2UE - interview with Justin Smith

  • Transcript, E&OE
12 February 2015

JUSTIN SMITH Julie Bishop joins us on the line. Minister thank you for your time.

JULIE BISHOP Good afternoon Justin, how are you.

JUSTIN SMITH I'm well, thank you very much. This is an awful thing that is going to happen.

JULIE BISHOP Yes I have been speaking with the families of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. I met with them in Sydney and it is heartbreaking to hear their stories of these two young men who made shocking mistakes about a decade ago. They got involved in the drug trade and they are paying their debt to society for the terrible things they did such a long time ago. But now they are facing execution by firing squad in Indonesia and I have been pleading with the Indonesian Government that they be given a second chance.

They are making a significant contribution to prison life in Indonesia, indeed their rehabilitation has been quite remarkable. It is the kind of outcome the prison systems around the world strive to achieve and yet it will come to naught if they pay for their actions with their lives and my hope is that the Indonesian Government and its people will show mercy to Andrew and Muyuran. They are both deeply and sincerely remorseful for their actions but made extraordinary efforts to rehabilitate and they are the model of what prison systems the world over want to achieve.

JUSTIN SMITH I've talked a lot to the - and have friends who are part of that legal team that are fighting this and they are incredibly emotional about it as well, but I feel like over the last couple of months we have not had one skerrick of good news. There has been no good news and you say that you are pleading with the Government and I congratulate the Government on all the work they are doing. Have you had any good news, have you seen any glimmer of hope?

JULIE BISHOP Not yet. The Indonesian Government has been firm in rejecting our representations. They speak of the fact that the drug trade in Indonesia is a scourge, they claim there are five millions drug addicts or thereabout in Indonesia. And I do not for a moment understate the severity of the actions, the gravity of what Andrew and Myuran did. They were assessed as low to mid-level drug syndicate members. They were charged with masterminding the trafficking of those eight kilograms of heroin out of Indonesia into Australia and we all know that would have brought untold misery and possibly death to drug-addicted Australians and their families.

But I don't believe that executing these two young men will solve the problem of drug trafficking in and out of Indonesia. I'm not understating the gravity and nature of their crime but I don't believe that now – having been rehabilitated, having made such a contribution to prison life in Indonesia – that they should pay for this with their lives.

JUSTIN SMITH Minister, haven't we considered – and I'm not trying to [inaudible] – but have we considered withdrawing our Ambassador – who is an Acting Ambassador at the moment – but have we considered recalling that Ambassador?

JULIE BISHOP Of course we will consider what we can usefully do in any respect but our Ambassador is vital to making representations, to accommodating the needs of the family, to providing consular support and to withdraw our Ambassador – whether he is acting or not – would deny us access into the Indonesian system now and we won't do that. So our Ambassador is a vital part of the representations we are making and the consular support that is being provided not only to Andrew and Myuran but also to the families. So we have implemented a very sustained, high level campaign to try and stay Andrew and Myuran's executions.

Representations have come from the Prime Minister, the Governor-General, the Attorney-General, the Minister for Justice and of course me as Foreign Minister. We have written joint letters with the Opposition and the Greens, there have been letters written by Parliamentarians and of course we had this motion which was supported unanimously in Parliament today. I reiterate we respect Indonesia's sovereignty in respect to their judicial system but there are special circumstances that warrant mercy and we are pleading with the Indonesian Government to take this into account, particularly the fact that these young men had a remarkable rehabilitation.

JUSTIN SMITH Tanya Plibersek said that your office had briefed her about half an hour ago and it is so good to see you working so closely on this. But are we able to be privy to any of those details. Can you tell us the latest?

JULIE BISHOP In relation to?

JUSTIN SMITH Tanya Plibersek was briefed on where we were at. Do you have any more information?

JULIE BISHOP Nothing that I would be able to share publicly. But let me put it this way, we have a number of our officials in Jakarta at present, in Indonesia, who are making representations at very high levels.

JUSTIN SMITH [interrupt] Will you be going Minister?

JULIE BISHOP I don't believe that my presence in Jakarta would actually lead to a favourable outcome. The advice that I have received from our experts is that if we were to be present in Indonesia it could in fact precipitate an unfavourable outcome. And I will not do anything that would not be in the interest of Andrew and Myuran and that's the advice we have received.

JUSTIN SMITH [interrupt] Minister, sorry just before you go on, that seems extraordinary to me and good on you for taking on advice and following it, but the fact that our Foreign Minister would make it worse by going to Jakarta seems crazy.

