3AW Mornings, Canberra - interview with Neil Mitchell

  • Transcript, E&OE
26 November 2015

NEIL MITCHELL Madison Pellow is 18. She's got severe cerebral palsy. She has always wanted to go to Disneyland. She finally got approval from the doctors but had to be quick, had to be organised, passports rushed through for mum and dad, bureaucratic nightmare. Now they are due to leave tomorrow morning. Madison's mum Rachel called me yesterday on air and said 'help!' At this stage they hadn't even told Madison she might not be going but they didn't have a passport. It looked like it wouldn't happen. Rachel yesterday:

RACHEL PELLOW We haven't told her any of this because this will absolutely distress her.

NEIL MITCHELL Does she think she is going to Disneyland still?

RACHEL PELLOW Absolutely, and there is so many people who have assisted from family and friends to strangers because getting her there is an enormous logistical thing. She has to have a business class seat so that she can lie flat, she's got dislocated hips, she has a dislocated knee, we've had to organise at the airline we are taking lifting machines, we are taking bath chairs, our accommodation is all contingent on we've booked rooms that have wheelchair accessibility and roll-in showers. And yesterday when my husband was trying to talk to the Passport Office who refused to speak to us because we are not the applicant, he pleaded with them, is there anything we can do and their response was – I suggest you change your travel arrangements.

NEIL MITCHELL Well that is silly, I mean for a start Madison couldn't speak to them, because she can't speak properly, she couldn't sign the document herself, there's got to be an arrangement, it was just nonsense. We got onto the office of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop. They stepped in immediately. They saw the importance of it. Julie Bishop is on the line, the Minister.

Minister, good morning.

JULIE BISHOP Good morning Neil. This is a great example of the media and the government working together to achieve a happy outcome.


JULIE BISHOP I'm advised that the passport has been granted. It was resolved very quickly. As soon as your program contacted my office yesterday we contacted the Melbourne Passport Office and we asked them to intervene immediately. They contacted Madison's father and I'm advised the passport has been granted. It was resolved and I understand that Madison's father was very pleased with the outcome and hopefully, and happily they will be on their way.

NEIL MITCHELL It is a small issue but a crucial one for a family.

JULIE BISHOP Well that's right Neil and obviously the Passport Office was following protocols but you need a human touch and our bureaucracy, of course they are all very risk averse, they are very careful to follow protocols, to follow the administrative requirements to the letter and I understand there were some administrative issues that caused the delay. But then you have to put yourself in the shoes of the people who are dealing with government and understand the human elements to it all and I think this was just a reminder to our Melbourne Passport Office and my Department more generally that there are human personal elements that need to be taken into account.

NEIL MITCHELL Well Minister thank you to you and your office so much for stepping in to it. I said yesterday it will get fixed if the Minister wants to get involved. If not we might be struggling. It wouldn't have been fixed without your office getting involved.

JULIE BISHOP Well thank you for contacting our office and I'm so pleased that we were able to resolve it quickly. The Passport Office does a very good job. They process literally millions of passports. Many Australians are travelling, far more regularly than ever before, so there's an enormous administrative workload. In this instance we didn't recognise the pain that this was going to cause immediately and that there was just an administrative error that needed to be corrected to ensure that there was no further delay and I understand that Madison's dad is pretty happy with this.

NEIL MITCHELL That is great. I'll speak to them later. Thank you so much.

On a less happy note – the tensions between Turkey and Russia. Russia I think said overnight they won't go to war but there are consequences. What are the possible consequences? What could they do?

JULIE BISHOP Neil this is a very serious issue and there are claims and counterclaims. Turkey says that the Russian bomber violated Turkish air space despite repeated warnings. Russia maintains its plane was in Syrian air space and one pilot has been recovered. He's alive and he claims that he didn't receive any warning. So clearly the facts have to be established by a credible and independent investigation.

The rhetoric overnight is still strong but there are positive signs that there will be no military retaliation. What Russia has already done is suspend all military cooperation with Turkey. There has been some talk of economic sanctions, some talk of delaying major projects but the good sign is that the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has told the European Union that Russia will still be part of the political solution discussions involving Syria, so that is still on track.

There clearly needs to be an investigation into what happened between the Turkish fighter jets and the Russian bomber plane but there is also an underlying issue as to why the Russian jet was in this particular air space and whom they were targeting but nevertheless I spoke to our Ambassador in Moscow and our Ambassador in Ankara last night and both confirmed that the rhetoric is against escalating and its more about de-escalating.

NEIL MITCHELL Does this sort of reinforce the dangers that Australian pilots are facing in that area?

JULIE BISHOP Well in fact it does underscore the complexity of so many countries involved in this part of the world and their varying agendas as to what they are seeking to achieve. But in the case of Australia, our air task group mission over Iraq and Syria is very defined, very confined. Our missions are coordinated through the US-led centre which manages all Coalition air operations and there is a Memorandum of Understanding in place between the Coalition and Russia over aircraft movements in the region and this includes technical protocols to ensure flight safety and communications and ground and air communications.

So I'm confident that our aircraft would not be in a situation like this but of course our military continually assess the operational threat environment. Our people are well-briefed on all potential threats and they incorporate all of that information into all of their mission preparations. We've got very sophisticated and modern aircraft, our air crew are well trained to respond to any contingency but we of course will continue to monitor developments and the safety of our flight crew which is a paramount concern.

NEIL MITCHELL Well thank you so much for your time and thank you so much for your efforts on behalf of the Pellow family. Thank you for speaking with us.

JULIE BISHOP Thanks Neil, my pleasure.

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