MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Australia’s political leaders have held a candlelight vigil here at the front of Parliament House this morning for Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran who are facing execution in Indonesia.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Greens leader Christine Milne joined their colleagues who want the Indonesian Government to spare the lives of the convicted drug smugglers. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was also at the vigil and she joins me now.
Foreign Minister, good morning. Reports this morning that you’ve made and eleventh hour bid on Tuesday night to save them by proposing a prisoner swap – what did you propose and how was that received?
JULIE BISHOP I made contact with Foreign Minister Marsudi again. I’ve spoken to her on a number of occasions about this and I wanted to explore any other avenues or opportunities to save the lives of these two young men who have been so remarkably rehabilitated. She undertook to pass on my comments to the President.
I didn’t go into any specific detail, but I did note that there were Australian prisoners in Jakarta, in Bali, and there were Indonesian prisoners in Australia and that we should explore some opportunity – a prisoner swap, a transfer – whether that could be done under Indonesian law. I certainly indicated that we could enter into a Memorandum of Understanding. I mentioned the Presidential Decree and hoped that she would be prepared to pause the preparations for the execution of Mr Sukumaran and Mr Chan while we explore these opportunities. She said she would take it up with the President and I have not heard back from her, but I will contact her again to see if there is anything further we can do.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN The conversation was described, in the reports at least, as tense. Was it?
JULIE BISHOP I won't go into the details of a confidential phone call, but I can say that I made our position very clear. I don't think the Indonesian Government is in any doubt about how strongly we feel over the death penalty in this country. We oppose it at home and abroad and I did point out that I was pleased that Indonesia opposed the death penalty as it applied to its citizens and I remarked that they had had success in seeking clemency for Indonesian prisoners who are facing the death penalty in other countries and I was seeking no more than what Indonesia seeks from other countries.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN And I understand the Prime Minister this morning also requested a telephone conversation with his Indonesian counterpart. Is that likely to happen today or soon?
JULIE BISHOP That’s correct. The Prime Minister has put in a request for a telephone call with President Widodo and we are waiting to hear back as to when that can take place. But I point out that we will continue to make representations. There are still legal proceedings on foot and I believe it would be unthinkable for preparations for their executions to proceed any further while these legal avenues are still being pursued.
There is an appeal that has been lodged against the final application for a plea of clemency and I believe that is to be heard by the State Administrative Court. There are also allegations of bribery arising from the original trial that are before a Judicial Commission and I would think it most appropriate that those matters be concluded…
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN But that could take some time, couldn’t it?
JULIE BISHOP That is correct. That’s a matter for the Indonesian Judicial Commission, but I understand that that Commission is seeking a statement from Mr Sukumaran and Mr Chan. Well obviously, they will have to be able to provide that statement if that Commission is to have a credible hearing.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Moving them to this island is obviously a preparation for the final execution. It suggests that they're not going to take all of that into account and their execution is inevitable, doesn’t it?
JULIE BISHOP I have not seen any change of heart, but that’s why we are continuing to make representations appealing to the President's sense of mercy and forgiveness. These are concepts known in Indonesian law. The fact that these men have shown remorse, the fact that they are rehabilitated, are relevant issues to be taken into account in a plea of clemency.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN What about the way they were moved – the force that was on display to move them? Was that appropriate?
JULIE BISHOP I just cannot comprehend it. They are two men who are described by their own prison governors as model citizens. Two gentlemen who pose no risk to anyone. So I cannot comprehend the manner or the method of their transfer to the so-called ‘execution island’.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Are these Australians the only people who were treated this way? Was the same sort of force on display when they transferred others to this island?
JULIE BISHOP I am not aware of the circumstances of other prisoners transferred, but I know that there are other citizens of other nations – from France, from Brazil, Nigeria and Mali – a number of other countries are making representations on behalf of their citizens and we have been in contact with representatives of those other nations and we are united in our efforts to seek clemency for citizens who are on death row in Indonesia.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN You spoke to the two men last week, I think it was. Have you spoken to them since?
JULIE BISHOP No, I don't believe there will be any opportunity for me to do so now that they've been moved to this other location. I was able to speak to them because our Consul-General had access to them and she had a mobile phone with her and was able to put me on loud speaker so I was able to have a conversation with both men.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN What about the families? Have you spoken to them?
JULIE BISHOP I spoke to the families yesterday. I spoke to Mrs Sukumaran, that's Myuran's mother, and I spoke to Michael Chan, that’s Andrew's brother. Michael was still in Bali and so was Mrs Sukumaran. She was in the company of our Consul-General in Bali. The Australian Government has provided support and we are continuing to provide consular assistance to both families and we will continue to do so.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN If the executions do go ahead does it concern you that this could have wider implications on our relationship with Indonesia?
JULIE BISHOP Of course. I am deeply concerned about the impact of these executions, not just on the Australian relationship with Indonesia, but on Indonesia's reputation worldwide. The movement against the death penalty is very strong. The sense of injustice of state-sponsored killings is very real and we have been sending a message to Indonesia that its international standing will be damaged if it continues to execute successive numbers of citizens, particularly those who have rehabilitated in their prison system. And as I have said on countless occasions, Indonesia has a story of which it can be proud. Prisoners have been rehabilitated in their system. That’s the kind of model outcome that countries around the world would be proud to own.
MICHAEL BRISSENDEN Julie Bishop, we will leave it there. Thank you very much for joining us.
JULIE BISHOP Thank you.
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