Sunrise - interview with Samantha Armytage

  • Transcript, E&OE
08 February 2016

JOURNALIST Now to the efforts to free an Australian hostage in WestAfrica. Dr Ken Elliott is still being held by an al-Qaeda militantgroup, despite his wife being freed. Jocelyn Elliot has beenreleased to Australian authorities in Niger where she appeared before local media. The conditions of her release have not been made public. The couple, in their 80s, were kidnapped around three weeksagoin Burkina Faso. They run a medical clinic and have lived in the WestAfrican country for more than 40 years.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop joins me now from Canberra. Good morning. I understand you've spoken with Jocelyn Elliott. How is she?

JULIEBISHOP I did speak to her yesterday morning and she was veryrelieved to be with the Australian officials who are looking after her. Shewas very tired. She was keen to sleep in a "lovely bed" as she put itand her concerns of course were for her husband, Dr Kenneth Elliott whohas not yet been released.

Our overriding issue now is tosecure his safety and look out for his welfare. So Australianauthorities are continuing to work with governments in the region, including the Government ofBurkina Faso who is leading the effort and the Government of Niger who was able to facilitate herrelease. She is well, she is tired but she is very relieved to be with the Australian authorities.

JOURNALIST Interesting, they are still holding Ken. Do you, did she tell you that she is OK?

JULIEBISHOP I didn't question her, I was more reassuring. I told her I had spoken to her family.So I have left the questioning and trying to find out the detailsto our experts who are over there. We have a number of people from relevant agencies who are inthe area, and they will work with her to find out as much as they can about who is holding Dr Elliottand where.

JOURNALIST OK. All right, we will watch, wait and see on that one. To another story, the launch ofthis long range rocket by North Korea. Is it a missile test?

JULIEBISHOP We have no doubt that the reports are correct. The suggestion by North Koreathat it'sa weather satellite or something is, quite frankly, ridiculous. It is adestabilising, provocative and dangerous act on the part of North Korea. It followson its fourth nuclear test that it carried out recently. It is in gross violation of UnitedNations Security Council resolutions and Australia joins with theinternational community in condemning North Korea and calling on the North Korean regime tofocus its efforts on its long suffering people, rather than continue with this provocative destabilising behaviour which is a threat,not only to the region, but to world peace.

JOURNALIST Absolutely. Another issue now this morning. Geoffrey Robertson QC, calling onAustralia to help Julian Assange. The UN's panel has called for him to walkfree. Let's have a listen to what Geoffrey Robertson said:

Ithink the Australian Government should remind theUnited Kingdom and Sweden of their duty to acceptthe tribunal's decision, not arguewith the umpire when given out and to enable these charges to bewithdrawn and to issue Mr Assange with an Australian travel document, a passport ifnecessary, his seems to have been confiscated and to facilitate,in so far as it can, his return to Australia.

JOURNALIST Would we do that? Would we give him a passport and get him out of there?

JULIEBISHOP He has a valid passport at present but he surrendered it to the UK authorities as part of his bail conditions back in2010. I met with Geoffrey Robertson and another member of the legal team on Thursday in London just prior toflying home. So I had quite an extensive conversation with them. This was just before the report had been released butthere was an expectation that this is what the report would say, thathe had been arbitrarily detained. The report is not binding on any countries, and so we areascertaining from the UK and from Sweden as to what they propose to do. It wouldseem at this stage that the United Kingdom maintains its bailconditions remainin place and therefore they will not be giving back his passport. I am stillto ascertain whether if he leaves the Ecuadorean Embassy he would be arrested.

The Britishauthorities have indicated that would be the case. Therefore the question ofa passport wouldn't arise but I have offered consular assistance toMr Assange's lawyers, to pass the message on to him thatAustralia will provide consular assistance should he request it.

JOURNALIST A story in the papersthis morning, a question about one of your Ministerial colleagues Stuart Robert. News Corp is reporting that Mr Robert made asecret trip to Beijing, in support ofa Liberal Party financial backerwho was finalising a mining deal in China. Could this be a breach of ministerialguidelines?

JULIEBISHOP I understand from his office that it was a personal visit, and of course, that's perfectly acceptable. I don't know howyou can make a secret visit to China, but anyway, China knows a great deal of what is going on whenit comes to its borders but nevertheless, I understand it was a private visit. Matters of theMinisterial Guidelines and the Code of Conduct are matters for the PrimeMinister and Cabinet.

JOURNALIST OK. Julie Bishop, thank you for your time this morning, we appreciate it. We know you are busy. We willlet you go.

JULIEBISHOP It's my pleasure. Thank you.

Media enquiries