ABC News Radio with Marius Benson










SUBJECT/S:  Peter Greste.

MARIUS BENSON: Tanya Plibersek, what should the Australian Government be doing now to assist Peter Greste and the other journalists condemned to gaol yesterday?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well, I think the most important thing at the moment is to continue to provide the high level of consular assistance that Peter Greste’s been receiving and to stay in touch with him as often and as thoroughly as possible. Then talking to Peter and his family make a decision about whether there’ll be an appeal to this sentence, what form that appeal will take, and then give him support through that appeal process. Of course it’s also absolutely vital that the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, the whole of the Government stay in contact with their counterparts in the new Egyptian Government. It’s apparent that the Prime Minister has called his counterpart, the Foreign Minister has also been in touch with her counterpart, that those high levels of communication will continue is very important also. The third area that we need to work on as a nation is using our friends around the world to also speak with the new Egyptian Government and point out to them how highly inappropriate it is to be gaoling journalists who are just doing their jobs.

BENSON: So, the Government’s got it right?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think now is a time for us as a nation to focus on Peter Greste and his needs.

BENSON: And the Greens are calling for sanctions against Egypt, is that the right way to go?

PLIBERSEK: I think the most important thing is actually getting Peter Greste out of gaol and I would say that continued diplomatic approaches are the, what we should be focused on right now.

BENSON: So, you’re not in favour of sanctions at the moment?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think the most important thing is putting Peter Greste and his needs and the needs of his colleagues at the centre of any decisions that we are making. What do I think will help him most? I think that the thing that will help him most is to have continued high level open dialogue between Australia and Egypt and between our friends and our allies and the new Egyptian Government as well.

BENSON: Do you think you understand why Peter Greste is being sentenced in this way and the other journalists, what’s going on in Egypt? Because it seems a very complex picture that involves Saudi Arabia as a big funder of Egypt, Qatar with tensions with Saudi Arabia is the home of Al-Jazeera, it seems fairly complex.

PLIBERSEK: Look, I am concerned that there are some elements of geopolitics being played out here but I’m not going to focus on that at the moment or talk about that at the moment. I think what we need to focus on and talk about now is the illogical case that was run against Peter Greste and his colleagues and the fact that as a democracy, Egypt needs a free and functioning press, and this has sent a very wrong signal about the commitment of Egypt to a free and functioning press.

There were many, many Egyptians who went out to protest on the streets about the old form of autocratic government that Egypt had, many were hurt, some lost their lives. In that struggle for democracy, was implied an absolute commitment to a free and functioning press and I think it would be distressing for those Egyptian democracy fighters as it is for us watching in Australia.

BENSON: Turning to Iraq, John Kerry, the American Secretary of State, has been holding talks. He says it is time for Iraq to have a government of national unity. Is it time for the Prime Minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, to go?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I’m not going to comment on whether the Prime Minister should go, but I think it’s plain to most observers that post-conflict Iraq has not emerged as a multiethnic, multicultural state and that it cannot hang together as a nation unless all of the ethnic and religious groups are properly represented in the Government.

BENSON: Turning to domestic issues, it’s been reported in the Daily Telegraph that Arthur Sinodinos has stood aside as the Assistant Treasurer while corruption proceedings were conducted in NSW at the ICAC hearings that he is not going to be found guilty of any corruption but that he may be criticised by ICAC. Do you believe Arthur Sinodinos should return to the Ministry under those circumstances?

PLIBERSEK: Well, he wouldn’t be top pick for me but this really is a matter for Tony Abbott. He’s made a lot of his ministerial standards and so far he’s lost Arthur Sinodinos to this corruption inquiry, he’s been embarrassed by a number of other Ministers including the Assistant Health Minister dumping front of pack labeling because of her Chief of Staff’s conflict of interest in representing the junk food industry and that these are standards for the Government to explain.

BENSON: Tanya Plibersek, thank you very much.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you, Marius.


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