6PR Mornings Show - interview with Rob Broadfield

  • Transcript, E&OE

ROB BROADFIELD Foreign Minister Julie Bishop joins me this morning. Minister, a glimmer of hope this morning for the Greste family?

JULIE BISHOP We do have some optimism because Peter Greste's appeal was upheld, his conviction was overturned, and a retrial ordered. What that means is that he's now an accused person facing a retrial, but no longer a convicted person facing seven years in jail. Since he was first detained, Egyptian law has changed and there are now more options available to him and his legal team, and I know that they are pursuing those today.

ROB BROADFIELD There are some suggestions that the law was changed as a direct result of these convictions; is there some merit in that?

JULIE BISHOP The Egyptian Government's representatives have made many statements both publicly and privately to the effect that they wished the case had been dealt with more quickly - indeed the President even indicated that had he been president at the time he would have deported the journalists rather than have them go through this trial. But they have also emphasised that you can't interfere with their legal proceedings, their court proceedings. So there have been rather mixed messages, and it is frustrating, I know, and there are no quick fixes it seems, but now there is a change in the law about a prisoner transfer arrangement so that's what we're pursuing at present. His lawyers are looking at that and our ambassador in Cairo, Ralph King, is assisting in that regard.

ROB BROADFIELD And the idea of that would be he would be deported without that second trial and tried in Australia - is that how it would happen?

JULIE BISHOP This is where it gets rather grey and I don't want to speculate too much, but the new law is very short, there's no detail. If he was still a convicted person and he were transferred here, he would have to serve out the rest of his sentence; but he's no longer convicted because that's been overturned. So he's now an accused person, so we're just hoping that he can be transferred to Australia and then the law would take its course here. Now that would be an entirely different matter of course. So we've been very careful with what we say about this and we're just working through the processes now. Our consular staff are supporting him over in Egypt as they have since he was detained, and of course his legal team and his family are there as well.

ROB BROADFIELD Yes, I understand you've got to be rather careful diplomatically in the way you put things could jeopardise the next few days or the next few weeks. But is there a sense in Egypt, you know, the powers that be in Egypt, that the whole thing was unfair? That it was wrongheaded from the beginning?

JULIE BISHOP I have had many discussions with Foreign Ministry Shoukry, and he has been careful not to criticise the judicial system in Egypt, of course, and he has encouraged us to encourage the Grestes to allow the legal proceedings to take their course. But they have been optimistic from time to time; indeed recently the President spoke of a pardon, or some kind of clemency arrangement - well, that would no longer be applicable because Peter Greste is no longer a convicted person. Nevertheless, the fact that the President was thinking about other ways, other avenues to get Peter Greste home, did give us cause for optimism. And I'm still, as I say, mildly optimistic that this can be resolved as soon as possible, and we will get Peter Greste home. And that's been our aim from the outset.

ROB BROADFIELD The Egyptian Government likes to paint itself as a more progressive Arab nation, if you like, in the sense that it's more attuned, perhaps, to Western values in its own way. Do you think the political powers in Egypt are slightly embarrassed by these sorts of trials which, from a Western standpoint, appear to be just ludicrous?

JULIE BISHOP Well, there has been a change in government since Peter Greste was detained, and of course it's not an offence that he would be charged with in Australia if he were doing what I understand he was doing in Egypt. So of course we have to take into account the fact that complexities do arise when Australians are subject to other legal systems overseas, and we have to respect their legal system, and I believe we have done that. It is frustrating, and we're working very closely with the Greste family on this, and of course it's been devastating for Peter Greste himself; but I believe that we are getting closer to a situation where we can bring him home. And what we've been doing over the last 12 months I hope has been productive - slow, but productive - in that we've been deeply engaged at every level - political, legal, administratively, bureaucratically, diplomatically - working our way through this. And of course, in Australia we know the legal system takes its time here as well, so we have to be patient.

ROB BROADFIELD Would it be a little too speculative to maybe have a look at what the timeframe might be on this for Mr Greste?

JULIE BISHOP I understand that the official judgement is still to be handed down; that may take some days, and then a retrial could be ordered within months. But we are certainly looking to resolve the situation more quickly than that. I'm hoping to speak to the Foreign Minister again today, and we'll continue to engage as closely and deeply as we can with the Egyptian Government at every level.

ROB BROADFIELD Your office has worked very hard on this. It's a bit of a cause celebre for your office, isn't it, the Greste issue?

JULIE BISHOP Well, in fact we deal with very challenging issues all the time. There are, sadly, always Australians in trouble overseas - at any one time you can have up to a thousand Australians detained or in jail somewhere overseas. So, we do work as hard as we can for all Australians who are in trouble; this one has attracted a lot of media attention because of course he is a journalist, and he's an award-winning journalist, and it goes to this issue of press freedom and the freedoms that journalists can have in some of these volatile and challenging situations around the world. So, it has become somewhat of a cause celebre for others.

For our diplomatic corps it's work that they do; this is what they do when Australians get into trouble overseas, they work quietly behind the scenes, they don't try to attract too much media attention because that can be counter-productive and not in the person's interest. But we have an outstanding, stellar diplomatic corps representing Australia overseas, and I really do thank them for the work that they do above and beyond the call of duty time in and time out.

ROB BROADFIELD Absolutely, and over this holiday season a glimmer of hope for the Greste family. His mum and dad of course have been, understandably, amazingly distraught over this period at the thought of their sun languishing in an Egyptian jail, on the never-never really. So, great news for them, and hopefully fingers crossed it works out the way we hope it works out.

JULIE BISHOP That's right. And we'll continue to do whatever we can to get him home as soon as possible.

ROB BROADFIELD Minister, thanks for joining me this morning.

JULIE BISHOP My pleasure Rob, thank you.

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