Press conference, Bangkok
MINISTER: Let me just say a few words in relation to my visit here to Thailand today, which is my first visit to Bangkok as Australia's Foreign Minister. I was last here in my capacity as Defence Minister and this is a very productive opportunity to meet with my counterparts here in Bangkok today.
I have had very constructive discussions today with the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Justice Prajin and with my counterpart, Foreign Minister Don. This morning I have also signed an MOU on Cyber Security and Digital Cooperation and really focussed on that aspect of Thailand's chairmanship of ASEAN which is so important to them in the context of cyber. Australia's Ambassador for Cyber Security Dr Tobias Feakin is also here with me in Bangkok today. Thailand is, as I have just said, the chair of ASEAN in 2019. It gives them a very important role in our region. We have taken the opportunity today to discuss a great deal of our work in terms of Indo-Pacific cooperation and in terms of regional security and stability, which are issues of deep concern and interest to both of us. I also appreciate the opportunity that both the Deputy Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister gave me to raise Australia's concerns about the detention of and possible return of Mr Hakeem Alaraibi to Bahrain.
The Thai Government is most certainly aware of the importance of this matter to Australia.
I do note that there are legal proceedings underway in relation to Mr Alaraibi and Australia will continue to be in very close contact with Thai Authorities in relation to this.
Today I also took the opportunity, given events of recent days, to acknowledge the constructive way in which Thailand has referred Ms al-Qunun to the UNHCR. Following the UNHCR referral now to Australia, Australia is now engaged in the steps of the assessment process of Ms al-Qunun, as required. That is a process that is underway.
I am very happy to take a couple of questions.
JOURNALIST: Minister, how soon will we know if and when Ms al-Qunun may be going to Australia?
MINISTER: There are as I have just said a number of steps in the process, in terms of that assessment. They are required to be taken and they will be completed in due course and then that matter will be resolved.
JOURNALIST: Minister what kind of support, legal or otherwise, is the Australian government giving to Mr Hakeem Alaraibi?
MINISTER: Mr Alaraibi has been visited on a number of occasions by officials here from our Embassy and we are engaging with his legal team as appropriate. We are, as I have said, very concerned about his detention, very concerned about any potential for the return of Mr Alaraibi to Bahrain and I have reiterated those concerns to both ministers.
JOURNALIST: Any talk about the election?
MINISTER: The election? Which one? Well it is a very busy year. I have just come from India where Prime Minister Modi is about to face an election. Australia has an election in the first half of this year and of course Thailand also does. I think you will find most politicians when they get together in small groups facing elections discuss those things but only in a very informal sense.
JOURNALIST: Minister, did Australia cancel the visa of Ms Rahaf al-Qunun while she was stuck in the airport?
MINISTER: I am not going to comment on the details of those matters, which of course are the responsibility of the Department of Home Affairs, but what I can say is to restate my observations that following the UNHCR referral, Australia is now going through the steps we are required to do in relation to the assessment process, and then when that has been complete, announcements can be made.
JOURNALIST: Minister, is there a timeframe for this process and is there a possibility that Ms al-Qunun could be going back with you today?
MINISTER: There is no possibility that Ms al-Qunun will be going back with me, as you put it, today. That is because there are steps which are required in the process which Australia and any other country considering such a matter would have to go through. We will go through those according to our own system and our own processes.
JOURNALIST: Is there a timeframe for that?
MINISTER: Not a specific timeframe, no.
JOURNALIST: Does she need to remain in Thailand while those steps will take place, or can you give her a visa that would allow her to be in Australia while you are considering her case?
MINISTER: That would be a matter for, I expect, her application if she wished to do that. I don't have the visa detail requirements with me today. But if that was a matter which she wished to pursue, then she would raise that with the government I am sure.
MINISTER: Thank you very much everyone.
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