TRANSCRIPT - ABC News 24, Wednesday 4 March

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Subject: Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran, Iraq.


CHRIS UHLMANN, PRESENTER: How did you feel this morning when you heard this news that the two prisoners were going to be transferred to the island where they would be executed?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY OPPOSITION LEADER: I think very many Australians are feeling very sad and concerned today. It is certainly not a good sign that these young men are being transferred and I think it's particularly concerning given there are still two legal challenges under way. There's an administrative-type legal challenge and of course there are before the judicial commission concerning allegations that have to be thoroughly investigated. I think there's obviously a very strong sense that people have now, too, of sympathy for the families of these two young men. This is not just a sentence on these two young men but on all of the people who love them, to take them away so permanently.

UHLMANN: Do you hold out any hope though that these legal challenges will do any more than the others have? Indonesia has clearly decided that it’s going to go ahead and execute these two young men.

PLIBERSEK: I think while there's life, there's hope. We have heard stories before of people who have been literally on their way to have their sentences carried out and the sentence has been commuted. So I think it's very important to hold out hope and to continue to explore every avenue. I have spoken today to the legal team of the young men, I have spoken to the Foreign Minister to say that very clearly that we will do everything we can as an Opposition to support the Government's efforts in this area.

UHLMANN: Has the Government done everything it can? Obviously you have actually worked quite closely with the Government, and it would seem the Government has done everything that is humanly possible.

PLIBERSEK: I believe that the Government have explored many avenues and indeed I think successive governments have done that over many years. We very strongly made the case to Indonesia that with almost 230 of their own people on death row in countries around the world, that their carrying out of this sentence undermines their case for their own citizens. I think that is a very important point to make. The Indonesian Government continues to advocate for their own citizens around the world. It makes it very difficult for them to make a convincing argument when, indeed, they are carrying out this sentence themselves.

UHLMANN: If Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran are executed, do you believe it will damage the relationship between Australia and Indonesia?

PLIBERSEK: I think our relationship has been a strong one for many years and the important thing to focus on now is using the friendship and goodwill that has built up over many years, using the formal channels and informal channels to do everything we can to see the legal processes here, give them time to run their course. And to continue to plead with the Indonesian President, to continue to plead with him to understand that the death penalty doesn't- should never be used for any person anywhere. It's not an effective deterrent. We know that long gaol sentences are just as effective a deterrent as the death penalty. And we know too that the argument about Indonesian sovereignty, the sovereignty of the Indonesian legal system, no one challenges that. We completely accept that Indonesia has every right to the legal system that it has, what we are asking for is mercy in the application of the sentence.

UHLMANN: Australia has never tended to withdraw our ambassadors after events like this, although the Prime Minister's language has been fairly strong and said there would be an unequivocal response by Australia. Do you believe that like other countries that Australia should do something symbolic if this goes ahead and withdraw an ambassador?

PLIBERSEK: I think it's counterproductive to be discussing those things at this time.

UHLMANN: You don't think Australia should respond in any way?

PLIBERSEK: I think it's important to focus on the friendship between our two nations and to use the goodwill that we have built up over time for the benefit of these young men.

UHLMANN: Does the Australian Federal Police have a case to answer? It's been levelled against them that they should have not essentially handed these two young men over to the Indonesian police. Do we need to hear a better explanation from the police on why they did that?

PLIBERSEK: I think it’s clear that most Australians would agree that it would have been better if these young men had been picked up as they arrived back in Australia. I think if we knew that they were coming, on a particular plane, at a particular time, of course it would have been better to pick them up here.

UHLMANN: Do you think we need a better explanation from the Australian Federal Police?

PLIBERSEK: I think our focus, the whole focus of our public discussion at this time has to be in pleading for clemency with the Indonesian Government and anything else can wait.

UHLMANN: Lex Lasry, who is now a Supreme Court Judge but did act for these two young men when he was a barrister, said today ‘I will never again go to Bali or anywhere else in Indonesia’. Do you think that Australians should respond that way?

PLIBERSEK: Chris, the difficulty with this conversation at this time is it just doesn't help. We need to focus now on reminding the Indonesian Government that they have their own people on death row in countries around the world and they weaken their ability to plead for their own citizens. We need to focus on the fact that the death penalty is not a deterrent. We have to focus on the fact that this is not just a sentence for these young men but for their families and for everyone who knows them. We need to focus on the fact that they have been rehabilitated in the Indonesian gaol system and are now making a positive contribution to the lives of other prisoners and the rehabilitation of other prisoners. I think that is the discussion we need to be having at this time.

UHLMANN: And all those things have been said and resaid by you and by the Government, by their families, by everyone in Australia and yet it has not moved the Indonesian President.

PLIBERSEK: And I say again while there's life, there's hope, and we need to exhaust every legal avenue here. We must have the time for the judicial commission to do its work, for the administrative legal considerations to be gone through thoroughly. It is important that we use all of our formal and informal communications to continue to make points, these points.

UHLMANN: A final question on a different topic - to Iraq. Yesterday we saw the Prime Minister commit to training troops, there will obviously be some push and pull in that, the Special Forces will probably come out, 300 Australian training troops will go in. The Labor Party were clearly displeased by the fact that the Prime Minister didn't make a ministerial statement. Do you believe the Prime Minister was trying to politicise the issue?

PLIBERSEK: I think when we're sending Australian troops into harm's way, the Australian public deserve a clear statement about why they're going, what the mission is specifically, how will we judge when we have achieved that mission. The best way to give that explanation to the Australian people is through the Parliament. There are elected representatives - that also gives the Opposition a clear opportunity to state our position on this. Which is that we are of course - we know that the 2003 war in Iraq was a disaster. But that this situation where we are being asked by the democratically elected government of Iraq to help it protect its people and its territory from an invading force, that is quite brutal, that that is a different situation, that we will apply the criteria that we have set out: that this is only in Iraq, only until the Iraqi Government can protect its own people, that it's not boots on grounds - it is a training and humanitarian mission - and that we will only stay as long as the Iraqi Government and military forces behave in a way that is acceptable to us - that we apply those conditions.

UHLMANN: Tanya Plibersek, thank you.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you, Chris.


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