ABC Radio – AM – Interview with Tom Nightingale. Subjects: Greenpeace activist Colin Russell

Subjects: Greenpeace activist Colin Russell.

Transcript, E&OE, proof only

3 January 2014

TONY EASTLEY: After more than two months in Russian prisons, the Tasmanian Greenpeace activist Colin Russell is happy to be back on home soil. But he's accusing the Federal Government of not doing enough about what he says were politically motivated arrests. Mr Russell, who was arrested during a Greenpeace protest near a Russian arctic oil rig, says the conditions in the cold and dank Russian cells reminded him of Tasmania's notoriously grim Port Arthur prison. He's also concerned he may have contracted tuberculosis. The Foreign Minister Julie Bishop rejects his criticisms about the Government. Tom Nightingale reports.

COLIN RUSSELL: How're you going?

WOMAN: Welcome home!

COLIN RUSSELL: Oh thank you.

(Inaudible question from woman)

COLIN RUSSELL: Oh, what a relief.

TOM NIGHTINGALE: Two and a half months after he entered a Russian prison, Colin Russell is home in Tasmania.

COLIN RUSSELL: How are we all? Happy new year!

TOM NIGHTINGALE: He landed in Hobart late last night and he praised the staff in the Australian consulate office for keeping him informed and bringing him food and books.

But while British and French leaders raised the issue personally on behalf of detained citizens, Mr Russell says the Australian Government didn't do enough.

COLIN RUSSELL: Apparently they were going to let me just go through the Russian legal process, due legal process. But it doesn't exist. If you're accused in Russia, you're guilty. So, it wasn't going to happen. So it was going to be a political end. And I thought after the ITLOS (International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea) ruling, maybe they should have going into bat a little more for me. I think it was a little bit too little too late, really.

TOM NIGHTINGALE: Colin Russell was one of 30 Greenpeace activists who were charged with piracy in September after some tried to board a Russian oil rig. The charges could have resulted in 15 years in jail.

COLIN RUSSELL: Of course the scenario was given to us, of course, yes, but I think it was probably overdone from their end, you know. It was a peaceful protest. And the same protest year before and they did not react that way. So, I don't know, you can only expect what had happened before.

TOM NIGHTINGALE: The charges have now been dropped in a political amnesty. Colin Russell is now having tests for tuberculosis he may have contracted in prison. But the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says it's unfair to say the Government didn't do enough to help.

JULIE BISHOP: He did receive a high level of consular assistance and ministerial representations. I personally wrote to the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and I raised Mr Russell's case with him in detail. After my letter was sent, our Ambassador in Moscow met with senior officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Russia to discuss Mr Russell's case, and I wrote to Mr Russell's wife outlining the assistance we were providing and the representations that we were making. And I did arrange a meeting with her, but she cancelled it to go to Russia to be with Mr Russell.

TOM NIGHTINGALE: Do you think it's unfair then that he's saying the help that he received was too little and too late?

JULIE BISHOP: He certainly received a very high level of consular assistance and ministerial representation. This is a higher level of representation than is often provided to people overseas who are in trouble, but I don't publicise the fact that I am talking with my counterparts because that can be counterproductive. If we put a lot of publicity around ministerial representations, it can raise the false hopes of others in jail overseas who can be led to believe that just a phone call from a minister can make all the difference, and that is not the case. And by making it public, it can negate the representation.

TONY EASTLEY: The Foreign Minister Julie Bishop ending that report from Tom Nightingale.

Media enquiries