Sheikh Junaid Thorne took to Twitter this morning and tweeted that insulting a religion is likely to create backlash even if it is done under freedom of speech in relation to this incident, is that an acceptable view for him to take?
JULIE BISHOP: In Australia we value freedom of expression and freedom of speech, it's a fundamental pillar of a liberal democracy such as Australia. And we won't walk away from our belief and our support of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of expression, freedom of ideas.
However, there is a line that has been drawn, defamatory statements are against the law, libellous statements, but we have also introduced a new offence of promoting, advocating terrorism and terrorist acts. So social media will be monitored for any potential offences that would breach those new laws.
JOURNALIST: How closely is Junaid Thorne being watched by Australian government security agencies?
JULIE BISHOP: I am not a position to comment on individuals. I am not able to do that under the Privacy Act and for security reasons but I can assure you that the Australian Government takes very seriously our primary responsibility to protect Australian citizens, Australian nationals whether they are here or abroad.
JOURNALIST: Is this individual a worry, though?
JULIE BISHOP: Well there are a number of people who are of interest to the Australian Federal Police and our intelligence agencies but I won't go into individual details.
JOURNALIST: You said that you and the Government support freedom of the press. What would you say if a paper in Australia was to print an image of Mohammed?
JULIE BISHOP: Well I’m sure that papers in Australia have done so and I am a strong believer in freedom of press and freedom of expression. Unless it was a breach of our laws, as they exist, then Australian media should be free to publish as long as it's within the laws of the country.
JOURNALIST: So despite the attack you could be fine if someone posted a satirical image of the prophet?
JULIE BISHOP: We cannot adjust our lives in response to brutal terrorist attacks so that the terrorists themselves have a win. What they're trying to do is cower people, terrorise people to adopt their way of life and we won't do that. Australia is an open, liberal democracy. That is why people come to Australia, that is why people want to be in Australia and we will not change the fundamental freedoms that have made this country the great place that it is.
JOURNALIST: How concerned are you about the incident with the man with a knife at Parliament House in Canberra?
JULIE BISHOP: I understand that that matter is under control. It was not a national security incident, it is not being seen in that light and the ACT Police and the Australian Federal Police have that matter under control and I understand they will be making a statement about it shortly but it doesn't have national security implications.
JOURNALIST: Is there anything Australia can do to prevent the Bali Nine drug smugglers from facing a firing squad in Indonesia? How would you feel with the Indonesian authorities shoot two Australians?
JULIE BISHOP: We do understand that the Indonesian President has rejected Mr Sukumaran’s appeal for clemency. Australia will make representations at the highest level to prevent Australian citizens who are facing the death penalty from being executed. We oppose the death penalty and will continue to advocate to ensure that Australians facing the death penalty are not executed. We will make the same kind of representations the Indonesian Government makes about its nationals when they are facing the death penalty in other countries.
So we understand that Indonesia's laws have the death penalty attached to some drug offences. And we urge anyone travelling overseas, particularly to Indonesia and countries that have made it quite clear that they have on their statute books the death penalty for certain drug-related offences, to abide by the laws of those countries. There is a limit to what the Australian Government can do once a person is caught up in the legal system of another country. But we do not condone the death penalty, we oppose it and we will continue to make representations at the highest level.
JOURNALIST: How would Australia's relationship with Indonesia change if these two Australians were executed?
JULIE BISHOP: That is a hypothetical. I don't want to speculate on that. But I can assure you that we take this issue very seriously. We do not condone drug trafficking or drug offences and we urge Australians to abide by the laws of the country that they're visiting or countries they're travelling to. In the case of Indonesia, they do have the death penalty attached to some drug related offences. But we as a Government oppose the death penalty and will continue to advocate to prevent Australians being executed.
JOURNALIST: Indonesia did suspend cooperation with Australia when the spying allegations came to right light. Will Australia do the same if these two Australians are executed?
JULIE BISHOP: My focus is to secure an agreement that Mr Sukumaran will not face execution - that is what we are focussing on at present – and we have to keep all diplomatic and political and bureaucratic and administrative channels open to ensure we can do that. Mr Sukumaran is receiving consular support, in fact our Consul-General in Bali Majell Hind visited him yesterday and he and his legal team will continue to receive consular support.
JOURNALIST: How confident are you that you will be able to come to an arrangement?
JULIE BISHOP: We will continue to make representations at the highest level and we will not rest until we have secured that. But I stress again Mr Sukumaran is subject to the laws of a sovereign independent nation and we will do what we can as a Government but there are limits to it.
JOURNALIST: So it's unlikely that you will threaten to impose sanctions?
JULIE BISHOP: I am not going into the detail of what we would do should that situation arise. It's a hypothetical at present. We will continue to focus all our efforts on making representation at the highest level. The Indonesian Government is in no doubt that Australia opposes the death penalty. We have made it quite clear in relation to the Bali Nine and Mr Sukumaran that we do oppose the death penalty being exercised in these cases.
JOURNALIST: You said earlier in the week you would be happy to take a holiday in Bali. Is that still the case?
JULIE BISHOP: Of course. Like any other Australian tourist. I would register on the Smartraveller website –www.smartraveller.gov.au. I would take note of that advice and I would certainly take note of the advice of the local authorities. I would register my details there and I would go to Bali, if I had the opportunity, but that is not likely to happen because we will be returning to Parliament in due course.
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- Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555