ABC Radio National, breakfast - Interview with Fran Kelly

  • Transcript, E&OE
16 February 2015

FRAN KELLY Australian officials are going to be briefed today in Jakarta on the final preparations for the execution of the drug traffickers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. The meeting could set in motion a 72-hour countdown to the death by firing squad of these two Australians on the island of Nusa Kembangan which is also known as Indonesia's Alcatraz. Here at home the Australian Government has made a last minute plea for clemency calling for the same mercy for Chan and Sukumaran that Indonesia calls for its own people on death row in other countries. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has been leading these calls for clemency.

Minister, welcome back to Breakfast.

JULIE BISHOP Good morning Fran.

FRAN KELLY Where there's life there's hope Julie Bishop. How much hope do you have because it does seem to be full steam ahead now for these executions in Indonesia.

JULIE BISHOP Fran I'm absolutely committed to continuing to press for a stay of the execution of Mr Sukumaran and Mr Chan and to plead for a reconsideration of their clemency pleas. We have a wide ranging campaign underway at many levels across the Indonesian Government and beyond and our message is that a decade on from their crimes these men are remorseful, they have been rehabilitated and this will be a grave injustice, indeed a wasted opportunity for Indonesia because they will be able to demonstrate how successful their prison system can be in rehabilitating drug traffickers.

FRAN KELLY It's a great message and the way you frame it there a positive message for Indonesia as you told the Parliament last week there's already been at least 55 separate representations from the Australian Government at various levels to Indonesia. They've all been rejected. Have you seen any sign that Indonesia still has any open mind, that the President has an open mind on this?

JULIE BISHOP Not yet but we are continuing our representations. I have been in contact with the Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi again on Friday. I've been in constant contact with our Ambassador-designate in Jakarta. Our Consul General is in Bali and representations continue to be made.

We understand that there is to be a meeting with our representatives and officials from other countries whose citizens are also facing execution in February. The Ministry of Law and Human Rights in Indonesia has apparently given the authority for the transfer of Mr Sukumaran and Mr Chan to another location but there's been no date or no location specified. This will be another opportunity for us to press our case but we are continuing to do it at the highest levels across a broad range of the Indonesian Government.

FRAN KELLY Minister would you consider flying yourself to Jakarta to make one final plea for mercy? Would that help?

JULIE BISHOP Of course I've considered that many times but I'm informed and advised by our experts in this area that this would be in fact seen as counterproductive, that what we must do is continue to press behind the scenes. We must make representations to those who can make a difference, those who can make the decision. But I have to take the advice of our very experienced consular officials, those who have been involved in these sort of cases before, and I'm told that if I flew to Jakarta at this time it could potentially be counterproductive and could precipitate an unfavourable outcome.

FRAN KELLY There's a story today in one of the papers, a quite extraordinary claim from the legal team, or some representatives for Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, that the judges who handed down the death sentence originally had offered to give them a lighter sentence, a prison sentence in exchange for a bribe. Do you have faith in the Indonesian legal system?

JULIE BISHOP These are very serious allegations and I understand that the lawyers for Mr Sukumaran and Mr Chan will continue to raise these matters. There is an appeal process still underway and I urge the Indonesian authorities to allow that appeal process to proceed and to not take any action that would prevent that appeal process from progressing.

Of course I have to respect the Indonesian legal system. It's an independent, sovereign nation. It has its own judicial system and we mustn't lose sight of the fact that Indonesia has made it quite plain for many years that they take a very dim view of drug trafficking and that drug trafficking does carry with it the death penalty in Indonesia.

Now admittedly over the last five years there haven't been executions carried out but the new administration has made it quite clear that they intend to be very tough on drug trafficking. I understand that because drug trafficking causes untold misery, even death for others, but my point is that no good purpose will be served by executing two Australian citizens who have been rehabilitated and who are repaying their debt to society.

FRAN KELLY Minister, early on in the campaign to save these two men, the Prime Minister made it clear that whatever happened it wouldn't have an impact on the broader relationship with Indonesia. Now the PM is saying if these Australians are executed, Australia "will be finding ways to make our displeasure felt". What ways? What options are on the table?

JULIE BISHOP We have a number of options on the table Fran. I don't want to go into the details of them at this point because my sole focus is on making the strongest possible representations for a stay of execution. It's very important that we keep open all the lines of communication we can.

Of course we're considering options should the executions proceed but at this point the most useful and helpful thing I can say is that we are urging the Indonesian Government to stay the execution of these two young men, just as the Indonesian Government is urging other foreign governments to stay executions of Indonesian citizens who face the death penalty in other countries abroad.

FRAN KELLY It's hypocritical isn't it, for Indonesia to be arguing that externally and yet going on and ignoring the calls from the Australian Government?

JULIE BISHOP Australia opposes the death penalty at home and abroad. I would be more than happy to work with the Indonesian Government to oppose the death penalty around the world. And if Indonesia opposes the death penalty for their citizens in the Middle East for example, then I am more than happy to support their pleas. Likewise, I would hope the Indonesian Government would show the same mercy to Australian citizens as they are demanding other nations show their citizens.

FRAN KELLY Minister on another issue, Tony Abbott will make a statement next week on national security. He says people who may be "a threat to our country will no longer be given the benefit of the doubt" and "bad people should not be able to play us for mugs". What does the PM mean when he says people should stop playing us for mugs and what does he mean there will be moves to change that, [inaudible] what moves are afoot?

JULIE BISHOP Well, recent terror attacks and raids in Australia have shown that there is a real threat of a terrorist act in Australia and we will do all we can to keep our people and our country safe. We are fighting an ideology here. People are not leaving Australia and going over to Syria and Iraq as part of a noble cause. People who fight with Daesh are not engaged in martyrdom, they are engaged in brutal, violent acts against other people.

FRAN KELLY [Interrupting] but Minister we've already changed the rules for those people haven't we? What can we do to make it harder for people to arrive here..

JULIE BISHOP Fran what we've done is we've changed the laws to enable me to suspend, cancel or refuse to issue passports in certain circumstances and we're certainly doing that. We've changed the threshold so that people can be detained, or indeed arrested, when there is a threat to national security and we saw that with the recent terror raids. I understand that those arrests could not have taken place under the old laws.

So we're looking at a broad spectrum of issues that will add to our national security, including whether dual citizens, those who have had their passports cancelled, or those who have dual citizenship, there should be further redress against them.

We're also looking at our welfare system. A number of these foreign fighters apparently were receiving welfare for unemployment or other benefits. If you are fighting for a foreign terrorist organisation as these people are, then you don't get the benefit of the doubt, the support of the Australian taxpayer, to carry out what is a criminal offence in this country.

FRAN KELLY Of course but is the Government going to change the laws to make it easier to rescind citizenship. Is that on the table?

JULIE BISHOP All options are on the table, but I don't intend to pre-empt the Prime Minister's statement. He's given an indication that he will be making a statement Monday week about national security. Already we've committed new funding, over $630 million in new funding to ensure that our security and intelligence and law enforcement agencies have more tools at their fingertips to be able to battle against these terrorist activities.

The events in Copenhagen over the weekend also indicated that terrorist attacks can take place at any time anywhere with very little planning, very little notice and often in circumstances where our security and intelligence agencies aren't even aware of this person's existence. In some instances they are, so we have to look at the broad sweep of what can be done to keep our people and our country safe.


FRAN KELLY Julie Bishop thank you very much for joining us again on Breakfast.

JULIE BISHOP My pleasure Fran.

Media enquiries