Sky News - interview with Nina Stephens

  • Transcript, E&OE

NINA STEPHENS Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, thanks for your time. Let's start by getting a reaction that, on one hand Peter Greste has been granted a retrial along with his two colleagues, but on the other, they've also been denied bail and they'll have to stay behind bars while this lengthy process continues.

JULIE BISHOP As frustrating as this process has been, there is some cause for optimism. The appeal has been upheld, the conviction has been overturned. So that puts Peter Greste back in the position of an accused person awaiting a retrial, rather than a convicted person facing seven years in jail.

It does open up other avenues and options that I'm sure his family and his lawyers will pursue, and I'm hoping we will still be able to get home as soon as possible. The Egyptian Government has said throughout that we have to respect the independence of their judiciary and their legal proceedings. But we had hoped that there would be some form of release earlier than this. Now we're just focusing on getting him home as soon as possible.

NINA STEPHENS What realistically can the Australian Government do now? Is it the case that his best hope for release remains a presidential pardon or deportation? What is the likelihood of that actually happening?

JULIE BISHOP The appeal does change this somewhat, because he's now back as an accused person awaiting trial. Had he been convicted and remained as a convicted person, then a presidential pardon or clemency could apply. So what his lawyers are pursuing now is some kind of prisoner transfer agreement. Of course the Australian Government stands ready to assist in any way that we can. So these options are being worked through now by his legal team.

NINA STEPHENS What's your understanding of just how long this retrial process could take, because we are hearing it could be a year or so.

JULIE BISHOP I understand that the formal judgment is still some days away and then it would be possible, within a month or a couple of months, to get another trial date. But I believe his lawyers are looking at other options including deportation.

NINA STEPHENS Australian human rights barrister Geoffrey Robertson has criticised the Australian Government, saying it has it hasn't taken a strong enough stance Greste issue. He also said that you raised hopes that the journalists would be freed. What's your response to those criticisms?

JULIE BISHOP I think the course of action that Mr Robertson suggests would be counter-productive. He's suggesting that we 'shirt-front' the Egyptian judges. I doubt that would be his advice if there was an Egyptian national facing the British judiciary and the British legal system. Likewise, an Egyptian national in Australia. We would expect them to respect the integrity and the independence of our legal system. So I don't think it's very helpful advice. Also, we are engaged at the highest possible levels - with the President, with the Foreign Minister, with numerous government departments within the Egyptian political system. If we were to pursue the course of action described by Mr Robertson, then those avenues may well be closed to us. That would not be in Peter Greste's interests.

NINA STEPHENS I want to take a look at another issue now. The Daily Telegraph this morning has a story about the jihadists who have fought with Islamic state, returning to Australia as free men because of a legal loophole meaning that travel bans can't be applied retrospectively. What seems to be the issue here, is this an oversight?

JULIE BISHOP No not all. What's happened is we have amended the laws now - changed the laws - to take into account these different scenarios being presented - these foreign terrorist fighters leaving Australia, taking up with a terrorist organisation in Iraq and Syria. For the first time, we're seeing Australian suicide bombers. So the Abbott government acted as quickly as we could to introduce new laws and get them through the parliament, to cover as many of these scenarios as we could. And we've created new offences for terrorism-related activities that carry very heavy penalties. But this also does give our security and law enforcement and intelligence agencies the opportunities to keep these people under surveillance. Now if there are gaps in the law, we have sought to cover them with these new laws. And as Foreign Minister, I have the power to suspend or cancel the passports of people going overseas or people coming back from overseas. But we have to have the evidence to show that they have been working or supporting a terrorist organisation.

NINA STEPHENS Just how difficult is it to prove exactly what these jihadists have been doing overseas?

JULIE BISHOP It's very difficult. It's hard to get eye-witness accounts of people working with terrorist organisations overseas. But we're doing all we can to ensure those people we believe would do harm, or are a security risk, are thwarted in their efforts to take up with a terrorist organisation. Because we know from experience that once people become battle-hardened experienced terrorists overseas, they could well come back here to try and carry out some sort of terrorist activity in their own country, and do harm to their own country. That's why we are determined to have the resources, the agencies, the funding and the laws to keep Australians safe from these security risks.

NINA STEPHENS Turning to the AirAsia tragedy, we know sadly that one man who was studying at a Melbourne university was among those on board the plane. Are you satisfied with how the investigation is progressing and the process so far of the retrieval of bodies and wreckage?

JULIE BISHOP This is another terrible airline tragedy and our hearts go out to the families and relatives and friends of the passengers and crew on board the plane. Thankfully, there were no Australian citizens, permanent residents or dual nationals on that flight and we were able establish that very quickly. Sadly there was an Indonesian national who had a student visa to study at Monash University. We are so saddened by the fact that he was on that plane. The Indonesian safety authorities carrying out the investigation are doing it in a thoroughly competent way. Australia assisted in the search and rescue operation, as good neighbours would and should. Now we stand ready to assist should investigation authorities need any assistance on our part. We have body identification experts - tragically we've been down this path before - and we do have experts in, not only search and rescue, but body identification as well.

NINA STEPHENS Just on our final topic, and on a lighter note the article in the Australian this morning, the retiring physician for numerous prime ministers past and present, including Tony Abbott, has said that he wishes the PM would get off his bike and wishes he would find a less accident prone way of keeping fit. What are your thoughts?

JULIE BISHOP Good luck with that! The Prime Minister loves his early morning exercise. He's been riding a bike for some time and is very good at it. I think sensible bike riding is a great form of exercise and pretty low impact. But you can get injuries from any form of exercise. I can trip over jogging or people could drown while surfing. But I think the Prime Minister is a pretty experienced bike rider and I'm sure he will continue to keep fit and healthy in that way.

NINA STEPHENS He said he'd like Tony Abbott to follow in John Howard's footsteps and go on a daily walk instead. Do you think that adrenaline would be enough Tony Abbott?

JULIE BISHOP I think that it's a good idea to have Prime Minister on his bike. It's a great image. He's a good role model for men and women. It certainly puts him the right frame of mind every day. So I think it's a positive.

NINA STEPHENS Foreign Minister Julie Bishop thanks so much for your time on Sky News this morning.

JULIE BISHOP My pleasure.

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