Press conference - Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices, Sydney

  • Transcript, E&OE
27 April 2015

JULIE BISHOP There are two matters that I wish to speak about. First on behalf of the Australian Government I express our deepest condolences to the Government of Nepal and the families who have lost loved ones in the aftermath of the earthquake in Nepal, India and Bangladesh.

We are deeply saddened by the images that are coming from Nepal and we will continue to work with Nepalese authorities in whatever way we can. The latest advice from the Nepalese Government puts the death toll at over 3200,the number of injured at almost 6000 and it is apparent that these figures are likely to rise.

To date, we have been able to confirm the safety of more than 850 Australians in the country. I do hold grave fears for the welfare of one Australian who was known to be at the Mount Everest base camp where a number of deaths have occurred. We are currently working to confirm this person's identity.

Our Embassy in Kathmandu is providing consular assistance to a number of Australians and in very difficult circumstances is actively seeking to confirm the welfare of all Australians in the affected areas, including contacting the almost 550 Australians who had registered on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website Smartraveller.

The Department has activated its 24/7 emergency call unit which has taken over 1400 calls from family and friends of missing Australians. We have dispatched a nine-person crisis response team. They are scheduled to arrive in Kathmandu today and this team will as a priority, assist in establishing the safety and welfare of Australians currently unaccounted for after the earthquake and will extend consular assistance to them and will also assist with humanitarian assessments to support the Nepalese Government and the international efforts in response to the earthquake.

The travel advice for Nepal has been upgraded. Australians should reconsider their need to travel to Nepal while relief and recovery efforts are under way. Australians seeking to depart Nepal should first contact their airline for the latest information on flight schedules. The international airport in Kathmandu is open, but scheduled flights have been affected and there are apparently long delays.

There are significant disruptions to telecommunications and transport in the affected areas of Nepal. If anyone has concerns for the welfare of their family and friends in Nepal, obviously they should attempt to contact them directly. But if you're unable to contact them and you still hold concerns for their welfare, I recommend that you call the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre. If you're overseas on +61 2 6261 3305, or within Australia on 1300 555135, that's a local call cost.

In terms of humanitarian relief, Australia has responded immediately with $5 million for immediate life-saving humanitarian assistance. $2.5 million is to assist Australian non-government organisations to rapidly scale up their humanitarian activities to focus on water, sanitation, child and maternal health and shelter. $2 million to support the United Nations' partners to assist with the coordination of humanitarian relief and distribute relief supplies to people affected, and $500,000 to support the Australian Red Cross. There's an appeal for the people of Nepal.

Our Embassy in Kathmandu is in close and ongoing contact with the Nepalese authorities and local partners on the ground to make assessments on humanitarian needs. Australia has offered search and rescue capabilities to the Government of Nepal and we are working to ensure that we coordinate effectively with other donors leading the search and rescue efforts and Australia stands ready to provide further assistance in the coming days if needed.

I would also like to make a comment about the news from Indonesia that the executions of Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran are imminent. I am profoundly dismayed that the Indonesian authorities have given Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran 72 hours' notice of their executions.

I have spoken overnight with my counterpart Foreign Minister Marsudi and have again reiterated our concerns and I can say that the Indonesian Government is in no doubt about our opposition to the death penalty and our request that the President reconsider their claims for clemency and that he review their application for mercy.

Nothing can be gained and much will be lost if these executions proceed. Mr Sukumaran and Mr Chan are deeply and genuinely remorseful for what they have done and they have been rehabilitated in a most remarkable way over the past ten years. Both men have committed to a new path in their lives. Mr Chan was ordained as a Christian Minister last month. Mr Sukumaran recently completed a degree in Fine Arts. He is a skilled artist. Both men have contributed to the rehabilitation of other prisoners in the Indonesian prison system and I believe that both men deserve a second chance.

The Australian Government will continue to do everything possible to advocate for a stay of execution and a reconsideration of the clemency bids. Overnight, the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon issued a statement appealing to Indonesia to refrain from carrying out these executions. I have spoken to a number of counterpart Foreign Ministers overseas, particularly those whose citizens are in a similar position and they likewise are seeking clemency for their nationals.

Again, I respectfully call on President Widodo to reconsider his refusal to grant clemency. It is not too late for a change of heart. We ask no more of Indonesia than Indonesia asks of other countries in relation to its nationals who are on death row in other countries, including for drug offences.

I'm happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST Minister, with the Australian that you have concerns for, can you tell us whether it's a male or a female or which State the person comes from?

JULIE BISHOP No, I am not in a position to advise that detail. We are still working through the process of trying to identify the person whom it is claimed to have gone missing. The details are very sketchy at this stage. You must understand that communications are very difficult and we need to have people on the ground to verify that.

JOURNALIST Have you spoken to this person's family?

JULIE BISHOP No, I have not spoken to anyone. We have left that in the hands of the consular staff. At present we need to confirm the details. There's been a media report and we are seeking to confirm the details and I won't make public statement on it until the family have been contacted.

JOURNALIST With this team of nine crisis team members, when are they leaving and what are they made up of? Are they medical experts?

JULIE BISHOP They are already on their way, they are consular officials experienced in this kind of crisis.

JOURNALIST Will you be sending other aid in terms of medical help and humanitarian aid?

JULIE BISHOP A number of countries have already sent surgical teams. We are coordinating with the Nepalese Government and the international partners to ensure that we can provide what is needed. So a number of countries, the United States, India, the United Kingdom and Pakistan, Sri Lanka have already sent teams and we are working with, particularly the US and Japan, on a search and rescue coordinated effort.

