THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
ACTING LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS
AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
SUNDAY, 26 APRIL 2015
SUBJECT/S: Earthquake in Nepal; Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran; National security; ALP National Conference.
TANYA PLIBERSEK, ACTING LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning and thank you for coming out this morning, I wanted to address two very important and very sad issues today. The first of course is the earthquake in Nepal and surrounding countries and the second, the most recent news relating to Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran.
Starting with Nepal, the earthquake that has affected Nepal, India, Bangladesh and neighbouring countries has led to tragic loss of life. We hear most recent reports of perhaps as many as 1,300 people having lost their lives. There are also unconfirmed reports of Australians being amongst those. We have been in touch with the Foreign Minister’s office and as of yet there is no confirmed information about Australians.
Of course the very fact that some of these people have been trekking in the mountains means that they may well have been of out of contact in the normal course of events. It becomes much more difficult to contact people or for them to make contact because of the earthquake so if people have concern for family members of friends the best advice is to contact the Department of Foreign Affairs 24 hour emergency helpline.
We’ve also urged the Government to provide any assistance to the affected countries. There are reports already of health services running out of some types of medicines and medical supplies. Obviously we support Australia providing any assistance in that area in logistics or any of the capacities that we have to help after such an immense natural disaster.
Turning now to Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran, the reports in the last 24 hours or so have not been good. We have been informed that Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran have been told to prepare for execution. Our thoughts are obviously with them, with their families and friends and those who have supported them through this immensely difficult time. We know that these two men have done the wrong thing; there is no question that Australians are asking that they be allowed to go without punishment.
Their crimes are very serious but for the last 10 years they have done their best to reform themselves and to make a contribution to the jail community that they’ve been living in. We hope that the government of Indonesia and most particularly the President of Indonesia hears the pleas of all Australians for clemency for the lives of these two young men.
No one is asking that they be released, no one is asking that their sentences be revoked. Simply that they be allowed to continue to live. While they live they can repay their debt to society. We also think at this time of the enormous sadness that their friends and family are facing. A death sentence is not just a sentence on these two young men, but on all of the people who know them and all of the people who love them.
There are of course continuing legal efforts on behalf of these men and we hope that the government of Indonesia sees its way clear to allowing those legal processes to be complete. It is particularly concerning to think that these young men might be executed without the legal processes being fully and completely allowed to run their course.
Thank you, any questions?
JOURNALIST: So what should the Government do now that the two [inaudible] should the Prime Minister or Julie Bishop fly over there?
PLIBERSEK: Well I think it’s absolutely vital that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minster make every effort to contact their counterparts. We’ve been told that the Indonesian Foreign Minister has not been available to speak to our Foreign Minister, obviously that is a significant set-back. I would hope that our Prime Minister is making every effort to contact the President of Indonesia and that our Foreign Minister continues to try and appeal directly to the Foreign Minister of Indonesia.
JOURNALIST: If this goes ahead will this mark a particularly low point in Australia-Indonesia relations?
PLIBERSEK: I think that it’s very important at this time not to speculate on what might happen after if this sentence is actually applied, as we’ve been warned it will be. I think the time now is actually to focus on what we might do to delay the application of this sentence. Any conversations about what comes after, should come after.
JOURNALIST: After so many pleas with Indonesia did you think that there might have been a better outcome?
PLIBERSEK: I had hoped, I had hoped every day that the efforts that had been made by the Government, by the Opposition, by many Australian business people, by all sorts of Australians who have relations with Indonesian organisations and individuals might have had some success.
JOURNALIST: I understand there’s a French man that’s been taken off the list because his case is still running its course, so our own two men, what’s the difference there? Why can’t that be changed for our two guys?
PLIBERSEK: Look, I can’t answer that question. I would say, as I have said all the way along, it is unacceptable that while there are still legal processes underway that this sentence should be carried out and Australia urges Indonesia to allow all of the legal processes to be completed.
JOURNALIST: Are there any further bargaining chips that you would like the Government to be sort of putting on the table in the hope that it might make a difference?
PLIBERSEK: I think our best hope is to appeal to the Indonesian President to show mercy. I think it’s clear that Indonesia sees this as a matter of legal sovereignty, the President has made that very clear, and of course we respect the laws of Indonesia. But just as Indonesia pleads for the lives of its citizens on death row around the world, just as they urge clemency, just as they advocate on behalf of their people, so do we advocate for our citizens and say that the death penalty is not acceptable. Not for Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran, not for anyone, anywhere. I believe that it seriously damages the ability of Indonesia to plead for its own citizens internationally when it is ignoring the pleas of countries such as Australia for the lives of our citizens.
JOURNALIST: In terms of Nepal, should Australia be providing immediate assistance there?
PLIBERSEK: Well, of course we should do whatever we can to help the people of Nepal. There have been reports that we are sending logistics teams and other support, that’s a very good first step. But as we see the scale of the unfolding disaster if there is more we can do to assist of course we should do that. Many Australians have visited Nepal over the years, many have a strong affection for the country and we should of course do whatever we can to assist Nepal, India and Bangladesh, all of them affected by this terrible natural disaster.
JOURNALIST: How concerned are you that there are reports that Australians are missing?
PLIBERSEK: Well I think it’s very important to get as much information as we can. It’s very difficult to get that information at this stage. There have been reports of landslides, we are as I said in contact with the Office of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and as yet we are told that there are no confirmations that Australians are amongst that death toll. But if people have friends or relatives who are travelling in Nepal or in the region at the moment making sure that DFAT is aware of those travels and any travel plans that are available is very important.
JOURNALIST: On the issue of the Australia doctor who appeared in IS propaganda video, now that he has been identified as an Adelaide man do you think that the AMA should be taking measures to strike him off?
PLIBERSEK: Well I think it’s completely unacceptable for any Australian citizen to be advocating on behalf of an organisation that kills, rapes, sells people into slavery. If it is confirmed that this man has appeared in this video then I’m sure the full force of the law will be used against him.
JOURNALIST: The Greens are saying that Australia should be, the Government should be applying more preventative measures rather than always focusing on punishment, do you think that there is enough being done to stop people like this going in the first place?
PLIBERSEK: Look I think it’s important to do both. We need to have a strong security system that keeps Australians safe. There is obviously a real threat in Australia. There have been terrorist plots disrupted in Australia, we cannot be complacent. On the other hand of course it’s much better if we can prevent people being radicalised and supporting organisations that are terrorists’ organisations.
The Government some time ago committed money to a preventing radicalisation style program. First of all, Labor had such a program - the current government cut finding to it, they’ve restored some of that funding - but it is unclear yet whether any of that money’s been spent. There was, some weeks ago, none of that money had yet been spent.
Okay, thanks everyone.
JOURNALIST: Can I just ask ahead of the ALP Conference will you be pushing for all members of Caucus to be bound to vote along the lines of the party platform and vote in support of gay marriage instead of the conscience vote?
PLIBERSEK: Look, we’ve got a number of very serious stories before us today and people’s lives under threat so I’m not going to go into a detailed conversation about ALP National Conference which is several weeks away. What I would say is that I’m on the record and have been for a long time as a supporter of marriage equality and I think it’s, obviously it will come up at Conference, but that’s a discussion for another day.