Joint press conference

  • Transcript, E&OE

PRIME MINISTER: The Foreign Minister and I are here together to say to the world that Australia deeply, deeply regrets these executions in Indonesia.

These executions are both cruel and unnecessary; cruel because both Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran spent some decade in jail before being executed, and unnecessary, because both of these young Australians were fully rehabilitated while in prison.

Australia respects the Indonesian system. We respect Indonesia's sovereignty but we do deplore what's been done and this cannot be simply business as usual. For that reason, once all the courtesies have been extended to the Chan and Sukumaran families our ambassador will be withdrawn for consultations.

I want to stress that this is a very important relationship between Australia and Indonesia, but it has suffered as a result of what's been done over the last few hours. Whatever people think of the death penalty, whatever people think of drug crime, the fact is that these two families have suffered an appalling tragedy and I'm sure that every Australian's thoughts and prayers will be with those families at this time.

As a parent, as a family member myself, I feel for these families at what is a very, very difficult time.

FOREIGN MINISTER: It is with a very heavy heart that I confirm, despite our ongoing efforts right up until the last minute to seek a stay of execution, our Australian citizens, Mr Andrew Chan and Mr Myuran Sukamaran, were put to death early this morning.

Just after 3:30am Canberra time, I received notification of reports of gunfire from Cilacap prison. Our Consul-General, Majell Hind, is at the prison. She is required to identify the bodies. We have not yet heard from her. She's not entitled to have a telephone at the prison, but we must assume that the executions have taken place and that she is in the process of formally identifying the bodies. We have not yet received formal identification from the Indonesian government that the executions have taken place but we can assume that they have.

As the Prime Minister said, our thoughts and prayers are with the Chan and Sukumaran families and their friends. They are currently with our consular officials who are providing them with support and assistance. I was in contact with the families overnight. They are in a devastating position and I understand that they will put out a statement later this morning.

Our concern centres on the fact that the apparent rehabilitation of Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran was not taken into account. Rehabilitation is a fundamental aspect of successful prison systems. Mr Chan became an ordained Christian priest; Mr Sukumaran became a renowned artist. Both were spending their time in jail helping to reform and improve the lives of other prisoners in the Indonesian prison system.

They were examples of the hope and transformation that can come about through reflection, rehabilitation and remorse. As the Prime Minister said, their deaths at this time are senseless and unnecessary. We have continued to make representations but our pleas in relation to rehabilitation were apparently not taken into account.

Our consular officials will arrange for the bodies to be repatriated to Australia and to ensure that they are treated with appropriate dignity and respect. And I expect to be able to discuss further aspects of our relationship with Indonesia when our Ambassador, Paul Grigson, returns to Australia at the end of this week.

QUESTION: How would you describe the way the Indonesian government has treated the men, their families and by extension Australia in the way that it's dealt with you?

PRIME MINISTER: This is a very bad time. It's a very bad time, obviously for the Chan and Sukumaran families and it's a difficult time for this relationship. It is a very important relationship nonetheless, and I don't want to make a difficult situation worse by offering gratuitous reflections on different aspects of the way this matter has been handled in recent days and weeks. All I want to say is that Australia has made the most strenuous possible representations on behalf of these men and we deeply regret that those representations have in no way been heeded.

QUESTION: Ms Bishop, what were you doing up until the last minute? Were you on the phone to your counterpart right up until 3.30?

FOREIGN MINISTER: We were making representations to various departments within the Indonesian government who are involved in this whole process. Our ambassador, our consular staff, have been working around the clock and I do take this opportunity to note the extraordinary effort that our ambassador and our previous ambassador and our consular staff have been devoting to this case. I have been on the telephone talking to our ambassador, talking to officials, but my last telephone conversation with my counterpart foreign minister was on Sunday. I anticipated that's the last conversation we would have prior to the executions taking place.

QUESTION: Prime Minister, do you believe the Indonesian president gave the representations that you and the Foreign Minister made due consideration and is the withdrawal of the Ambassador the only consequence that's going to follow through on this?

PRIME MINISTER: Well it is very unusual, indeed unprecedented, for an ambassador to be withdrawn, so I don't want to minimise the gravity of what we've done. Ministerial contacts have been suspended for some time once it became apparent that the executions were likely, ministerial contacts were suspended and they will remain suspended for a period.

Apart from that, I don't want to personalise this because it's important that the relationship between the Australian Government and the Indonesian Government continue. It's important that the relationship at every level including at the Prime Minister to President level continue. So, I don't want to personalise it but obviously I do regret that while my representations have been listened to patiently and courteously, they have not been heeded.