JULIE BISHOP It is a fear that if we embarrass the Indonesian Government than it could lead to a precipitous outcome and we already understand that the Indonesian Government is looking at executions in February – I don't want to do anything that would bring that forward – but what I am doing…

JUSTIN SMITH [interrupting] But is our relationship that bad?

JULIE BISHOP No it's not about our relationship. Other nationalities have had their citizens executed – Brazil, the Netherlands, Nigeria – other countries have had…

JUSTIN SMITH [interrupting] No, no but I meant…

JULIE BISHOP …so it is not about our specific relationship. The point is we are trying to do this respectfully, diplomatically, behind-the-scenes. We are tireless, we are targeting our diplomatic representations at the highest level, but we do have to respect that it is a sovereign nation with an independent judiciary and what we are now doing is pointing out – as respectfully as possible – that Indonesia itself makes representations on behalf of its citizens who are facing the death penalty, particularly in the Middle East.

Indeed we are now informed that this week, there was a Cabinet meeting in Indonesia in which it is said the President instructed his Ministers to seek clemency for Indonesian migrant workers who are abroad on death row. So I'm asking the Indonesian Government to do what I see they are doing in relation to their citizens. And we are urging the Indonesian Government to show the same mercy Andrew and Myuran that it seeks for their citizens in the same situation abroad.

JUSTIN SMITH I know – please don't take this the wrong way – I know that you are doing everything you can. But I am just dumbfounded that the thought that our Foreign Minister is not so much not welcomed, but would actually make the situation worse, just seems crazy.

JULIE BISHOP This is a fear. I take advice, this is a concern that has been expressed to me. I cannot go against that sort of advice from experienced, specialist, consular officials. But we are continuing to make every representation we can and I am on the phone to the Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, our counterpart Ministers and we are not going to give up hope. We are going to continue with every effort we can to save the lives of these two Australian citizens and we are making every effort to stay their executions and to have their clemency matters reviewed. So we are absolutely determined to do what we can and will do it.

JUSTIN SMITH Minister I will let you go but can I ask you one final question. Do you believe that these men – from everything you have heard – do you believe they will be executed this month?

JULIE BISHOP I am yet to see any sign from the Indonesian Government that they will change their position. As I said today in Parliament I believe it is Indonesia that will lose the most from executing these two young men because they have an example in these two young guys of how their prison system is working and I fear that by taking this action it will do nothing to change the situation of the drug trade in Jakarta.

But it will end the lives of two young people who now can make a contribution – they have a quality of life, not one that I would choose, not one that you would choose – but they have a quality of life and they are contributing to the well-being of other prisoners in an Indonesian jail. And likewise there are Indonesian drug offenders in Australia who will have an opportunity to rehabilitate and return home at some point.

JUSTIN SMITH Well do you think it will change our relationship with Indonesia if this awful thing goes ahead?

JULIE BISHOP There of course will be tensions. There of course will be difficulties. But we must manage these tensions, we must manage these difficulties. That's why I have been so intent on ensuring that the Indonesian Government is in no doubt about our position. The families have been in Indonesia speaking openly in heartbreaking terms of their hopes for a stay of execution.

I know the families are carrying an excruciatingly heavy burden and knowing that their children and siblings face an untimely and violence end. So we stand resolutely with both families and we are doing what Indonesia is doing, making representations on behalf of families in support of those facing death row.

JUSTIN SMITH Minister thank you very much. I've kept you and I appreciate your time. One final thing, I just want to say congratulations on all the work that you and your team did with Peter Greste, his family will be eternally grateful to you.

JULIE BISHOP Yes well Peter went through a 400-day ordeal and from the outset we made again tireless, targeted, respectful representations and in that instance we were able to succeed and Peter Greste was able to come home. I have to tell you, no one is happier than I. When I was able to speak to him on the way to the airport from when our people picked him up at the prison, took him to the airport and I spoke to him just before he got on the plane, he was so relieved and I was so delighted.

JUSTIN SMITH Well I don't think I've seen a family smile quite so much.

JULIE BISHOP Well they were extraordinary in their support during what was a very difficult time for Peter Greste. Again, our relationship with Egypt was tested as our relationship with Indonesia will be tested. But once Peter Greste was released, I am able to restore relations with Egypt and business as usual with them.

It was very difficult and of course these are not the only consular cases that we face at any one time. There can be a significant number of Australians in trouble overseas at any one time, there can be over a thousand who are in detention. So there are probably about 1300 active consular cases so I do want to pay tribute to the tireless and dedicated consular officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Andrew and Myuran's case is one of the many tragic cases they deal with on a daily basis.

JUSTIN SMITH Minister, thank you very much. All the best for the rest of today.


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