ABC, AM Program - interview with Chris Uhlmann

  • Transcript, E&OE

CHRIS UHLMANN: Julie Bishop, what does this conviction tell us about the newEgyptian regime?

JULIE BISHOP: We are utterly dismayed by this verdict and appalled by theseverity of the sentence. We've been making representations for a very long timeto the interim Egyptian government about our concerns over this case, that itwas politically motivated, and now the new Egyptian Government has anopportunity to prove to the world that it is on the path to democracy, it doesbelieve in freedom of speech and freedom of the press which are the pillars ofdemocracy and so we hope that our representations to the new government will seePeter Greste home as soon as possible.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Now you were wanting to call in the Egyptian Ambassador but heis in Cairo, so what will you do?

JULIE BISHOP: Well we are calling in the Deputy Ambassador, who is here inCanberra, but the Egyptian Ambassador is back in Cairo and we're seeking to makecontact with him in Cairo. I'm also arranging to speak again with the ForeignMinister, Foreign Minister Shoukri. He's the new Foreign Minister; I spoke tohim over the weekend. He's apparently travelling outside of Egypt so we'reseeking to make contact with him so that I can register our deep concerns aboutthis case and the verdict. And likewise, we're also taking steps to lodge aformal diplomatic-level request of the President that he intervene in theproceedings at this stage. We have been informed that the President cannotconsider a plea of clemency or a pardon until such time as all of the legalproceedings have been concluded and that includes an appeal and the Grestefamily are currently considering whether or not to appeal.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Is there any way of knowing how long that might take?

JULIE BISHOP: We don't know how long an appeal would take. We understandthere are timeframes within which an appeal must be lodged, but I know that theGreste family have a legal team and are seeking their advice on those sorts ofmatters. But in the meantime, we will do what we can to make representations.

On the political side of things, Egypt has been at pains to point out thatthey have an independent judicial system and of course we respect that, becauselikewise in Australia we have an independent legal and judicial system. Buthaving seen the evidence, we just cannot understand how this verdict wasreached. Now there haven't been reasons for the decision provided yet, Iunderstand that they will be given to Mr Greste's legal team in the near futureand then we might have a better idea of how or why this verdict was reached.

CHRIS UHLMANN: But is there really any doubt that this was a politicallymotivated sentence?

JULIE BISHOP: Well there's no doubt that the proceedings in the first placewere politically motivated because this was at a time when the military hadtaken over the government. The Muslim Brotherhood had been the democraticallyelected government and then there was a military coup and the Muslim Brotherhoodwas deemed a terrorist organisation. So Peter Greste was reporting on thosepolitical scenarios at that time.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Has Peter Greste been caught in a political dispute betweenEgypt and Qatar which funds Al Jazeera?

JULIE BISHOP: Well that's another aspect to this case which makes it socomplex and the issues so difficult to grapple with because Al Jazeera isclearly seen as part of the Qatari Government and the Qatari Government andEgypt are currently at odds, so this is a very difficult and complex issue.

Unfortunately these kinds of cases are so difficult for us to get an outcomebecause you have a change of government. I've been dealing with differentforeign ministers, our Prime Minister has spoken to the interim President andnow the current President, President el-Sisi, and so we've been having to dealwith an interim government that was put in place as the result of a militarycoup. There's now been an election, there is a new government and so we will beappealing to that new government to call this verdict for what it is andintervene.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Is there any sign though that the Egyptian Government actuallycares about international displeasure? Because as you say, you've spoken to onfour occasions to two Foreign Ministers, the Prime Minister has spoken to thePresident, John Kerry has spoken directly to the Foreign Minister overnight andyet Egypt is not listening.

JULIE BISHOP: In fact we had called in aid, other governments very early on.From early this year we have been working with other government – governmentsthat are closer to Egypt, governments in the region and asking them to makerepresentations on our behalf for Peter Greste and I know they've been doingthat at every level.

And so at this stage it's hard to see how these representations have made adifference, however that doesn't mean we should stop; in fact we should increaseour level of representation because this new government now has an opportunityto prove to the world that it is on the transition to democracy and it doesrespect freedom of the press and freedom of speech.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Now on another matter, you told this programme last week thatas many as 150 Australians are fighting in Iraq and in Syria. Do Australia'sinternational intelligence gathering agencies like ASIS and the AustralianSignals Directorate need more powers in order to monitor them?

JULIE BISHOP: We are currently considering a range of powers for ourintelligence community including ASIS, ASD, ASIO because we are deeply concernedby what I see as one of the most significant domestic security developments thatwe've seen in quite some time with the number of young people in particular, whoare being attracted to the conflict, not only in Syria but also Iraq, but moredisturbingly are training with ISIS which is a particularly brutal terroristgroup. It's listed as a terrorist organisation in Australia. To engage with thisterrorist group is committing a terrorist offence and that can be punishable byup to 25 years imprisonment.

CHRIS UHLMANN: What sorts of powers would the government be seeking for theseagencies?

JULIE BISHOP: We are looking at giving ASIS the capacity to carry outactivities on Australians in Syria and Iraq.

CHRIS UHLMANN: And also linking in with ASIO and Australia because there has,I understand it, been a difficulty in the past for ASIS to be able to work withASIO on some of these matters?

JULIE BISHOP: Well we're concerned about the silos, or the stovepipes as theyare called in the United States, that is, intelligence communities not beingable to cross-refer information and we want to ensure that there's a seamlessflow of information across our intelligence community so that we can monitor andtrack and, if necessary, arrest, detain and prosecute people who are engagingwith terrorist organisations.

CHRIS UHLMANN: You can stop a dual national from coming home by cancelling apassport but you can't stop an Australian citizen from coming home, can you?

JULIE BISHOP: If I cancel a passport of an Australian citizen overseas theycan still return to Australia but then there is the opportunity to detain themand arrest them and if necessary, prosecute them. So, an Australian citizen canstill come back to Australia but then the fact that I've cancelled theirpassport means that they are a person of interest and so we would seek to detainthem at the border.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Now on a broader note, does the Australian government need tolead a debate here about the responsibilities of living in a democracy – thatits foundations are secular, that its Parliament makes the laws, that the courtsenforce that law, that men and women are equal before the law and that you areable to believe in your religion as long as you believe that everyone else has aright to theirs?

JULIE BISHOP: Well I think that's a very fair statement and it's whatAustralia stands for, it reflects our values as a nation. We, as a Government,always seek to project and protect our reputation as an open liberal democracywith a commitment to the rule of law, democratic institutions and thefundamental freedoms. I mean, that's who Australia is, they are our values andthat is a debate that should be ongoing and most certainly at this time whenwe're seeing disturbing development of Australians going overseas to fight inconflicts that involve shockingly brutal terrorist organisations, the massexecutions carried out by ISIS, this is just an appalling situation then ofcourse we must uphold our values even more strongly than we have in the past.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Julie Bishop, thank you.

JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure.

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