QUESTION: Do you think now that the Australian Federal Police made the wrong decision in handing these men over to the Indonesian authorities knowing that this could have been a consequence of those actions rather than dealing with them under Australian law?

FOREIGN MINISTER: The involvement of the Australian Federal Police was reviewed a number of years ago and changes were made. We are satisfied that the changes that are in place were appropriate but I don't believe today is the time to look for recriminations. Now is a time to be thinking of the Chan and Sukumaran families, to spare a thought for what they are going through today and to provide them with all the support and assistance that we can. It's an appalling situation for them. Anyone who saw the film footage of what they had to go through yesterday, it was a ghastly episode and I think today is the time to focus on supporting the families and providing them with assistance.

QUESTION: Ms Bishop, in the future will law enforcement cooperation be contingent on the death penalty not applying?

FOREIGN MINISTER: After the Federal Police reviewed its operations in relation to this matter, guidelines are in place and we're satisfied with those guidelines.

QUESTION: Something that some people this morning have called for, including the lawyer Geoffrey Robertson, is for Australia to re-examine its aid budget to Indonesia. Will that be done or not as a result of this?

FOREIGN MINISTER: The aid budget is subject to different considerations and any announcement in relation to the aid budget will be made at Budget time in early May.

QUESTION: Prime Minister, while Australians are upset and angry about what has happened and there's all sorts of suggestions coming from civil society like boycotts and that sort of thing, what do you say to people about how to channel their dismay?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I make two observations. First of all, I absolutely understand people's anger – I absolutely understand people's anger. Yes, the drug trade is evil and these two committed a serious crime. But particularly given the last 10 years and the very thorough rehabilitation and reform that these two demonstrated, it is, as I said, cruel and unnecessary what has taken place.

So, I absolutely understand people's anger. On the other hand, we do not want to make a difficult situation worse and the relationship between Australia and Indonesia is important, remains important, will always be important, will become more important as time goes by. So, I would say to people yes, you are absolutely entitled to be angry but we've got to be very careful to ensure that we do not allow our anger to make a bad situation worse.

QUESTION: As you say, this is unprecedented withdrawing the Ambassador. After Barlow and Chambers, after Van Nguyen, Australia did not withdraw its ambassador, why is this situation different?

PRIME MINISTER: Because of the circumstances of these two individuals. They were convicted quite properly of a very serious crime but then they served a very long period of time in jail. They were in jail for more than a decade and people who are convicted of crimes of this type in Australia would often have fully served their sentence by now. So, they were convicted of a serious crime, they served a decade in prison and now, only now, after a decade in prison have these executions been carried out. So, not only does there appear to have been a form of double punishment here, but these two individuals are as rehabilitated; they were as rehabilitated and reformed as two people can possibly be and it is our strong view that a decent prison system is about punishment but it's also about reform. And in this instance, not only had these two been punished by a long and arduous decade in prison, but they had reformed as well. So, it seemed to us that the prison system had more than done its job and that's why this is a qualitatively different situation from the ones that had gone before.

FOREIGN MINISTER: We do not and have never understated the seriousness of their crimes. The point that we have made throughout is that they have reformed and they had a contribution to make to other prisoners in the Indonesian prison system, including taking them away from a life of drugs and putting them on the path to recovery and reform. The withdrawal of an ambassador is to register our displeasure at the way our citizens have been treated. The consultations are to enable us to discuss with Ambassador Grigson the way forward in relation to the Indonesia/Australia relationship in the longer term. You will be aware that there are a number of legal proceedings still underway and we need to discuss with our Ambassador the consequences of those legal proceedings, the constitutional court proceedings and the judicial commission proceedings.

QUESTION: Prime Minister, is it disappointing Australia hasn't yet received formal confirmation from Indonesia that these executions have taken place? And when you next speak to the Indonesian president, what will you say?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, obviously it is important that the formal processes be concluded and my understanding is that that's likely to happen in the next few hours. As for President Widodo – look, he's a new president, his election was attended with great promise and notwithstanding the terrible events of the last few hours, it is my devout hope that all of the promise and all of the high hopes that attended upon his election just a few months ago are fulfilled because it is in our best interests as a nation that Indonesia not just succeed but flourish as a country. I regard myself as a friend of Indonesia, I think the vast majority of Australians regard themselves as friends of Indonesia and so my hope is that this presidency is a successful one and while this is a dark moment in the relationship I am confident that the relationship will be restored for the great benefit of both our countries.

Thank you.

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