Interview with Michael Usher
Michael Usher: After more than 800 days in Iranian prisons, Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert has arrived home. Arrested during a research trip, the Melbourne University lecturer was convicted of espionage and handed a 10-year sentence. A prisoner swap involving three Iranians being held in Thailand reportedly secured the release. Foreign Minister Marise Payne was part of the effort to bring Kylie home. I spoke with her earlier.
Michael Usher: Minister, thank you for joining me on The Latest. Let me ask you first, just how difficult was this negotiation?
Marise Payne: Michael, this has been a very complex and very sensitive process for many, many, many months. And we know that Dr Moore-Gilbert has been detained now for over two years. This is a process which has meant ongoing discussions with the Iranian Government, with Iranian officials, with ministers, including my counterpart, and, of course, with Iranian officials in Australia. So, each consular case is different, but I can certainly attest to the complexity and the difficulty of this one.
Michael Usher: This was never going to be easy, but was it more difficult than you thought?
Marise Payne: I'm not sure more difficult than we thought, but certainly, at least as difficult as we thought. And it will and it would always take ongoing negotiations. But I'm very pleased to have been able to achieve this outcome, both for Dr Moore-Gilbert and for her family.
Michael Usher: And have you had a chance to talk directly to Kylie yet?
Marise Payne: I spoke to her very early Australian time this morning. I was overwhelmed and buoyed by her very positive attitude and her very positive tone. I can only begin to imagine the extraordinary relief, but also, the full gamut of emotions that she’s dealing with at the moment. She is well supported, and we will ensure that that is provided to her, but I know she is very much looking forward to the opportunity to return to Australia.
Michael Usher: Yeah. We know the conditions in those two Iranian prisons are generally appalling. Are you aware of the state of Kylie's health at the moment?
Marise Payne: From my conversation with her this morning and from the observations made by my senior officials who have been supporting her, both during her period of time in prison and, of course, since her recent release is positive, but I know that there will be appropriate health checks and medical checks for her to go through. We would only expect that. And, of course, the enormous psychological pressure that she has been under for so long must be taking its own toll.
Michael Usher: So, from the conversation that you had with her, did you get the impression that Kylie, mentally, is she ready to get home?
Marise Payne: Michael, I did. I think the full impact of being able to leave prison, being able to leave Iran and to return to Australia probably comes in some time. It probably takes a little while to really sink in that that ordeal is over. But I had a very favourable, very positive impression from my conversation with her this morning.
Michael Usher: So, after everything that she has been through in Iran, does Dr Moore-Gilbert have to quarantine when she arrives home, like any other returning traveller?
Marise Payne: She does indeed. And, of course, Iran is facing its own very difficult COVID-19 circumstances, so that would be expected. But we will ensure that she is not alone in that quarantining process, and that she is properly supported through that as well.
Michael Usher: Her release was part of a prison swap deal with prisoners from Thailand, released to Iran, we understand. Were we directly involved with the Thai Government in negotiating that?
Marise Payne: I'm not going to make any comment, as the Prime Minister did not this morning either on our diplomatic discussions with other governments. What I will say is that these are always complex and sensitive and difficult processes. This is not the first time that Australia has had to face such challenges in supporting Australians detained overseas. We take them very seriously, we deal with them appropriately and diplomatically and discretely. And I am just very relieved we’ve been able to achieve an outcome and see Dr Moore-Gilbert return to Australia today.
Michael Usher: Minister, Dr Moore-Gilbert’s supporters have always said that she was a diplomatic hostage. Just how conscious of becoming a diplomatic hostage do Australians living or working in dangerous places need to be?
Marise Payne: I think you raise a very important point, because what we have seen in a number of locations in the world – and Iran is one where we note in our travel advice – that Australians are at the risk of arbitrary detention. Australians do need to be very careful about these aspects of countries around the world, which take a particular approach to these issues.
Now, our travel advice is often detailed and endeavours to make very clear to Australians where those risks exist. So, whilst the overall travel advice at the moment, particularly because of COVID-19, is ‘Do Not Travel’, in so many countries there will be carefully refined, carefully considered specific advice about the risks of things like arbitrary detention. And I absolutely encourage all Australians to always read that travel advice and to take it into account.
Michael Usher: Well, Minister thank you for joining me. Congratulations to you and your team and all of our foreign officials who’ve been working overseas in all sorts of hours in difficult places in getting Kylie home. Thank you.
Marise Payne: Well, thank you very much for those words. And particularly, thank you for those words in relation to the officials who have worked very long and very hard on this as well.