3AW, interview with Neil Mitchell

  • Transcript, E&OE

JULIE BISHOP: Good morning Neil.

JOURNALIST: Have these blokes embarrassed Australia do you think?

JULIE BISHOP: Well it's another example of Australians travelling overseas who end up in trouble with the legal system of another country. It's always disappointing when this happens because it was avoidable and there is absolutely no excuse and saying this was just boisterous Aussie behaviour or a minor matter in Australia, because when you are overseas Australians aren't subject to our laws, they are subject to the laws of the nation they are visiting and they can be very different laws to our own.


JULIE BISHOP: Well it can be exasperating to see the cost of supporting Australians in trouble overseas, particularly when that trouble was avoidable and the point I continually make is that it's important that Australians travelling to other countries don't engage in irresponsible or boisterous behaviour that may be forgivable in Australia but can have very different overtones in another country. Australians have got to take responsibility for their behaviour and not assume that they can be bailed out of trouble overseas by the Australian government because that's just simply not possible.

JOURNALIST: Is there a realistic possibility, this is what concerns me, I agree with everything you've said, is there a realistic possibility they could do two years in jail?

JULIE BISHOP: My understanding is that they've been remanded in custody until the 6th October and they are more likely to be charged with an offence called 'disrespecting the national emblem' and that carries a fine and up to six months imprisonment. They've got lawyers acting for them and at this point it is speculation, though there are other offences.

I do point out that the Government's official travel advice, smartraveller, says in relation to Malaysia that there are very conservative dress codes, very conservative standards of behaviour and Australians should be aware of the cultural and religious sensitivities. But the actual offences can range from public indecency to other matters but I think that the lawyers will obviously be in a better position to give them that sort of advice.

The point is the Australian Government can only provide consular support. We can't interfere in the criminal justice system of another country any more than our justice system could be interfered with by a foreign government.

JOURNALIST: Is there nothing you can do, I accept the consular advice, I accept they've got lawyers and that's all good, is there nothing you can do, you can't sort of make some apology on their behalf or such?

JULIE BISHOP: Well that would certainly be subject to the legal advice. I wouldn't want to do anything that was counterproductive. They have a day in court coming up and I think I'd better leave it to their lawyers to give them the best possible legal advice. We can provide consular support as we do for any Australian in trouble overseas. I have to put this in context. There are more than 15000 consular cases involving Australians every year, that's more 40 a day and that includes about 1300 Australians who at any given time might be under arrest and more than 350 Australians in prison at any given time.

This is a considerable workload for our consular staff but there are severe limitations as to what we can do once people get involved in the criminal justice system of another country.

JOURNALIST: Have you as Foreign Minister had any communication with Malaysia at all or are you leaving it a consular level?

JULIE BISHOP: Not in relation to this. I'm leaving it with our High Commission in Kuala Lumpur, our consular officials on the ground who are expert, very professional in handling these kind of situations. As I indicated we have significant workload but obviously if things were to change I would look at diplomatic interventions but I don't believe this is appropriate at this time.

JOURNALIST: What do you mean, what would need to change to involve a diplomatic intervention?

JULIE BISHOP: It would depend what happens on Thursday, I am assuming that the matter will be dealt with on Thursday.

JOURNALIST: I accept entirely your point about it being their judicial system, but we would think it ridiculous jailed for somebody to be jailed for any length of time over this, would that be your view?

JULIE BISHOP: Indeed in Australia this would be seen as a foolish prank. Young Aussie blokes having too much to drink and parading around in their budgie smugglers but it's a very different scenario in Malaysia. As you know, it is a conservative country, it is an Islamic country and they have very different cultural sensitivities and religious traditions that they adhere to and so my warning, my constant warning to Australians travelling overseas is, familiarise yourself with the smartraveller advice and understand that you are not subject to the laws of Australia but subject to the laws of the country you are visiting.

JOURNALIST: Without prejudicing it, one of the young men here is a coalition staff member, as has been well reported, Jack Walker, would it be fair to suggest his employment may be under review?

JULIE BISHOP: Well I don't want to single out any individual; I don't know the full facts behind his involvement in this. He is not a member of my staff, while he like everybody else should have read the travel advice. He is no more culpable than others involved in this prank. All are equally culpable in my view, engaged in irresponsible behaviour in another country. I can't quite understand the purpose of it and it has resulted in the Malaysian authorities becoming interested in their behaviour. We will act very cautiously in relation to this matter, I think that they need to be able to spend their day in court on Thursday and take the advice of the lawyers that their families have engaged for them.

JOURNALIST: Thanks so much for your time.

JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure.

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