Channel Nine Today Show - interview with Lisa Wilkinson

  • Transcript, E&OE

LISA WILKINSON Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has been closely lobbying for Peter Greste's freedom and she joins me now. Good morning to you.

JULIE BISHOP Good morning.

LISA WILKINSON First up, can I get your reaction to this decision overnight?

JULIE BISHOP There is some cause for optimism because now Peter Greste's appeal has been upheld. That means the conviction has been overturned, as we hoped it would be and as we always assumed it should have been. And he's now back in the position of an accused person awaiting a trial. So that opens up a whole raft of new options for Peter and his family. I've been speaking with our Ambassador in Cairo, Ralph King, overnight several times, and while he acknowledges the frustration that this process is taking so long, he does see that there are now opportunities for us to get Peter Greste home which is what we have been seeking to do from the outset.

LISA WILKINSON Family and supporters were expecting bail. Why do you think that didn't happen?

JULIE BISHOP I understand that he is able to apply for bail to another court today and that will be underway, I understand, as soon as possible. The fact is, he has now spent a year in jail and from our perspective, that is far too long and that should be reason why he should be given bail. But it does open up other opportunities, as I said. He is now back in the position of an accused person, not a convicted person.

LISA WILKINSON Let's just talk about that window while he awaits this retrial. How big do you see that window?

JULIE BISHOP In the past, the Egyptian government has indicated that they would consider some kind of prisoner transfer agreement and they do have a new law, that was very short, it was introduced recently, and it does give some optimism for us that he could be transferred back to Australia, under that law - as an accused person, not a convicted person, if you get my point there. So we are hoping that we will be able to pursue that line of thinking and I'm sure the Greste family will be following that up today.

So our consular officials are deeply engaged in this matter. Indeed, I'm awaiting a call from the Foreign Minister Shoukry, as I stand here, I'm hoping that he will call me. We have put in a request to his office for us to have yet another phone call about this matter and I hope that we can progress it even further.

LISA WILKINSON President Al-Sisi has already said, had he been in power, and this was all happening, he would have got that decree, he wouldn't have been behind bars. Does that give you further hope?

JULIE BISHOP Yes, it does. He did point out that he wouldn't interfere with the Egyptian judicial process, and I think that is something that we all have to remember as well. If this were an Egyptian national facing controversial charges in a court in Australia, we wouldn't be in a position to interfere with the independence of the Australian judiciary. Well, President Al-Sisi is saying that the same applies in Egypt - that we should allow the legal processes to take their course and we can't interfere with the independence of the Egyptian legal system and judiciary. However, now that the appeal has been upheld, the conviction overturned, I think there are more possibilities, more options available to the Grestes.

LISA WILKINSON Last night international human rights lawyer Jeffrey Robertson was very critical of your handling of this case and said it was time the government shirt-fronted those in Egypt responsible for Peter Greste's situation. He believes you could have handled this better. What is your reaction to those comments?

JULIE BISHOP I think the course of action that he is suggesting would have been highly counterproductive and if he wanted to not act in Peter Greste's best interests, then he would have pursued that course. I put the same proposition to him. Is he suggesting that if an Egyptian national were before a British court, he would be 'shirt-fronting' British judges? I think not.

LISA WILKINSON Okay. Just finally, to domestic matters now. A report out this morning claims that more than 20 Australians who fought with Islamic State in Syria have been allowed to return home. The new counter terrorism laws give you the power to ban people travelling to the region but as these extremists were already in Syria, when the laws came into effect, they have been allowed now to return home. What is the government going to be doing to ensure Australians here on home soil are safe from these people who have returned from Syria?

JULIE BISHOP Lisa, I won't go into the security implications of this, but I can assure you that our security and law enforcement agencies have this situation well in hand. We are in a position to cancel or not issue passports for people seeking to leave the country. We are in a position to detain people or keep people under surveillance, should they return. And I do point out that fighting with a terrorist organisation like ISIL is an offence against Australian law. Promoting, advocating, supporting terrorism in any form is an offence under Australian law. So we will ensure that Australians are kept safe. We will continue to advocate against young people in particular, travelling overseas to fight with terrorist organisations. Not only are they putting their own lives at risk, but they are just adding to the misery and suffering of the people of Syria and Iraq, and for no purpose. They are being duped by these terrorist organisations into thinking that they are doing something for a noble cause; and they are certainly not. They are just adding to the misery, suffering and brutality that the people of Syria and Iraq are experiencing.

LISA WILKINSON Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, we will have to leave it there. Thanks very much for your time this morning.


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