ABC 720 Drive, Perth - interview with Geoff Hutchison

  • Transcript, E&OE

GEOFF HUTCHISON First to the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop who has really led Australia's negotiations and pleas for clemency.

Julie Bishop, good morning to you.

JULIE BISHOP Good Morning Geoff.

GEOFF HUTCHISON The move has been made and it does seem the end is coming for these two men. I wonder, can you tell us perhaps what emotions you might have been battling this morning?

JULIE BISHOP Well it is not about my emotions. I am continuing to contact counterpart Ministers to press for a stay of execution. It is devastating for the men and their families. I've spoken to both families this morning, to Raji Sukumaran and to Michael Chan. They are taking it a day at a time, there is nothing else they can do but it is deeply dismaying that while there are still legal avenues available to them that steps are being taken to prepare for their execution.

I had a very long conversation with Foreign Minister Marsudi last night. I spoke of the remorse and the rehabilitation of the two men. I said it was unthinkable for preparations to proceed for the execution while legal avenues remained open and I asked that President Widodo grant a stay of execution and that he show them mercy and forgiveness. Indeed, I pointed out that I'm not asking the Indonesian Government – or indeed the Indonesian President – to do any more than they do for their citizens facing death row in countries overseas.

GEOFF HUTCHISON Foreign Minister how were those words received?

JULIE BISHOP I have spoken to Foreign Minister Marsudi on a number of occasions about this. We have met each other on numerous occasions. She was in fact Indonesia's Ambassador to the Netherlands during the MH17 disaster so we have come to know each other quite well. She was polite, she listened to what I had to say, she undertook to speak to the President, as I understood, immediately about the issues that I had raised as she has done in the past. She agreed to speak to the Attorney-General of Indonesia about my request that Australia be kept informed of the planning indeed the timetable for preparations and she undertook to do that.

But she emphasised that Indonesia is a sovereign country, it has its own laws, those laws include the death penalty to those who are convicted of serious drug trafficking. I said I respected that but with the greatest respect we ask again that President Widodo show mercy and forgiveness to Andrew and Myuran which he can do under Indonesian law. And it is abundantly clear that they are both reformed men who have shown genuine remorse for their crimes and who by all accounts are making a positive difference in the lives of prisoners in Indonesia.

GEOFF HUTCHISON Foreign Minister, it would seem that words are listened to with polite respect. I wonder have you, in hindsight, had any sense that they were given any real pause for thought or is this Indonesia politely going through the motions of responding, with respect, to the questions you are asking?

JULIE BISHOP Well things changed in January of this year. Successive governments have been making representations to the Indonesian authorities for at least a decade in relation to the Bali Nine and the two – Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan – who received the death penalty. Over recent years there have been no – or maybe one – executions in Indonesia, but none involving Australians, for a number of years. And we had hoped that Indonesia's stance on the death penalty had softened somewhat and that appeared to be the case.

But in January, under a new President, under a new administration, the pleas for clemency were rejected. So at that point we feared there would be executions and indeed executions were carried out on citizens of other nations. So we have embarked on a very high level, very concerted campaign, using all the resources and all the people we have available to us to make representations to their counterparts in Indonesia.

GEOFF HUTCHISON Julie Bishop, is the reality here – you've sort of explained about Indonesia's change politically in recent times – is the reality here that the President Widodo - any change of mind might be seen in this country as compassionate or merciful, and that is a line that you and the Prime Minister have pushed and encouraged, but at home would be considered as weak and that is the end of it?

JULIE BISHOP Mercy and forgiveness have just a big a place in Indonesian concepts of justice as it does in Australia. In seeking mercy for these two young men, Australia is only doing what Indonesia does for its citizens on death row overseas. So for as long as there is still hope I will continue to do everything possible to persuade Indonesia to change course and agree to a stay of execution.

GEOFF HUTCHISON I'm not sure you can answer this, but it seems to me that the priorities here are rather different here though. You want to save lives, President Widodo needs to save a political life and career and that is his own.

JULIE BISHOP I'm not going to comment on the domestic political pressures that he may be under. I believe it would show great strength in terms of leadership if he were able to recognise that these two young men have made a remarkable rehabilitation. The difference in their lives, the difference they have made to the lives of many Indonesians in prison is a positive story for Indonesia. Indeed, the Indonesian prison system has managed to rehabilitate two serious drug offenders in a way that other prison systems around the world can only aspire to do.

It is a positive story for Indonesia, one has become a priest and is providing spiritual support to others in prison, the other has become an accomplished artist and is taking art classes for others. So it is the very model of best practice in terms of rehabilitation. And I can see no positive purpose to be served in executing these men at this time. They are paying the price for what they did by spending the rest of their lives in jail. To execute them now seems to me to be utterly pointless.

GEOFF HUTCHISON Minister you have used very measured and diplomatic language – all of which is vital I'm sure to enable the lines of communication to remain open – but this morning you did declare that the killing of these two men would be callous. Here's the Prime Minister from about 25 minutes ago:

I think right now millions of Australians are feeling sick in the guts by the prospect of execution for these two. I've been saying again and again this is contrary to Indonesia's national interest and is contrary to Indonesia's best values.

So Foreign Minister, there will be people listening who will say that it is time now to let Indonesia know in no uncertain terms that not only is Australia disappointed but angered by this decision. And I wonder what kind of language you and the Prime Minister would use between now and whenever that fateful date might arrive?

JULIE BISHOP I can assure you Geoff that the Indonesian Government is in no doubt about how strongly we feel about this issue. We have been making representations for over a month now. At this level of course there have been representations for the last 10 years. But it is a much higher level, much more concerted effort since Indonesia actually carried out executions of other prisoners on death row in January. They are in no doubt about how seriously we take this issue, how opposed we are to the death penalty at home and overseas.

Now I understand the seriousness of these crimes and I know there will be listeners on your radio program and viewers in TV who say "well, my children have been affected" or "we have had heroin overdoses that have led to death" and I understand the seriousness of what they have done. But they have shown great remorse, they have been rehabilitated and it cannot turn back the clock if we have them executed now, if the Indonesian Government, the authorities carry out these executions. It is not going to deter others - that has to be done through education programs and other initiatives. It can't bring anybody back, but what it can do is show that people can be given a second chance if they truly are remorseful for their offences and are truly rehabilitated and are making a positive difference to the lives of other prisoners who are going through rehabilitation.

GEOFF HUTCHISON We say while there is life there is hope and that's an understandable wish to delay what looks like the increasingly inevitable. Are you preparing for that eventuality?

JULIE BISHOP I spoke to the families today and most certainly they are still hoping. And I must continue to give them hope because I'm continuing to do everything I can to persuade Indonesia to change its mind, to change its heart and agree to a stay of execution. So I will continue to do that. I did say this morning that it is callous for preparations to proceed while there were legal avenues still available, while their rehabilitation was so evidently successful. So we will continue to do all we can.

GEOFF HUTCHISON And is it reasonable to say that you can't make public utterances where you might say you have given up hope because these things send messages that are heard very quickly?

JULIE BISHOP I'm very conscious that what we say in Australia is being heard in Indonesia and I'm not going to say or do anything that would be counter-productive. I have to remain positive, I have to remain hopeful and I have to continue to assure the families that we are doing all we can to support them in what must be an unimaginably difficult and confusing and challenging time for them.

GEOFF HUTCHISON Thank you for explaining the circumstances and the manner in which you are responding to them. Thanks for your time.


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