ABC 24 News Breakfast with Michael Rowland











MICHAEL ROWLAND: For more on the Peter Greste verdict, we're joined by the Shadow Foreign Minister Tanya Plibersek. She is in our Parliament House studio in Canberra. Tanya Plibersek, good morning to you. What was your first reaction when you heard that shock news?

TANYA PLIBERSEK: I think, shocked, appalled. I was very surprised first of all that Peter Greste and his colleagues were found guilty given the very weak evidence that was presented in court, and secondly I really was - just unspeakable, the length of the sentence was truly shocking as well.

ROWLAND: What does it say to you about this so-called transition to democracy in Egypt? Where is that at now?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think it's very important that Australia and other nations continue to say to the new government of Egypt that a free and fair press is an absolutely intrinsic part of establishing a democracy. We know that a lot of Egyptians fought, some were injured, some even died to end the autocratic rule that Egypt had seen for many decades. They had very high hopes of their own democracy, and they will expect, as we do, the world community, that the new government of Egypt respect not just the democratic traditions of people being able to vote at the ballot box - very, very important - but a democratic ethos in society which requires a free media.

ROWLAND: This time yesterday the Prime Minister Tony Abbott fresh off a phone call to the Egyptian President said he was confident the Egyptian President had listened to his concerns about the Greste case and was adherent to the rule of law. Do you believe the Prime Minister was being a bit too premature with those comments?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I really don't think now is the time to focus on any criticisms of the Australian Government. I think that we need to focus on helping Peter Greste and his colleagues. The next stage, we expect there may be an appeal. We need to make sure that they have adequate legal and consular support during that appeal process, and that the lines of communication between the Australian Government and the Egyptian government remain open, and also that we enlist the friends that we have internationally also to help press the case for Peter Greste and the other journalists who have been jailed.

ROWLAND: The Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says the Egyptian ambassador has been called into the Department of Foreign Affairs this morning. Given the severity of this sentence, do you believe that Julie Bishop should personally be a part of that meeting?

PLIBERSEK: Look, it's not for me to micro manage those issues. I think it's very important that the Australian Government make very clear to the Egyptian Government that Australians are appalled by the fact that Peter Greste and his colleagues have been convicted and shocked by the length of the sentence. I think it's quite appropriate to speak to the Egyptian ambassador to express those views. I'm sure that those views are being made, known also by our ambassador, our Australian ambassador in Egypt to the Egyptian authorities there.

ROWLAND: I want to play you a tape now, firstly to get your reaction and also Tanya Plibersek, perhaps you can take a glass of water, your throat is getting a bit croaky there. This is what the former Labor leader Mark Latham said on Q & A on what he believed the form of action the Australian Government should take, let's listen.

[Recording] MARK LATHAM: In Australia generally we make very poor use of our former prime ministers, and there are other countries in similar circumstances they would send a former national leader in this case to Egypt as a special emissary to plead the case and seek reviews and the like, and it just strikes me as an instance where a Paul Keating, Bob Hawke, John Howard could play a useful role in bringing a special status to Australia's appeal on behalf of Greste and it might get a better result than just sending diplomatic cables.

ROWLAND: What do you reckon, Tanya Plibersek about that idea of a Prime Ministerial special envoy?

PLIBERSEK: I think that's certainly something that the Government could consider. I think it's very important that we continue to raise Peter Greste's case at the highest levels, and whether that's a diplomat, a distinguished diplomat, another distinguished Australian, and also, as I said earlier, making sure that we enlist the help of our friends internationally to also continue to press the case for these journalists. All of those things should be under way or considered.

ROWLAND: Finally, others including the Greens are calling for sanctions to be on the table. Would you favor at least looking at sanctions against the Egyptian Government?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think the most important thing now is to focus on what will help Peter Greste most, and I think what will help him most is continued strong diplomatic representations to the Egyptian Government, using everything at our disposal. I think it's important, very important indeed, not to prejudice Peter Greste's appeal case, and I think staying in touch in a respectful way at the very highest levels is the most efficient and most likely to succeed.

ROWLAND: Tanya Plibersek, I appreciate your time this morning. Thank you so much.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.


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