Sky News AM Agenda, Parliament House - interview with Kieran Gilbert

  • Transcript, E&OE
04 March 2015

JOURNALIST You would be aware of the commotion outside the prison right now. It's hard to imagine putting yourself in their shoes.

JULIE BISHOP It's unimaginable. I know that the news of their transfer to the execution island must be devastating for them, as it will be for their families. I intend to speak to their families later today. We are hearing that the transfer will take place sometime this morning. Last night we believed it was to take place around midday Indonesian time but it appears to have been brought forward.

Last night I spoke with Foreign Minister Marsudi again, and I've spoken to her a number of times. It was a very long conversation, I went through all of the reasons why the Australian Government believes that there should be a stay of execution. She undertook to pass on my comments and statements to the President immediately and I assume she will do that. She also undertook to speak to the Attorney-General of Indonesia, to provide us with more information as to the details of the proposed executions, because we believe that there are still legal avenues open to the men. Their lawyers are looking at those legal avenues. There is also the case of the bribery charges arising out of their original trial, and that is before a court. So my position is that it would be unacceptable, indeed unthinkable, for the proposed executions to go ahead when there are still legal avenues available to them.

JOURNALIST Indonesia experts in Australia, analysts that I've spoken to say that representations that our diplomats have made in Jakarta, right up to the Vice Presidential level, have all hit a brick wall at that point. While those people are listening, and the Foreign Minister might listen to you, it seems the President doesn't want to hear it.

JULIE BISHOP At the end of the day this is the President's call, but under Indonesian law he is able to show mercy and forgiveness. There is a place in Indonesian concepts of law for mercy and forgiveness, and that is why Indonesia makes representations to other nations about their citizens who are on death row overseas. So I'm not asking the Indonesian Government and I'm not asking the President to do anything other than what they do in relation to their citizens on death row overseas.

JOURNALIST Sadly for these two young men though, it comes at a time fresh in the Presidency of Joko Widodo. He campaigned on this issue and he's got political problems elsewhere. It seems any window or chance of clemency has been closed by the political situation he faces.

JULIE BISHOP I think he would show great strength as a leader if he were to grant a stay of execution in this case on the basis of the success of Indonesia's rehabilitation process in their prisons. These two young men have been rehabilitated in the most remarkable way, and he could turn that into a positive narrative about the success of Indonesia's prison system. As I've said before to you Kieran, prison systems around the world aspire to achieve this level of rehabilitation in people who have committed serious drug offences, drug traffickers. For ten years they have been in jail, they have now proven that they can change - one is now a priest, one is an accomplished artist, they are making a making a positive contribution to prison life in Indonesia. They are assisting other prisoners in their rehabilitation. There is no good purpose, there is no positive purpose to be served by executing them when they are already paying for the crimes by their imprisonment in jail. So I'm not asking for them to be released from jail, I'm just asking that they continue to have a life.

JOURNALIST It must be frustrating to you though that despite your very rational plea that that is falling on deaf ears right now?

JULIE BISHOP Well at this stage I've not seen any evidence that the Indonesian President will change his mind, but I know that there are members of the Indonesian higher echelons that agree with our position, and that's why for such a long time there were few if any executions carried out in Indonesia. We oppose the death penalty at home and abroad. Clearly Indonesia opposes it abroad for its own citizens, but at this stage it appears that they intend to carry out executions not only against Australians but other nationals as well.

JOURNALIST Minister Andrew Robb was supposed to be in Indonesia this week, that delegation that trade mission was stopped. Was that a diplomatic move, or was it simply that we didn't want a Cabinet Minister in the country at a time that this grim news was going to be undertaken?

JULIE BISHOP It was postponed because we didn't think it would be appropriate for Australia to be there with a large trade delegation at this time, and there are a number of meetings that are proposed in coming months and we'll obviously consider each of those at the appropriate time.

JOURNALIST And what about other diplomatic response, is it still too premature to be -

JULIE BISHOP Kieran I don't want to go into those details, I want to focus our efforts on appealing to President Widodo's sense of forgiveness and mercy, and to show his strength as a leader by granting a stay of execution to these two young men who have been rehabilitated. As I said to Foreign Minister Marsudi last night, I can see no positive outcome for anyone from the execution of these two men. It won't deter drug trafficking. It won't stop – tragically – others from doing it. It can't bring back those who have died from heroin overdoses. But what it can do is show that you can rehabilitate people who have otherwise gone off the rails and you can give them a second chance if they have truly changed.

JOURNALIST How much damage do you think it will do to the bilateral relationship even at the people-to-people links, will it cause lasting damage?

JULIE BISHOP I can only speak at the government-to-government level, of course Indonesia is an important partner of ours and of course we want to have the closest possible relationship with Indonesia based on mutual respect. That's why we are continuing to ask the President to show mercy to these two young men. Our relationship is very important but we also see the pointlessness of proceeding with the executions.

JOURNALIST The Israeli Prime Minister has addressed Congress and is warning against a deal with Iran on their nuclear program. President Obama has responded from the Oval Office that it is premature, that we should wait to see what the deal is before we reject it. I'm interested in your view on this particularly given that you're scheduled to visit Tehran as early as next month.

JULIE BISHOP The negotiations for the P5+1 are still underway, and we don't have the detail of what is likely to be the negotiated outcome. I know that Israel is deeply concerned about any deal that involves Iran and its nuclear program, it is deeply sceptical that any deal could be struck that would lead to a better outcome. There is a lot of controversy around Prime Minister Netanyahu's visit to Congress anyway, and I know that that has caused issues. I was in Washington at the time it was being mooted that he would address the Congress and I'm not sure that the White House was as pleased with that idea as there was an election in Israel coming up.

But I believe we do need to allow the negotiations to proceed, there is still time for them to conclude and if they don't reach a conclusion then consideration should be given to the negotiations continuing. Surely it is better to try to get Iran on side, rather than reject any proposed negotiations. Israel has a different view. Israel doesn't believe that Iran can be trusted on the issue of nuclear programs.

JOURNALIST That's only the Israeli Prime Minister's view –

JULIE BISHOP I'm speaking about Israel in the government sense.

JOURNALIST The President was saying that 'if you've got a deal, if he's going to sign off on a deal, it's going to stack up, and it would give the US and others a chance to respond even more quickly if they do renege on any such deal. But that argument does not seem to fly with the Israeli leader.

JULIE BISHOP There is still time to go before the negotiations are to be concluded. It was to happen by the end of this month, so I agree that there should be time for them to conclude and then we can consider what the proposed arrangement is. If the arrangement is as the Prime Minister of Israel concludes, that no good purpose can be served by any kind of agreement with Iran, then I'm sure the negotiated outcome will indicate that. But if there is some breakthrough, then that should be allowed to occur.

JOURNALIST It makes sense doesn't it in terms of the fight against IS? The Iranians have a big stake in defeating the 'death cult' as the Prime Minister says?

JULIE BISHOP Iran is very present in Iraq. Iran is supporting the Shiite militia and the same defence forces that we will be supporting. So Iran has a significant presence, always has had a significant presence in Iraq.

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