Sky News, AM Agenda - interview with Kieran Gilbert

  • Transcript, E&OE
24 June 2014

KEIRAN GILBERT: Thank you very much Minister, there isso much uncertainty in this case isn't there. Where to from here as far as thegovernment is concerned?

JULIE BISHOP: Well we are dismayed by the fact thatPeter Greste was sentenced and we're absolutely appalled by the severity of thesentence and I am trying to make contact with the Foreign Minister Shoukri. Heis apparently travelling out of Egypt but I've asked our Ambassador in Cairo tomake contact with him so that I can register our deep concern with this newForeign Minister.

We will be filing what's called a formal diplomatic-level request with thePresident to see if there is any way he can intervene in these proceedings,prior to the conclusion of an appeal should the Greste family decide to appeal.And so we will continue to make representations to the Egyptian Government butalso with other governments who have leverage and a closer relationship withEgypt than Australia.

KEIRAN GILBERT: But one is the United States provideshundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Cairo every single year – canthe White House assist? Can the US use that leverage?

JULIE BISHOP: We have been working with the UnitedStates from the outset on this matter and I expect that we'll continue to callupon the US to assist us. I note the comments of Secretary of State John Kerry -how appalled he was by the verdict - and we welcome those comments.

So we'll continue to work - not only with the United States - but with othergovernments in the region and beyond, to maintain the pressure on Egypt. Itmaintains that it is now a new democracy, well we want to see a demonstration ofthat and jailing journalists who are doing their job is not indicative of thepath to democracy. Democracy depends upon the freedom of the press.

KEIRAN GILBERT: Is a presidential pardon the only hopehere?

JULIE BISHOP: We understand that a pardon could not beconsidered until all the legal avenues are exhausted and that would include anappeal. The Greste family - I understand from my discussions last night with thefamily - are considering their legal options that would include an appeal, butin the meantime we are seeking to ask of the President whether there's any otheroption - can any other intervention be made at this point in the proceedings.

KEIRAN GILBERT: We spoke about the US military aid.What sort of aid does Australia provide to Egypt?

JULIE BISHOP: Australia doesn't provide any aid in the formof development assistance to Egypt so we don't have that leverage but we arecertainly considering whatever options might be available to us to maintain thepressure on Egypt so that they recognise that such a verdict is completely outof the norm for a democracy.

On the evidence we've seen we just cannot understand how a court could havereached this conclusion. Hopefully if an appeal is undertaken an appeal courtwill see it for what it is. It was a politically motivated situation in thefirst place when the military were taking over from the Muslim Brotherhood andPeter Greste got caught up in reporting on that particular political scenario.

KEIRAN GILBERT: You spoke to the Greste family, toPeter's parents, that must have been incredibly difficult. It's hard to imaginethe torment that they're going through right now.

JULIE BISHOP: It is heartbreaking for them. They areutterly devastated and I know that our Ambassador in Cairo is keeping inconstant contact with Peter's brothers Andrew and Mike who are over in Cairo atpresent. We have maintained very close consular support and assistance, not onlywith the family, but of course with Peter - visiting him regularly, attendingall of the court hearings.

There have been 13 hearings and yet the evidence has been so scant we - as Isaid - we just can't understand it. The reasons for the decisions haven't yetbeen published. I understand that they'll be provided in due course to theGreste's lawyers and then we'll be able to have a much closer look at why or howthis verdict was reached.

KEIRAN GILBERT: Can I ask you one question finally onthe PNG matter – the former head of PNG's corruption taskforce is flying toAustralia – he wants to speak to you and the Prime Minister to urge, have youurged Peter O'Neill to respect the rule of law and restore it in PNG. What's theGovernment's position on that?

JULIE BISHOP: I am meeting with Sam Koim today and Iwill hear from him his concerns and hear from him the detail of what has gone onin the last few days. Likewise I'm making contact with the Foreign MinisterRimbink Pato to register our concerns about what has been happening in PNG overthe last few days.

This kind of political volatility doesn't assist PNG in advancing theinterests of their citizens. It's a very dear and close neighbour of Australiaand we want to work with PNG to make it a secure and prosperous nation.

KEIRAN GILBERT: So it's also a country where weprovide enormous aid.

JULIE BISHOP: We do and $500 million each and everyyear to PNG to support the country in its economic and social development and sopolitical instability certainly doesn't help that transition to a moreprosperous and stable nation.

KEIRAN GILBERT: Foreign Minister Bishop thanks foryour time.

JULIE BISHOP: My pleasure.

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