Opening of Pacific Spirit Exhibition, Australian Museum, Sydney

  • Transcript, E&OE
30 April 2015

JULIE BISHOP I am delighted to be at the Australian Museum to launch a new and very significant exhibition, Pacific Spirit. The Australian Museum has identified about 200 pieces of Pacific Island artefacts from a collection of over 60,000 and in recognition of the importance of the Pacific Islands to Australia and Australia to the Pacific Islands, the museum has decided to put it on display. As the Pacific Islands are a foreign policy priority for this Government, I'm absolutely delighted to be part of the launch today.

Australia is committed to the development of the Pacific, to the safety, security and prosperity of the Pacific and the cultural ties provide us with a huge opportunity to broaden and deepen our engagement. I'm delighted to have been part of what I think is a very special moment in Australian-Pacific relations through the recognition of the significance of the cultural heritage of the Polynesian, Micronesian and Melanesian communities. And it's also a tribute to the over 200,000 Pacific Island born Australians who contribute so much to life here in Australia.

So, any questions?

JOURNALIST Minister, this morning your colleague Kevin Andrews described the Bali 9 executions as a deliberate culpable snub of Australia. Do you agree with that?

JULIE BISHOP I was deeply concerned by the way the families were treated in this matter. I profoundly regret the fact that the clemency pleas were not successful and that the remarkable rehabilitation of these two young men seemed not to have been taken into account. As I said yesterday, they were exemplars of the hope and transformation that is possible for people who committed serious drug offences but who, through a remarkable journey, a personal journey of reflection and reform and rehabilitation, had found a new life. Sadly, the executions proceeded so I'm now focusing my efforts on supporting the families, thinking of them and ensuring that the bodies are treated with respect and can be brought home to Australia.

JOURNALIST But has Indonesia snubbed Australia? Do you believe that is what has happened here?

JULIE BISHOP Let me use my words. I said that I deeply regret what has occurred. I made numerous representations personally at every level that I could so it is a deeply regrettable situation. However, Indonesia is an important partner of Australia and the relationship must continue for the benefit of both countries.

JOURNALIST You pulled the Ambassador, you thought that might hurt. They seem to have brushed it aside. The Vice President there overnight has said it is basically a normal occurrence?

JULIE BISHOP There is nothing normal about Australia recalling an Ambassador from Indonesia. It has never happened before.

JOURNALIST And yet in the last year the Coalition has removed a directive to the AFP to take into consideration Australia's longstanding opposition to the penalty?

JULIE BISHOP That is absolutely untrue. That is not a correct reflection of what has gone on. I know that the Labor Party has been promoting this false line and I am shocked that less than 24 hours after the death of two young Australians, the Labor Party would seek to politicise this issue. The AFP guidelines that were put in place under the previous Labor Government remain in place. They are precisely the same guidelines.

JOURNALIST [Inaudible]

JULIE BISHOP Absolutely not. I am very angry about this. To think that less than 24 hours after those executions have taken place, the Labor Party is seeking to take a cheap, political shot. Shame on them.

JOURNALIST If the AFP were put in a similar situation, could this or would this happen again?

JULIE BISHOP The AFP guidelines were reviewed some time ago. New guidelines were put in place. We are satisfied that those guidelines are appropriate and they have been adhered to ever since they were reviewed some years ago. They've been adhered to then. They've been adhered to subsequently.

JOURNALIST Do you think it is necessary that the AFP explain themselves over this incident?

JULIE BISHOP This matter has already been reviewed. I think it is time we focused on supporting the families and ensuring that Australia's stand on the death penalty is an issue we can discuss with other nations in our region. It is an important issue. It's a matter that has exercised the minds of others in the international community. You may recall that the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, put out a statement in relation to the death penalty as it applied to drug offences. So I think it is time for us to have a significant discussion about the application of the death penalty for drug offences in our region.

JOURNALIST What about the repatriation? Can you update us on how that is going?

JULIE BISHOP I believe that the families are accompanying the bodies back home to Australia over the next few days.

JOURNALIST Has the Australian Government paid for that?

JULIE BISHOP I don't believe so.

JOURNALIST Minister, can I ask you on Nepal, do you have any update on how many Australians have been accounted for?

JULIE BISHOP Yes, I believe it is now over 1400. We believe that our Crisis Response Team, a 10-person Crisis Response Team, has been able to locate and account for virtually all Australians. There may well be some who are still there. I do urge again if there are any family members who have not heard from their loved ones and have not been able to contact them, to contact the DFAT 24-hour emergency line. It is 1300 555 135.

