Triple J, Hack - interview with Tom Tilley

  • Transcript

TOM TILLEYGiven the communications you had with Egypt's Foreign Minister how surprised were you at the conviction and sentence that was handed down yesterday?

JULIE BISHOPI find it to be a devastating result, the whole government is deeply dismayed Peter Greste has been convicted and we're appalled at such a severe custodial sentence, that seven years has been imposed on him and on the basis on the evidence that was presented and we had Australian diplomats in the court for each one of the hearings - there were 13 in total - we simply do not understand the basis of the verdict.

Now the reasons for the verdict haven't yet been made available and I expect when they are we may have a better insight into the reasons for the verdict but as it stands now we just do not understand it. We are raising our concerns at the highest level in the new Egyptian Government as we have been since Peter Greste was detained last year and we'll continue to make representations, particularly to the Egyptian President seeking his early intervention to get Peter Greste released as soon as possible.

TOM TILLEYOk, so what exactly happens from here? There's been talk of an appeal through the legal system so let's assume that goes ahead then what do we do?

JULIE BISHOPWell I would expect that Mr Greste will consider all options including an appeal against the verdict but I'll leave the comment on that aspect to Mr Greste's family and his legal team. It's unclear how long an appeal process might take. There are timeframes within which an appeal must be lodged but then I don't know how long it might take for an appeal to actually be heard.

I have been informed by many Egyptian Ministers in the interim government and by the Foreign Minister in the current government that the suggestion of a pardon or a clemency from the President must await the finalisation of all legal avenues including an appeal. However, the Australian Government will lodge a formal diplomatic level request to the Egyptian President seeking his early intervention if that is at all possible.

So, we are told that as in other countries, other legal systems a pardon or a plea of clemency cannot be considered until all legal avenues are exhausted but we are going to do what we can to get their President to intervene early if that is at all possible.

TOM TILLEYOk, if the President doesn't intervene, whether it's early or a bit further down the track, what are you going to do?

JULIE BISHOPLet's deal with what we can do at present. We are registering our concerns at the highest level. The representative of the Egyptian Government here in Canberra was called into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade today and our concerns were registered and he was required to take our concerns back to Egypt, to send our concerns back.

We are making contact with the actual Egyptian Ambassador who is normally in Australia but he is currently back in Cairo. I am seeking a telephone call with the Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukry to register Australia's strong concerns at this outcome and as I said we're lodging this formal diplomatic level request to the Egyptian President.

We must continue to pursue all avenues available to us and we will continue to do that so I don't want to pre-empt any particular outcome. I want to keep working as hard as we can, not only with the Egyptian Government, but with other governments. From the outset we've been making representations, not only to the prosecutor, to the Egyptian Minister for Justice, the Foreign Minister, the Minister for Human Rights, the Minister for the Interior, for prison affairs, to the Ambassadors.

The Prime Minister Tony Abbott has spoken to the interim president and now the current President and we have asked other governments around the world to also make representations to the Egyptian Government and I know they've been doing that Ð governments in the region, governments that have close ties with Egypt, and our other friends and allies have been making representations on behalf of Australia for Peter Greste.

TOM TILLEYSomeone's texted in Julie Bishop saying, ÒI actually expect our pollies to cut all ties and aid until the Egyptians stop being idioticÓ. Is cutting trade or aid ties something you can consider?

JULIE BISHOPWe do not provide aid to Egypt, that's a decision I made as Foreign Minister when we came into Government, so we do not provide aid. There isn't that leverage and so I appreciate the suggestion but there is no aid to cut. What we're trying to do is work with a new Government bearing in mind that the charges were laid under the interim government when there had been a military coup against the elected Muslim Brotherhood Government and Peter Greste got caught up in the reporting in those activities.

There's now been an election, there is a new government only sworn in eight days ago so we're seeking to work with that new government and get that government to realise that this is an opportunity to present a new image of Egypt to the world. A stable democratic Egypt and one of the first gestures that we hope that they would be able to implement to prove that they are a democracy and committed to a path to democracy is to release journalists who have been convicted in circumstances such as Peter Greste.

TOM TILLEYJulie Bishop, it's really interesting to hear you say that you decided not to give aid to the Egyptian Government because it was only over the weekend that the US Secretary of State John Kerry met President Sisi and announced that they'd be releasing US$575 million in military support for the Egyptian military.

Do you think that was the right thing to do given the same man that toppled President Morsi, the democratically elected government is no running a government that is running a brutal crackdown on journalists and the Muslim Brotherhood?

JULIE BISHOPThe United States has a very different relationship with Egypt than the Australian Government does. There has been a very strong connection going back decades between the United States and the Egyptian military and so that's a matter for them. My point is that we need to maintain a relationship with the current government so that we can continue to get consular access to Peter Greste.

That's why I want our Ambassador to remain in Cairo, so that he can continue to visit Peter, that he can continue to obtain improvements in Mr Greste's prison conditions and that he can be a conduit of messages from the Australian Government to the Egyptian Government and he's been meeting with Ministers at every level within the Egyptian Government and he'll continue to do that in the new Government and this is where I draw the distinction between what's been happening in the past Ð yes we've been making representations to the interim government but the new government now has an opportunity to show the rest of the world that it is committed to this transition to be a democracy and a stable democracy at that.

TOM TILLEYDo you wish that John Kerry, the US Secretary of State held out that funding, that $575m until this issue around Peter Greste and his two colleagues was resolved?

JULIE BISHOPWell that's not a matter that the Australian Government can resolve. The relationship between the United States and Egypt is a matter for those countries. What I can do is ask other governments to support us, to help make representations at every level so the Egyptian Government understands the message that this is sending to the rest of the world. The international condemnation not only from individual countries but from the United Nations and NGOs, from the European Union, from countries and organisations around the world must give the Egyptian Government cause to consider its actions and consider what it can do to demonstrate that it is committed to democratic principles and that includes freedom of the press and freedom of speech.

As I have said on a number of occasions on the basis of the evidence that we saw, the evidence that was presented we simply cannot see how a court could have reached that conclusion so it will be up to Mr Greste and his family as to whether or not they appeal this verdict but in the meantime we'll do all we can at a political level, government-to-government to secure his release.

TOM TILLEYJulie Bishop thanks so much for making time to speak to us.

JULIE BISHOPMy pleasure.

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