KIERAN GILBERT: I'm joined now actually by the Foreign Minister Bob Carr who's talking to us from Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. Foreign Minister thanks for your time. Can you bring us the latest this morning?
BOB CARR: Our Ambassador has been to Zintan. He's spent 90 minutes with Melinda Taylor. She was in prison but the – surprisingly the conditions in the prison, according to the Ambassador, are better than they were in the guest house where she was under house arrest – air conditioning, a fridge with provisions in it, sharing the accommodation with the other woman detainee.
He was satisfied with that and he reported that Melinda is in good spirits sending a message to her husband Steve [sic] and her mother and father in Brisbane, Janelle and John, that they're not to worry about her. So, her spirits are good and that's very, very admirable.
The disappointing side is that the Libyan authorities are giving every impression that this is going to be a long investigation. Second, they haven't allowed telephone contact between Melinda and her family.
The other matter of concern is that there's no promise of an early release, which is of course what we want.
KIERAN GILBERT: Foreign Minister, can you tell us who is actually – who has got Melinda Taylor detained at the moment? Is it the Libyan authorities that have control of the situation or is it this local – a local power base or brigade who's got the authority over Melinda Taylor and her detention?
BOB CARR: That's a difficult question because the political situation in the country is fragile and complex. Actually, the closest you'll get to this is to say that local authorities are acting but acting with the involvement of the central government of Libya.
Observers have noted that there's an element of tension of course between the militia – the freedom fighters in Zintan and the Transitional Council which has its base in Benghazi and Tripoli. Nonetheless, we are hopeful that by dealing with the Deputy Foreign Minister – Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz, with whom I've spoken on several occasions, we are able – we'll be able to make things happen on the ground.
But whether it's the central authorities or local authorities, the worrying thing is that the Government is talking about using up to 45 days to carry out its own investigation and that is of course a great concern. Our highest priority is to get Melinda out of Libya and reunite her with her husband Geoff – I think I used the name Steve a moment ago – Geoff, with whom I've spoken only a short time ago, he's in the Hague as is their two year old youngster and we want them reunited as soon as we can.
KIERAN GILBERT: Senator Carr, you've confirmed for us that our Ambassador has made contact. Have representatives of the International Criminal Court also made contact with Melinda Taylor and her three counterparts?
BOB CARR: Yes, they have. It was disappointing that they were there in the one group. There wasn't private one-on-one time but they were there. They were together for 90 minutes. The ICC group includes a defence lawyer for Melinda and there is, I've been advised, a more senior ICC group that may in fact include the president of the ICC, Judge Song, due to arrive in Libya as well.
Now we find that reassuring because it means along with the three governments affected, there will be a senior International Criminal Court delegation and of course we're recruiting assistance from other governments, the United Kingdom which has been representing us through their Ambassador Dominic Asquith up till now and the EU.
So, our goal is to see that we maintain consular access, that is that our Ambassador David Ritchie can get in there and see her again; to see that she can make telephone contact with her husband and with her mum and dad; and thirdly, and above all, to see that we can get her out of Libya, reunite her with her family as soon as possible.
KIERAN GILBERT: So just finally Senator Carr, that will be the Government's focus? You will continue to have that high-level presence in Zintan and try and make this happen through that sort of influence. What more can be done beyond that?
BOB CARR: Well, we've got our Ambassador there now who – we haven't got a resident Ambassador in Libya. We've got our Ambassador in Italy accredited to Libya. He is now on the ground. We've sent in other consular officials, including one official from Cairo. We're working very closely with those other governments, we're talking to the Government of Libya, we're working with the ICC. Anything else we can do to achieve that objective of getting this Australian released, we will do.
I've got to caution all our listeners though that the indications are, according to our Ambassador, that the Libyans are taking the idea of a full detailed investigation of this very seriously and that doesn't bode well for what we want – an early release.
KIERAN GILBERT: Foreign Minister, Senator Bob Carr, thanks so much for your time.
BOB CARR: Good. Thank you.
- Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555