3AW Mornings - interview with Neil Mitchell

  • Transcript, E&OE

NEIL MITCHELL Julie Bishop, good morning.

JULIE BISHOP Good morning Neil.

NEIL MITCHELL I was talking to a representative of the Comber family who are, we think unaccounted for in the region, they are from Daylesford in Victoria. How many Australians are still unaccounted for?

JULIE BISHOP To date we have been able to confirm the safety and welfare of more than 830 Australians in the country, however only 549 people registered with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Smartraveller website so our Embassy is providing consular assistance to a number of Australians.

We are seeking to confirm the welfare of any Australians in the affected areas. We have activated our 24/7 Emergency call unit. Already we have taken over 1250 calls from family and friends of missing Australians and we've deployed a Crisis Response Team to Nepal and that team will assist in establishing the number of Australians in Nepal and trying to establish the welfare of those unaccounted for after the earthquake and we'll also be assisting the humanitarian assessments to support the Nepalese Government and international efforts in response to the earthquake.

NEIL MITCHELL So we don't really know in that case how many are there, still unaccounted for?

JULIE BISHOP Unless people register with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, or unless they call our emergency unit we can only do it on the ground and we are remaining in close and ongoing contact with the Nepalese authorities, local partners to ascertain how many Australians are there and how many will need assistance. So our Embassy and all of our staff there are doing what they can and we have sent another team to assist in determining how many Australians remain unaccounted for. I am aware of one media report that an Australian has died on Mount Everest and our Embassy in Kathmandu is urgently seeking to determine that report.

NEIL MITCHELL But that's still unconfirmed is it?

JULIE BISHOP It is still unconfirmed. Now the Nepalese Government has put the death toll at over 1900 and that figure is likely to rise and of course we express our deep condolences to all of those affected by the earthquake in Nepal including the families of those who've died in Nepal in India and Bangladesh.

NEIL MITCHELL What messages are you getting from your people on the ground as to what has happening there at the moment?

JULIE BISHOP It's a chaotic, tragic natural disaster. Kathmandu itself has sustained damage to many buildings and latest reports suggest there were more than 700 deaths in the city itself. The earthquake has triggered an avalanche on Mount Everest near the base camp. The international airport is still open but communication networks in the affected areas including Kathmandu have been disrupted following the earthquake and so Australians in Nepal should anticipate there will be disruptions to telecommunications and transport in affected areas.

Neil let me make this point - if people have concerns for the welfare of their family and friends in Nepal obviously they should first attempt to contact them directly. If they are unable to do so I've got two telephone numbers I hope your listeners will take down. There's a 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre operating on this number: (02) 6261 3305 or there's a 1300 number that's 1300 555 135, that's a local call cost.

NEIL MITCHELL 1300 555 135 and (02) 6261…


NEIL MITCHELL Okay, thank you. Thanks very much for that. You mentioned this crisis team we are sending. Will they be able to help with the rescue work or are they just there to do the other side of it?

JULIE BISHOP At this stage the Crisis Response Team in Nepal will be focussing on establishing the safety of Australians unaccounted for. We are also working with the United States and Japan to respond to the request by the Government of Nepal for assistance with urban search and rescue. There is an international range of partners and countries who have already committed to urban search and rescue – Japan, Finland, the United States, UK. They've all got teams probably in place by now. There are also teams from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, India so we are coordinating with the US and Japan but this of course all has to be coordinated with the Nepalese Government and the United Nations office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is also sending a team to Kathmandu to assist with the coordination.

So there's a massive international effort underway and Australia will play its part. We've already immediately provided $5 million in life saving humanitarian assistance to Australia's NGOs, to United Nations partners and to the Australian Red Cross.

NEIL MITCHELL $5 million to me didn't seem a lot.