JOURNALIST On the military aircraft, have they left Bangkok yet or do you have an estimated departure sometime?

JULIE BISHOP The details of the transport flights in and out of Kathmandu and Bangkok are subject to the workings of the airports. I don't have precise details here but most certainly our Embassy officials in both Kathmandu and Bangkok are working with Australians who are seeking to get a lift out of Kathmandu to Bangkok so that they can get commercial flights home.

JOURNALIST So at this stage you are not sure how many Australians have registered to catch those flights?

JULIE BISHOP The details would be available from the Embassy but of course they are changing constantly. We can make sure you get an update.

JOURNALIST While we're not dealing with them Minister to Minister, but we have an Attorney-General in Indonesia who said yesterday that he thought the marksmen or the firing squad did "A perfect job". How would you consider that within two hours of these people being executed? That's what they had to say.

JULIE BISHOP It is merciful that they didn't suffer. We abhor the death penalty. We oppose the death penalty at home and abroad. That's why we fought so hard to have these two young Australians spared. I do not believe that the death penalty is a deterrent to the drug trade that proliferates in this region and I believe we need a regional response.

We have offered to work with Indonesia for a regional response to the drug trade, to drug trafficking and I hope that we will be able to have this discussion with Indonesia and with other countries as we tackle the scourge of drug trafficking in and out of our countries. Australia is a victim of the drug trafficking trade as well but I fail to see how executing two young men who were indeed an example of how to rehabilitate drug offenders can deter the drug trade. There are other broader regional issues that need to be addressed.

JOURNALIST The AFP guidelines and the Ministerial Directive which has changed, can you explain the difference?

JULIE BISHOP They are completely different documents. Please. 24 hours after the death of these two young men and the Labor Party is getting the media to quibble about the AFP guidelines that are the guidelines under which the AFP operate. They are precisely the same guidelines that Labor put in place. They are precisely the same guidelines that operate today. A Ministerial Directive is an entirely different document that does not dictate the operational activities of the AFP. I'm not going to answer another question on that.

JOURNALIST You have worked tirelessly on this case, the Bali situation. When all hope was lost, what was your - how did you personally feel when you received that phone call? One other thing, since then, have you managed to speak to the families of the two men involved?

JULIE BISHOP My thoughts have been with the families, I have met them, I have spoken with them. I was in contact with them on the night of the executions, the next morning, and I have a phone call scheduled for this afternoon. They have been travelling and the Embassy has arranged for me to speak with them this afternoon.

JOURNALIST What advice would you give Australians who are planning to boycott Bali?

JULIE BISHOP We have never understated the seriousness of the drug crimes for which these men were convicted. We urge Australians to be aware of the fact that drug offences can carry the death penalty in countries in our region. We urge Australians travelling to other countries to respect the laws of those countries. We respect Indonesia's sovereignty. We respect its right to impose laws. In this instance, because we don't have the death penalty and because Indonesia also seeks clemency for its citizens who face the death penalty, including for drug offences, overseas, we were determined to get a stay of execution. We weren't able to do that.

JOURNALIST There are 78 AFP officers in PNG at the moment, the country has the death penalty, are you concerned their work could help convict Papua New Guineans to executions?

JULIE BISHOP We have guidelines under which the Australian Federal Police operate, guidelines that have been in place for a number of years under the previous Government and under this Government. I'm satisfied those guidelines reflect the Australian Government's policies particularly our policy on the death penalty.

JOURNALIST [Inaudible]

JULIE BISHOP Our Ambassador is coming back to Australia. I will be having discussions with him about the short, medium and long-term future of our relationship with Indonesia.

JOURNALIST Do you find time to personally grieve and how do you do so?

JULIE BISHOP This is a matter for the families. I am the Foreign Minister for Australia. I have responsibilities to seek to protect Australian citizens overseas and, in circumstances where the death penalty is applied to Australian citizens wherever they are, I will make applications to have their cases commuted to life sentences. We do not believe that the death penalty should be applied in cases relating to drug offences. That's my attitude wherever those occurrences might take place.

JOURNALIST Once the bodies have come back home will there be any memorial service arranged?

JULIE BISHOP These are matters for the families.

JOURNALIST How are Government discussions progressing in terms of what other consequences might be imposed on Indonesia?

JULIE BISHOP They are progressing.

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