ABC Radio National Breakfast - interview with Alison Carabine

  • Transcript, E&OE

ALISON CARABINE Julie Bishop, welcome to Breakfast.

JULIE BISHOP Good morning Alison.

ALISON CARABINE Minister, the executions are expected to occur early tomorrow morning Australian time. That is now within 24 hours. Have you any hope left that Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran can still be saved?

JULIE BISHOP I am still continuing to make representations to the Indonesian Government. There are outstanding legal processes in relation to their cases and I believe firmly that these matters should be determined before any plans for an execution take place. Lawyers are pursuing action before the Constitutional Court in Indonesia and I understand a preliminary hearing has been scheduled for the 12th of May and I think it highly inappropriate that there be any steps to plan the execution of Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran while these legal proceedings are underway.

There is a separate investigation underway by the Judicial Commission into claims of corruption in the original trial. So both of these processes raise questions about the integrity of the sentencing and the clemency process and Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran should be able to give evidence or be interviewed about these matters and of course a death penalty is irrevocable. So again we request the Indonesian Government to grant a stay of execution and grant the clemency pleas for both men.

ALISON CARABINE But any decision by the Constitutional Court would not be retrospective and the Judicial Commission is an oversight body with no actual judicial powers, isn't it the case then that the only person who can save the Australians is President Joko Widodo?

JULIE BISHOP That has always been the case, that President Widodo has the discretion as to whether to grant a clemency plea or not. The Constitutional Court matter does go to the issue of clemency. But we have continually requested President Widodo to consider favourably the lawyers' applications, the men's pleas for clemency and the Australian Government's request that these men be given a second chance.

Both men have committed to a new path in life, Mr Chan has been ordained as a Christian Minister, Mr Sukumaran has recently completed a degree in fine arts. Both are helping to rehabilitate other prisoners in the Indonesian prison system. And as I've said before and I say again, nothing can be gained and much will be lost if these two men are executed.

ALISON CARABINE Joko Widodo is at least talking with the Philippines President about Mary Jane Veloso who is also on death row. So he's talking to the Filipino President. Does that give you any glimmer of hope that the President may today reconsider his hard line approach to the death penalty?

JULIE BISHOP While the two men are still alive there is always hope and I will continue to make representations. However, I did learn last week while I was overseas that the King of the Netherlands contacted President Widodo personally and sought clemency for the life of a Dutch citizen who was on death row but the execution proceeded in January.

Our Prime Minister has spoken to President Widodo on a number of occasions including recently in Singapore and has written to him. So we will continue to make representations at the highest level. Indeed, the Australian Government has undertaken a program of sustained and high level representations to the Indonesian Government involving the Governor-General, the Prime Minister and me. The Attorney-General, other Ministers, private individuals have been writing to the Indonesian Authorities.

I have certainly advanced a number of initiatives to my Indonesian counterpart in an effort to reach a satisfactory resolution, including that Indonesia pause the execution while we explore potential prisoner swaps, but none of our proposals have been accepted.

ALISON CARABINE So the representations by the Australian Government and others have been extensive but considering the Netherlands' experience, is it clear that the Indonesian Government isn't even listening to your calls for mercy and how frustrating is that for you?

JULIE BISHOP I'm thinking of the families of the two men. Just put yourselves in their shoes and if it were your son, your brother, your husband, how would you be feeling at this time? So I've been thinking of the families.

I have spoken to other Foreign Ministers whose citizens have been on death row in Indonesia. In France as well I had a long discussion with Laurent Fabius – the French Foreign Minister – and they are continuing to make representations but I also note that the United Nations Secretary-General has issued a public statement appealing to Indonesia to refrain from carrying out the executions.

There are many in the international community – including in Indonesia – who share our deep opposition to the death penalty and I'm not asking President Widodo to do any more than he does on behalf of Indonesian citizens on death row elsewhere overseas who also face the death penalty for drug offences and Indonesia seeks clemency. I likewise am seeking clemency for these two men.

ALISON CARABINE The French President Francois Hollande is warning of consequences if the execution of a French national goes ahead. Is it fair to say there will also be consequences if Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran do face the firing squad?

JULIE BISHOP I don't want to speculate at this point about the consequences. My focus remains on doing everything I can to secure a stay of execution. But I note that the French President has spoken publicly about this matter. Both Australia and France oppose the death penalty at home and abroad, as does Indonesia when it applies to their citizens who are on death row overseas.

ALISON CARABINE As Foreign Minister, how much do you feel personally responsible to try and save Andrew and Myuran and how much does that weigh on you on a day like today?

JULIE BISHOP This is about Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran and their families. It is my responsibility as Foreign Minister to do what I can to help Australians who are in trouble overseas and Australia opposes the death penalty as a matter of principle, as a matter of morality and on that basis I will continue to seek to uphold Australia's principles and seek to save the lives of these two men. That's my responsibility and I take it very seriously and will continue to do everything I can to secure a stay of execution and reconsideration of the clemency bids of these two men.

ALISON CARABINE Minister, if I could take you to Nepal, the death toll now exceeds 4000. Do you have an update for us on the number of Australians who may be unaccounted for?

JULIE BISHOP Yes but first I extend my deep condolences to the family of the Australian woman - Renu Fotedar – whose death has been confirmed on the Everest base camp as a result of the earthquake and it is very sad news but the Embassy in Nepal is providing assistance to the family.

We can confirm that 1150 Australians are safe and accounted for. We are still searching for more to ensure that everybody who was in Nepal at this time is accounted for. So we do ask if people still have concerns about their families, if they haven't been able to get in touch with them, to ring our hotline so we can also assist them. That hotline is 1300 555 135. We have this 24-hour emergency call unit which can take those calls.

I can also confirm that Australia will assist any Australians to depart Nepal if they are unable to get a commercial airline out. Our Australian Defence Force aircraft will be taking humanitarian supplies in, so they can take flights out to Bangkok and Australians should be able to obtain commercial flights from there. There are constraints at the Kathmandu airport and in case people can't get a commercial flight home, our Defence Force planes are available.

ALISON CARABINE Terrific. So the Defence Force is getting in there. So just finally the Government in Nepal has issued an international plea for help, basically they need everything, the need is urgent. Is Australia ready to step up its assistance beyond the $5 million?

JULIE BISHOP Absolutely. Australia is already doing much more than that. The $5 million – as is always the case in these instances – is immediate relief, supplies that are available immediately, but we are also sending medical personnel and a disaster expert to join the United Nations team.

We have offered search and rescue teams but have been told there are already 10 international search and rescue teams on the ground and that must be coordinated and all the logistics supporting it have to be provided. We of course stand ready to assist and are working with the United States and Japan for search and rescue.

But at this point the Nepalese Government have asked that no more search and rescue teams be sent in, to then coordinate the 10 international teams that are already there. But of course we stand ready to help and have made that clear to the Nepalese Government. Our Embassy in Nepal is working overtime, I spoke to our Ambassador overnight, and he's in constant communication with the Nepalese authorities and authorities on the ground.

ALISON CARABINE Julie Bishop, really tough day, thank you for your time.

JULIE BISHOP Thanks Alison.

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