JULIE BISHOP It's a significant amount to be sent immediately. There is a big difference between pledging money and actually getting it there. We've actually got it there, but of course it's always under review. You know how these things work Neil -Australia responds immediately in reply to a request from the government of the affected country as we've done in this case but we always stand ready to assist should the request be made. But it's not a question of just turning up, it has to be a coordinated effort and that's what we are doing with our partners – with the US, Japan and the Nepalese Government.

NEIL MITCHELL Okay. Can I ask you about the other issue of course which is what's happening with the two Bali 9 men who are facing execution? I remember a month ago Tony Abbott asked the Indonesian President, left a message for him to call him back. Did he ever call back?

JULIE BISHOP Yes, I believe they have spoken and the Prime Minister has also written in recent days to the Indonesian President and I have written to my Indonesian Foreign Minister counterpart but I spoke to her again last night, the Foreign Minister Marsudi. I was in transit in Dubai but I was able to make contact. I raised again all of our concerns. I said how profoundly dismayed I was that Indonesian authorities had given Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran 72 hours' notice of their executions. I said again that I could not see what could be gained from this and much would be lost if the two men were executed.

I note that the United Nations Secretary-General has now put out a public statement appealing to Indonesia to refrain from carrying out these executions and I will continue to do everything possible to advocate for a stay of execution and a reconsideration of the clemency bids of the two men.

And as I pointed out to Foreign Minister Marsudi there are in fact two legal processes still underway. The lawyers for Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran are pursuing action before the Indonesian Constitutional Court and there's a separate investigation by the Judicial Commission of Indonesia into claims of corruption in the original trial and both of these processes raise questions about the integrity of sentencing in the clemency process.

NEIL MITCHELL So what was her response?

JULIE BISHOP She said she would pass my messages on to the Indonesian President and to the Attorney-General. I've had a number of phone calls with Foreign Minister Marsudi, we've had a lot of contact over this issue so she's in no doubt about Australia's opposition to the death penalty, specifically our request for clemency for these two men who deserve a second chance. They have both committed to a new path in life. Andrew has been ordained as a Christian minister and Sukumaran has recently completed a degree in Fine Arts and they are both helping to rehabilitate other prisoners in Indonesia. So we will continue down this path of sustained and high-level representations to the Indonesian Government.

NEIL MITCHELL Do you know when Tony Abbott spoke to the Indonesian President?

JULIE BISHOP I don't have that detail. The Prime Minister and I both are on pretty hectic travel schedules. My understanding is that he did make contact and I could be corrected there but there has been a sustained, high-level program of representations involving the Prime Minister, the Governor-General, me, the Attorney-General, other Ministers, our Ambassador in Jakarta and others. Neil I'm not optimistic. We will continue to push for this but I'm aware that there have been other high-level representations from other countries. Indeed I learned that the King of the Netherlands contacted President Widodo to seek a stay of execution for a Dutch citizen but that person was executed in January.

NEIL MITCHELL We are told by reporters on the spot that the coffins and crosses have already been delivered and the crosses have got the date of death on them already.

JULIE BISHOP Well that could well be the case.

NEIL MITCHELL They have marked them the 29th - date of death 29th.

JULIE BISHOP I'm not aware of that detail but I have called on the President to reconsider his refusal to grant clemency. I say it is not too late for a change of heart and I say again that we are asking for no more of Indonesia than Indonesia asks of other nations where Indonesian citizens are on death row, including for serious drug offences.

NEIL MITCHELL Will this affect our relationship with Indonesia?

JULIE BISHOP At this stage I'm not going to speculate about the consequences because my focus remains on doing everything I can to secure a stay of execution but of course we have made representations at the highest level and Indonesia and Australia are close neighbours. We have very close relationships and levels of cooperation across a range of areas and we continue to ask Indonesia to respect our wishes that these clemency bids be granted. Now our Ambassador in Jakarta is currently engaged in making a further series of high-level representations to that end.

NEIL MITCHELL What even today?

JULIE BISHOP Even today.

NEIL MITCHELL Thank you for your time.

Media enquiries