JOURNALIST Will the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre be deployed?

JULIE BISHOP That is an option, but again we are waiting for a response from the Nepalese Government or the international community represented through the United Nations to respond. Australia stands ready to assist, but we must ensure that the effort is coordinated so it can be as effective and timely as possible. There are a number of countries closer to India that have sent in people, but the international community including Australia stands ready to assist in whatever way possible.

JOURNALIST Those Australians who are over there who may find themselves stranded without accommodation, what would your advice be to them?

JULIE BISHOP They should contact our Embassy in Kathmandu. We have a number of people on the ground and we have consular staff there, also our crisis response team will be there specifically to address the needs and priorities of Australian people.

JOURNALIST Have you accounted for all the Australians that are there at this point in terms of.. are there numbers of Australians that you may not have been aware of that have travelled to that region?

JULIE BISHOP We know of 549 who registered on the Smartraveller website. That is a voluntary registration, so those are the ones we know of. We have now accounted for 850 through contacting the authorities and other local organisations, so we don't know how many Australians are in India, are in Nepal, are in Bangladesh and how many of them have actually travelled to Nepal, so we are trying to verify those numbers.

JOURNALIST Has the Prime Minister attempted another call to the Indonesian President?

JULIE BISHOP The Prime Minister saw President Widodo at the recent funeral of Li Kuan Yew and spoke to him at that time. He has also sent another letter this week to the President.

JOURNALIST How would you describe the lines of communication at this very late stage? How would you describe them with the Indonesian authorities?

JULIE BISHOP I had a quite detailed conversation with Foreign Minister Marsudi yesterday. I was in transit coming back from ANZAC Day in Belgium and I was able to make contact with her at Dubai Airport and we spoke for some time. I went through all of the points that we had been raising over time. I included a reference to the details set out in a recent letter that I had delivered to her, specifically that there are two legal processes still under way. The first the lawyers for Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran have been granted a hearing before the Constitutional Court. There is also a Judicial Commission Review under way into the original trial. There have been some allegations made in relation to the trial and I said that Australia, indeed the international community would expect those legal processes to be concluded before any other action was taken.

JOURNALIST Do you sense any willingness to listen, or is it the opposite at this late stage?

JULIE BISHOP The Foreign Minister listened to what I had to say, but she could offer no alternative view than that which has been expressed on numerous occasions and that is the President is determined to proceed with these executions.

JOURNALIST Do you think it was deliberately provocative for Indonesia to announce that execution period on Anzac Day?

JULIE BISHOP We did make representations to request that they not do this on our national day of remembrance, but they proceeded with the meeting in any event.

JOURNALIST You are disappointed with that?

JULIE BISHOP I'm very disappointed that it proceeded in this way.

JOURNALIST Why did the French have success in getting a temporary stay of execution for their national?

JULIE BISHOP The French citizen still has an appeal process underway. His appeal process is not at the advanced stage that Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran's, so it's incorrect to say that their positions are exactly the same, they are not. There is still an appeal process under way for the French citizen.

I spoke to my counterpart French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius when I was in Paris last week and at a press conference, I on his behalf as well, expressed our deep concern that Indonesia seemed determined to proceed with these executions when there were still legal proceedings under way.

At that time, the Constitutional Court had not accepted the application of Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran. I understand that that was accepted, it was given a registration number on Friday. I would anticipate that both proceedings - the Constitutional Court proceedings and the Judicial Commission would require to hear evidence. I would anticipate that they would need to hear evidence from Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran, and therefore, my request that these proceedings be allowed to continue and that there be a stay of execution.

JOURNALIST The allegations of corruption then that have sat there I guess in the background now, now they have a figure attached to them. What difference does that make?

JULIE BISHOP These allegations are very serious. They call into question the integrity of the sentencing process and it is a matter for Indonesia's Judicial Commission to investigate these matters and that underlines why we continue to request Indonesia to allow the Judicial Commission to finalise its review. This must be allowed to continue before any action is taken to prepare for executions. An execution is an irrevocable step and I believe that these hearings and these appeal processes should be concluded before any decision is taken.

JOURNALIST Do you see that there would be ramifications if the executions took place not just from Australia, but from the broader international community?

JULIE BISHOP Through the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the international community has made its views known. I won't go into what consequences could occur. My focus at present is entirely on seeking a stay of execution for both men. Australia opposes the death penalty at home and abroad and I would again ask the Indonesian Government to reconsider this in the light of the international response, the response in Australia, and our ongoing relationship.

JOURNALIST Have you had any advice about the timing of the executions?

JULIE BISHOP I've not had any advice, but I understand that it could be the 29th of April.

JOURNALIST Is there any evidence that Indonesia is responding to international pressure?

JULIE BISHOP I've not seen any evidence of that.

JOURNALIST And given that the Prime Minister is meeting with the French President in Paris today and there is a Frenchman on death row, what is the likelihood of joint diplomatic action?

JULIE BISHOP As I indicated Foreign Minister Fabius and I have already raised this matter. After our meeting, after I met with the Foreign Minister, it was part of our joint press conference later that evening I believe, President Hollande contacted President Widodo, but I understand the circumstances of the French national are somewhat different to that of Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran.

I have to point out that I did learn, while I was overseas, that the King of the Netherlands contacted President Widodo directly in relation to a Dutch citizen but the execution proceeded nevertheless in January.

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