Interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subject: Return of Alek Sigley.
04 July 2019

BEN FORDHAM: Now, I mentioned that the Australian Alek Sigley is safe and well, after being released from detention in North Korea. The Foreign Minister Marise Payne is on the line. Minister, good afternoon?

MINISTER PAYNE: Hello, Ben. How are you?

BEN FORDHAM: I'm well, you must be relieved?

MINISTER PAYNE: I'm enormously relieved, Ben. I can't really describe it.

BEN FORDHAM: We spoke yesterday, and you were working behind the scenes with a whole range of contacts to try, and secure this man's release. When did we even have it confirmed that he was detained?

MINISTER PAYNE: When using the Swedish envoys visit to North Korea yesterday, we received advice overnight that the detention was in place, and then, later in the morning, the Swedish ambassador in South Korea was kind enough to advise our post in Seoul that there was a strong possibility that Alek may be able to be handed over to their Swedish delegation at the airport as they were leaving the DPRK. So, really, the timeline was very tight, and very short. Without support, and help of our counterparts in the Swedish government. This would not have been possible. We are deeply, deeply grateful to them.

BEN FORDHAM: I'm wondering how you balance that kind of news, when you get some encouraging news like that, but he's not out of trouble yet. Do you tell the family, or do you have to wait until he's in the clear? How do you handle that?

MINISTER PAYNE: Well, I take advice from the professionals in my organisation who'd also been working very hard on this as to how to handle those family sides of things. I work very closely with families Ben, constantly on the most complex family circumstances as you can imagine, around the world. Once we were able to find Mr Sigley, we just took a little bit of time, because he wasn't next to his phone. We were able to tell him he was safe when he landed in Beijing.

BEN FORDHAM: Okay, so he's in China now, and then, we're told he's going to Japan. Is that right?

MINISTER PAYNE: Well, I think he'll make arrangements to see his wife, as you might expect, so certainly, the entire family is very relieved.

BEN FORDHAM: What have they had to say apart from the fact that they're glad that he's okay?

MINISTER PAYNE: Well, I think their excitement is written all over their faces. They've expressed a sincere gratitude to so many Australians who were indicating their support for them, and their hopes for Alek to be released, and they are looking forward to seeing him. I understand he and his father have spoken, and I think you and I can only imagine what a fabulous conversation that must have been.

BEN FORDHAM: It goes to show at a time like this, how important is to have these relationships, right? Because, you've highlighted without Sweden, this probably wouldn't have happened.

MINISTER PAYNE: Very much so, and it is very important. We have a very large number of posts around the world, but in countries where we are not represented we have important bilateral relationships with their counterparts, in this case with Sweden in North Korea, and in this case it has absolutely made the difference.

BEN FORDHAM: Do we have any idea why North Korea arrested him?

MINISTER PAYNE: I don't have those details at this point, and I know we'll give Alek time to settle back in, and to get his life back in order, and I'm sure that we'll be talking with him in due course.

BEN FORDHAM: Minister, do we know whether the United States offered any support on this as well?

MINISTER PAYNE: In terms of that discussion we had yesterday Ben, we've been talking with all of our partners, but the most important engagement we had was with Sweden.

BEN FORDHAM: Okay, great news. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.

MINISTER PAYNE: Thanks, Ben. I really appreciate the opportunity to acknowledge those Australians who were supporting Alek, and his family, and the Swedish government in particular.

BEN FORDHAM: Yeah, and I suppose all of those people in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade all of the wonderful work they've done. Thank you Minister.

MINISTER PAYNE: Thanks, Ben.

BEN FORDHAM: Marise Payne, the Foreign Minister joining us.

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