Channel Seven Sunrise Program - interview with David Koch
DAVID KOCH For more I'm joined by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Peter Greste's parents say this [court decision] is positive. Do you agree with this?
JULIE BISHOP I have spoken overnight to our Ambassador in Cairo, Ralph King. He was also present in the court. The appeal was upheld, that's good news; the conviction overturned, that's good news. So Peter Greste is now back in the position of an accused person awaiting retrial, rather than a convicted person facing seven years in jail. This opens up new avenues and possibilities. Our aim is to get him home as soon as possible.
DAVID KOCH Right, because if he is home, he is untouchable. Is that right?
JULIE BISHOP If he is home, he is subject to our legal system and we don't have the offences in law that they do in Egypt. So we are hoping that we - the Greste family and their lawyers - will able to apply to have him brought back to Australia.
DAVID KOCH So deported, basically.
JULIE BISHOP Yes. There are a number of options; this is not the only one.
DAVID KOCH What are the others?
JULIE BISHOP The President did say, at some point earlier this year, that he would consider a plea of clemency or a pardon. This is a little bit more complicated, because he is now facing a retrial, he's not convicted, and that usually that happens upon conviction. They did change the law recently. That enables there to be a kind of prisoner transfer or an accused person can be transferred back to another country, their home country, and we are pursuing all those opportunities now.
DAVID KOCH Christmas Eve, you were so confident.
JULIE BISHOP Mildly optimistic, I said. David, over time, we have had a lot of statements being made publicly and privately by representatives of the Egyptian government, and it's not always the same message. We had some very clear indications on Christmas Eve, such that I felt mildly optimistic…
DAVID KOCH That he could have been pardoned?
JULIE BISHOP Indeed. But then they have said we have to allow the legal processes to take their course. So the appeal proceeding on 1 January was always a live option. It did go ahead. It was about a half hour hearing, nine judges, they came back after a short recess. They came back and upheld the appeal. Now that is what we said should have happened in the first place. He should never have been convicted on the facts presented.
DAVID KOCH Is the problem with the politics in Egypt? It's a big deal for a President to pardon somebody and almost give the impression he has been pressured by first world countries, which Middle East countries don't like at all.
JULIE BISHOP No country likes being pressured in this way. Imagine if it was an Egyptian national in an Australian court, facing our judicial proceedings and politicians were trying to put pressure on the Australian Government or the Australian legal system. We would say you must respect the independence of our judiciary and the independence of our legal system. What I think has occurred now is that there has been a recognition that the conviction should not have stood. So that has been overturned. Now there are many possibilities, other avenues for his legal team to pursue.
DAVID KOCH So, being deported is probably the best one at this time, the quickest resolution.
JULIE BISHOP It is one option.
DAVID KOCH Being very guarded… Reports this morning – I would love your view on this – some Australians returning from fighting with Islamic State in Syria won't face prosecution here? Is that right?
JULIE BISHOP I can't comment on individual cases, but we certainly have the power now to charge people with various offences relating to their time spent in Syria and Iraq supporting terrorism.
DAVID KOCH Even before the new laws took effect? Are you plugging for the laws to be made retrospective?
JULIE BISHOP This is where it gets difficult. Certainly, anyone who has been fighting in Syria or Iraq and supporting ISIL will be a person of interest to our security and law enforcement agencies.
DAVID KOCH So they will be on stronger watch lists, followed by ASIO.
JULIE BISHOP The Australian Government is determined to ensure that the Australian public is safe from any likely terrorist attack or from any security risk or threat. That's what we are seeking to do. That's why we changed the laws.
DAVID KOCH Will you consider retrospective situations?
JULIE BISHOP I don't believe it can apply in this case, but it does provide us with a number of options. We have introduced new laws that include promoting or advocating terrorism. We now have these proscribed areas, where if you are in a place like al-Raqqah province where you have no good reason for being there; you are not a humanitarian worker; you are not with family; and you are not a journalist, then you would have to explain to the Australian courts why you would be there.
DAVID KOCH We just want stronger action on fighters who have returned and fought before the laws was introduced. They seem to have escaped through a loophole.
JULIE BISHOP That's why we changed the laws. There was a situation that the law didn't cover and that's why we acted as quickly as we could to put that into place. David, 2014 was a very difficult year in that regard. We saw our first Australian suicide bombers. This is a phenomenon we've not experienced before.
DAVID KOCH Do we have to be tougher though? I know we are a democracy. I know we are a first world nation. I know we believe in freedom of speech. But there is a line, isn't there? That we have to get rid of these people out of here.
JULIE BISHOP I think the line has now been drawn with the new offences under the counter-terrorism laws. We now have the opportunity to pursue people who seek to do harm to our country, people that pose a security risk to our country. We now have many more tools, more laws that we can use.
DAVID KOCH Enough?
JULIE BISHOP I hope so, and this is what we are seeking to apply in each instance. But as I was saying, new situations occur all the time. I hadn't expected that there would be young Australians who would leave this country - radicalised so quickly that they are not on any surveillance list or watch list or not people of interest to our intelligence and security agencies. They head overseas and carry out a suicide bombing and kill 35 people at a checkpoint in Syria or blow themselves up at a marketplace in Baghdad.
DAVID KOCH You have to start talking to youth workers in western Sydney, because they see this coming.
JULIE BISHOP That's right. The first line of defence is families; and the communities more generally.
DAVID KOCH OK. You are quoted as saying this morning that '60 is the new 40'. I love your way of thinking, being a similar age." You think our older workers should get a better deal?
JULIE BISHOP I think it's a question of participation and productivity, and people heading towards 60 or people in their 60s, still have a lot to offer and I hope that employers see it the same way.
DAVID KOCH Hear, hear, I'm with you. Thank you for joining us. Happy New Year.