BOB CARR: Some modest good news on Melinda Taylor. I've spoken to David Ritchie, our ambassador in Libya, who was given 20 minutes with her in the prison just outside Zintan in the mountains of Libya. He found her in very good spirits, eager to send a message back to her family, being well taken care of.
He was able to report that some time after that she was able to make the phone call we've been waiting for, a phone call to her husband, Geoff, in the Hague and to their two-year-old. Now that is very good news.
We continue to press the case for her early release but it would seem to demonstrate that the authorities in Zintan are acknowledging the work of the national government of Libya, especially the agreement it was able to reach with the International Criminal Court in the talks recently in the Hague.
So we find it encouraging but it stops short of being the news that we want and that her family wants, which is her release. We're continuing to press for that. We think all the preconditions have been set and we think that there is now a line of authority between the National Transitional Council and the authorities in Zintan and that is encouraging.
QUESTION: When did Mr Ritchie meet with Ms Taylor and when was she able to make the phone call?
BOB CARR: He met with her overnight, Australian time. She made the phone call early in the morning, Australian time.
QUESTION: How optimistic are you, Senator, that the release will come in the next few weeks?
BOB CARR: I've got to believe the Libyan Prime Minister who told me that he wanted to see her released, the Deputy Foreign Minister who said that he's hopeful of having it resolved and the authorities in Zintan who told our ambassador that they're interested in the good name of Libya.
I'd like it to happen soon. I accept that there are probably domestic political considerations but I hope we haven't got that much longer to wait.
I spoke to John and Janelle, her parents in Brisbane, a short time ago and to her husband, Geoff, in the Hague and they're relieved that the phone call was made. They're relieved that there appears to be work on this road map to her release following the agreement in the Hague between the ICC and the Libyan Government including their Attorney-General.
QUESTION: Can you shed a bit more light on how she's going at the moment? Is she in good spirits?
BOB CARR: She wanted reading material. She thought she was being well treated. She had no complaints about food or accommodation. As someone with an active mind she must be frustrated. She was relieved, very relieved to be able to talk to her two-year-old before she was put to bed at eight o'clock in the Hague and very relieved, of course, to be speaking to Geoff and her parents were relieved to get that news.
We had been pressing for the telephone contact for quite some time but I'm glad there was finally a response.
QUESTION: Senator Carr, you've been critical of James Ashby. What do you make of…
BOB CARR: I wouldn't comment further on that. I don't think I can elaborate on the news that is in the media. It speaks for itself.
QUESTION: Can I just ask your opinion on Mark Dreyfus's comments yesterday? He said that he believed Tony Abbott saw political advantage in asylum seekers drowning at sea. What do you think of those comments? Are they…
BOB CARR: The point I would press on this agenda item is you can't have safer borders and you can't have humane treatment of irregular maritime arrivals without having that arrangement with Malaysia. It's indispensible. If you're going to send a message to people-smugglers that they won't have their human cargo, their desperate human cargo reach Australian territory, you've got to be able to point to serious offshore processing.
Tony Abbott, by blocking the Malaysian arrangement, is simply consigning everyone to an informal, ad hoc, Indonesian solution with the people-smugglers active in the ports of Indonesia, the boats coming out of crowded Indonesian ports, people being brought here from Indonesia and that is not satisfactory, that's all you've got.
Surely Tony Abbott can see his way to the more humane option which is processing in Malaysia according to a good agreement that we can police, the Malaysians want to work, a big disincentive.
If people know, refugees or claimants - people claiming refugee status, know that after paying $10,000 to people-smuggler they're simply going to end up in Indonesia being processed, that's a big disincentive to take the risk.
QUESTION: Have you had any dialogue with your Indonesian counterpart?
BOB CARR: Sorry?
QUESTION: Have you had any dialogue with Indonesian counterparts since the vessel sank on Thursday?
BOB CARR: No, I haven't, no, I haven't but I don't think there's a need for it. I think what happened speaks for itself and it's really a matter - it's really a matter for Tony Abbott, given the nature of things in this Parliament, to resolve, not for the Indonesians.
QUESTION: Senator Carr, the Opposition says that the Government's been [indistinct] by persisting with Malaysia because it hasn't signed the UN refugee convention.
BOB CARR: No, no, read the article by Professor Kessler on yesterday's opinion pages in The Sydney Morning Herald. You've got an agreement with Malaysia that can proceed, that can be monitored, that can be tested, that is orderly. People can go from the Australian Parliament up to Malaysia and inspect conditions. There's accountability.
Without that you've just got the ad hoc solution of people streaming into ports in Indonesia [audio skips] smugglers, the authorities trying to identify the people-smugglers and disrupt and discourage their networks. Now, what is preferable, the orderly, transparent arrangement with Malaysia that is a disincentive to people-smugglers but treats claimant refugees humanely or the mess we've got now?
QUESTION: Mr Carr, on Syria, the UN's indefinitely suspended its mission there. This comes just after Assad declared or admitted that his country's at war. What's Australia's reaction to those two?
BOB CARR: I make an appeal to Russia. Russia has got influence. Russia is a great power. Russia can use that influence to get a transition in Damascus. The sort of transition would be roughly similar to that in Yemen. It means the president stepping down, making way for someone from his party, from his group, who can replace him, someone from the government who can replace him, and opening a dialogue with the opposition.
It means both sides agreeing to a ceasefire. It means work on a constitution and a movement to a free and open election.
But without Russia choosing to exercise its great influence in the world in this fashion, we're left with a deadlock where UN monitoring has been stymied and where there is no ceasefire and where there's no political dialogue at all.
QUESTION: But fighting's now reached the outskirts of Damascus. Surely this is a very grave kind of situation. It's reached the biggest city in the country.
BOB CARR: I think it is undoubtedly grave. It continues to be depressing. The Kofi Annan six-point plan is the way forward. The essence of it is a political dialogue in the context of a ceasefire.
QUESTION: Mr Carr, back to people-smuggling. With Malaysia have you had recent discussions and what have you been telling the government of Malaysia about the strategy for Malaysia…
BOB CARR: No, I haven't but that's the responsibility of my parliamentary colleague, Chris Bowen. The Malaysian solution, the Malaysian arrangement simply makes sense from the point of view of, one, discouraging people-smuggling, because it means the cargos are going to be diverted to Malaysia and, two, safety. It means processing there not risking it all on the high seas. That is the better alternative.
QUESTION: Do you have any plan B if there's no movement?
BOB CARR: I'm not the minister with carriage of this but I'm just adding my voice to appeals to Tony Abbott to give us a humane solution but one that, at the same time, respects Australia's borders.
QUESTION: Members of the Malaysian opposition have expressed concern that they wouldn't support the Malaysia solution. There's an election some time within the next 18 months. There's a chance they may be elected. Do you have concerns about the future of the Malaysian solution if the current government loses power?
BOB CARR: No, I wouldn't speculate about that. That's very hypothetical. Thank you very much.
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