Sky News AM Agenda with Kieran Gilbert










SUBJECT/S:  Peter Greste.

KIERAN GILBERT: Joining me live now here in the Studio the Shadow Foreign Minister, Tanya Plibersek. Tanya Plibersek thanks for your time are you satisfied with the Government’s response in this case?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Look, I think it’s very important that both government and opposition join together now to focus on the needs of Peter Greste and his family and his colleagues. I am pleased that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister have been speaking to their counterparts. I think speaking directly with the Egyptian ambassador today is a good move, it’s going to be important that those lines of communication stay open and also that we enlist our friends internationally also to put pressure on the Egyptian Government.

GILBERT: So you think suggestions of sanctions are misplaced given the need for those lines of communication?

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think it’s very important now that we focus on Peter Greste and his immediate chance now for an appeal to this sentencing and conviction and I think the most productive thing is to continue to have diplomatic links and frank conversations at senior levels.

GILBERT: When we’re talking about the US and now a relationship with the United States, of course, and I spoke to the Foreign Minister about this, they provide hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Egypt every year. Why can’t Washington, why can’t the United States leverage that funding to have some sort of influence here?

PLIBERSEK: And indeed when I say that we should ask our friends internationally to help that’s one of the examples of a friend helping that I would hope we would see. It is important though to understand that our words and our actions have to be very carefully chosen now and the focus has to be on what will help Peter Greste and his colleagues in their appeal processes if they should choose to appeal and I expect they will.

GILBERT: Because of course this country has had a fairly turbulent, to say the least, period in the last couple of years, is that the context in which Australian leaders, Government, needs to see it? And I suppose hence the need to tread, to tread carefully.

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think there’s a couple of things to say. The first is this is a relatively new government and so we need to speak at senior levels with the new Government and hope that because they’re a new Government they’ll see a way through this that actually respects the fact that Peter Greste and his colleagues were working journalists in a country reporting on the news not in any way involved in supporting the Muslim Brotherhood or any other organisation. The fact that it’s a new government gives me some hope that there’s room for movement there. It is important now to offer Peter Greste and his colleagues every help and support in any appeal that should go forward and I think it’s premature to start talking about things that actually fracture the relationship between our two countries and make it harder to offer that support.

GILBERT: It’s hard to have any faith though in any subsequent appeal process given the travesty that we’ve seen in the current verdict and the sentencing announced yesterday in the trial process. It was a debacle.

PLIBERSEK: Look, I think it’s clear to anyone who has been watching this that the evidence that was presented to the court is not one that should sustain a conviction, and on top of that, I’m very surprised that there was a conviction in the first place, but the length of that sentence is really quite extraordinary also. I hope that means that there are strong grounds for appeal because the legal case was a very weak one.

GILBERT: We obviously have great focus on this because of Peter Greste, an Australian, and a journalist you know, from our fraternity in the media, watching this very closely but there are tens of thousands of Egyptians facing a similar fate. I suppose we should be cognisant of that as well.

PLIBERSEK: Absolutely and the thing to always remember in these situations is that it was the Egyptian people themselves who rose up against an autocratic government. Many of them marched in the streets at risk to their own safety, many were injured, some were killed. Egyptians have spoken very strongly about the fact that they want a democracy, and a free press is an integral part of any democracy. I am sure that there are Egyptians who are shocked by this outcome as well and we need to make sure that we can convey our shock as Australians to the Egyptian Government and hope that the Egyptian people themselves express to their government that they believe in a free press and that they’ll support any action to uphold freedom in the press of their country.

GILBERT: And you spoke earlier in an interview about your view and hope, and I guess it’s the Government’s hope as well, that the new government will come to this with fresh eyes and hopefully with a result that we want, but is the presidential pardon the only option that as far as you can see a positive outcome here?

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, well I’m not an expert in Egyptian constitutional law but my understanding is that all of the legal processes have to be exhausted and when all of the legal processes are exhausted, there may be an opportunity for a presidential pardon. We need to focus in the short term immediately now, on concentrating on giving a high level of consular support to Peter Greste, and I think the Department of Foreign Affairs has done an excellent job in offering consular support and secondly, should he and his family decide to appeal, whatever support we can give to that appeal process.

GILBERT: I want to ask you one more question, this relates to East Jerusalem, we’ve seen a lot of controversy about the Government’s position on whether it is occupied or it isn’t, with a capital O or not, what is Labor’s stance when it comes to East Jerusalem?

PLIBERSEK: Well, the first thing to say is, this is the problem with George Brandis freelancing at 11 o’clock at night in Senate Estimates. It is- there is a historical fact that there was a war in 1967 and that East Jerusalem, the West Bank, were occupied at that time. There’s no controversy as far as Labor’s concerned, we support a two-state solution, we hope that the peace talks that seem to have run into some difficulties at the moment are resolved positively. We believe that Israel has a right to secure internationally recognised borders but there must also be a viable Palestinian state, and the two must live side by side.

GILBERT: There’s no split within Labor on this issue?

PLIBERSEK: Certainly not.

GILBERT: Okay, Tanya Plibersek, thanks for your time.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.


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