Interview with Nick McCallum, 3AW

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

NICK MCCALLUM: Breaking news throughout the afternoon, Australian Alek Sigley who's been missing in North Korea last week has been released, the Prime Minister confirmed that. On the line now is Senator Marise Payne, Foreign Affairs Minister. Senator, thanks indeed for your time.

MINISTER PAYNE: Good afternoon, Nick.

NICK MCCALLUM: So, what do we know about what happened to Alek?

MINISTER PAYNE: Well, we don't have a great deal of detail on that as yet, as you might imagine. But most importantly we have been very grateful for the support of the Swedish government that does have a diplomatic presence in North Korea. They had a visit from a special envoy of the Swedish government into North Korea this week. That special envoy was able to raise the Sigley matter with the North Koreans, who then confirmed that he was being detained. We only got that information confirmed overnight. So it has been so important that the rest of this process has played out in the way it has. The Swedish ambassador advising our representatives in Seoul that there was a possibility that Alek Sigley would be given to the Swedish delegation at the airport as they were leaving North Korea. That did happen, and they were able to take him with them to Beijing. So, it is so important that we got this outcome and I really do want to acknowledge the work of the Swedish government in helping us here.

NICK MCCALLUM: It sounds as though they were fantastic. So, were there any indications as to why he was being detained?

MINISTER PAYNE: Not at this point and I think these matters will obviously be discussed into the future, and we will work with our officials to have those conversations. I've spoken to my counterpart in Stockholm, Foreign Minister Margot Wallström, to thank her very much and I'm sure that the special envoy will provide us with any information that they are able to, that it's appropriate for them to pass on. But at this stage the most important thing for us as a government is that we are able to say thanks for their hard work, and also thanks to those Foreign Affairs officials in my own department who've been working very hard. We can confirm to Australia and to his family that he is safe and well and out of North Korea.

NICK MCCALLUM: We don't know how he was treated?

MINISTER PAYNE: Not at this point, and that is, as I say, they're the issues we'll discuss in time. The most important thing is to make sure he is safe and well, to give him time to re-adjust. It's obviously a frightening experience to be detained in that way and we'll talk further in due course.

NICK MCCALLUM: I know he's on his way to Tokyo at the moment, will he then come home to Australia?

MINISTER PAYNE: Well his family I'm sure will make those arrangements, Nick, but most importantly he'll be able to see his wife. He's already spoken to his father, who is of course overjoyed, and we were very pleased. Mr Sigley didn't have his phone with him at exactly the moment we were trying to make contact, but when he was with his phone I think it was probably the best news a father could hear.

NICK MCCALLUM: I can certainly imagine that. Now, once he is home, safely ensconced back in Perth, will you then approach the North Korean government and have a stern conversation about what the hell they've done here?

MINISTER PAYNE: Well, as I said in the last few days, we don't have a formal diplomatic presence and relationship in North Korea in that way, but I will wait to hear what information I'm able to get from my officials and then we'll determine what we do from there.

NICK MCCALLUM: And, I suppose the relationship between North Korea and Australia couldn't get much worse in some ways, could it?

MINISTER PAYNE: Well, we are certainly very strong supporters of the denuclearisation process in North Korea, and obviously the UN sanctions. But again, that is a very dynamic situation and we saw last week's meeting between the President Kim Jong-un and President Moon of South Korea. So, we watched that with interest and continue to support denuclearisation, as I said.

NICK MCCALLUM: And just very quickly, do you advise Australians, under the circumstances, after what happened to Alek, not to go to North Korea at the moment?

MINISTER PAYNE: Well, I advise Australians to always look at our travel advice, and our travel advice on North Korea is very clear and it's a country which people should be very careful about travelling in.

NICK MCCALLUM: Senator, I really appreciate your time. I understand the bells are ringing, you've done us a great favour appearing, so thank you very much indeed.

MINISTER PAYNE: Much appreciated, nice to speak with you.

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