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Transcript of doorstop interview of the Shadow Attorney-general, Nicola Roxon MP : Melbourne: 12 January 2005: Mamdouh Habib, Mark Latham's health. \n

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Nicola Roxon MP Shadow Attorney-General


Subjects: Mamdouh Habib, Mark Latham's Health 12/01/05

ROXON: Thank you for coming this morning. You will all be aware that I want to make some comments about the announcement that Mr Habib is going to be released from Guantanamo Bay and returned to Australia.

The Labor Party is very concerned to find out what the real story is behind his the release. We don’t think that the Australian Government has actually given a full explanation yet of the circumstances of his release.

It appears to us very strange that after three years of accusing Mr Habib of being a terrorist and describing him in the most extreme terms, that the US now clearly thinks that it does not have sufficient evidence to try him and are not even going to bring any charges against him.

The Labor Part is anxious to find out what is really behind his release and calls on the Government to come clean with all the information about his detention.

In particular we are concerned that Mr Habib’s release seems to be so close to the allegations that were raised last week about the conditions of his custody. Those allegations were very serious and they were about a range of torture methods. The Government dismissed those allegations at the time. It is just a little bit too coincidental that Mr Habib, the week after, is released. And we want to know the real situation and all the information that the Australian Government has.

JOURNALIST: Do you know if there is any truth in those allegations?

ROXON: We don’t. The Labor is not in a position to assess any of the evidence. But we are very concerned that it seems allegations were made and after three long years Mr Habib is now being released. We want to know if that was actually part of the story and if that is the reason why the US is now not going to proceed with any charges.

JOURNALIST: So is it likely that the case against Mr Habib crumbled because the evidence was obtained under duress?

ROXON: I don’t know. We suspect that could be the case. I am very concerned that we should have all of the information before us. The Government has been making very serious allegations and accusations against Mr Habib, but the US is now not going to try him. There must be some explanation for this. Either there is no evidence, or that evidence was obtained in such as way so that it can’t be used.

We want to get to the bottom of this because there are obviously serious implications for our relationship with the US and for integrity of the comments Mr Ruddock has made, if in fact there is some other explanation for this release.

JOURNALIST: How should Mr Habib be treated when he returns to Australia, because there is the suggestion that he will be kept under very close surveillance?

ROXON: That suggestion has been made and obviously we support the Government doing whatever is necessary to keep people under surveillance if they are of interest to the Government. We’re not privy to that information.

But I am concerned that when someone has been held in the US for nearly three years where there are virtually no rules, no protection, no access to lawyers and where that Australian Government has made no representation or advocacy on his behalf, that it can actually still come to the conclusion that when all those rules don’t apply and that there is no evidence, why does Australia have some different evidence and different view of the risk that this man poses.

It doesn’t all add up, and I don’t think the Government is telling us the whole story.

JOURNALIST: Does this have any bearing on what happens to David Hicks?

ROXON: I think is raises the issue that the Labor Party has repeatedly expressed concerns about. The military commission process is not a fair process. Justice will not be achieved through that process. We don’t

think the detention of people in Guantanamo Bay and the circumstances in which they are being detained is appropriate.

I think the fact that the Government can make assertions about Mr Habib and then find that the US is going to release him without charge does leave an even bigger question mark over the process that Mr Hicks is going through.

JOURNALIST: When he comes home would like to see some sort of trial to clear his name or so that the truth can come out.

ROXON: I think that the Government has plenty of information. They haven’t been slow to provide information that is inflammatory or that makes serious accusations about Mr Habib, but they don’t seem to be prepared to provide the other information either about the conditions in which he has been held or anything which would explain why those allegations aren’t correct. This has really been trial by media and I don’t

think that Australians think that is the right way to handle people who are serious suspects.

JOURNALIST: There has been some suggestion that he could face some charges down the track depending on what happens with Jack Thomas. What would you say about that?

ROXON: We’re are not in a position to know what evidence the Government has. But I think it is an appalling procedure for Australia’s Attorney-General to go through when the US has taken 3 years assessing all the evidence. They think there is not enough evidence to charge him, but then our Attorney-General is going to go out into the media and make allegations about various connections he has with Al Qaeda and others, knowing full well that they may never go before the court.

That’s not what the first law officer of our country should do. He shouldn’t run a trial by media. If he is going to be charged, lets do it property, lets not have all this wild speculation continuing even when the man is now due to be released without charge.

JOURNALIST: Do you fear he could be now subjected to harassment given what was said last night

ROXON: The comments that Mr Ruddock made at his press conference last night show that he intends to continue with a smear campaign. I think if he has evidence that could be used against Mr Habib then its his

obligation to then bring forward a prosecution. If he doesn’t then it is really time to back-off on those allegations.

I would like the Government to come clean with all the information they have. So much of it has been conducted in the public, but it is not fair to keep parts of it from the public when he is prepared to release other information.

JOURNALIST: Do you think Mr Habib has a claim for damages or defamation against the Australian Government?

ROXON: I think that is really a matter for Mr Habib and his family and his lawyers. Its not an issue which the Labor Party would comment on.

Our concern is with the way the Australian Government has mishandled this matter. And again we have seen an example of Mr Ruddock accusing first and back-tracking later. I don’t think he can keep doing that and get away with it.

JOURNALIST: On another matter, do you think Mr Latham will resign on Friday?

ROXON: Obviously I’m not going comment on the leadership. I’m here to talk about Mr Habib. We have an acting leader Chris Evans who has put out a statement about Mr Latham and his health. I must say from my

perspective if Mark is ill, I think he is entitled to recuperate in peace, and I look forward to the statement he will make later in the week.

JOURNALIST: Some senior Labor figures are now speculating this morning that he will be resigning, stepping down on Friday. What would you say about that?

ROXON: I think the media and others have been speculating in a way that has really got quite out of hand. I’m not going to make any comment about it. I’m not privy to the status of his health. As I say I think like any of us he is entitled to recuperate in peace if he’s been ill, and I look forward to the statement he will make on Friday.

JOURNALIST: Have you spoken to Mr Latham at all?

ROXON: No. Mark’s on leave, I haven’t spoken with him. We have an acting leader as you would obviously be aware and we conduct our business through the acting leader at the time.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible]..dies down.

ROXON: I’m not going to make any comment on that. It’s a normal process for someone to be able to take leave, whether its for holidays or for ill health. I think that everyone’s entitled to do that and we have competent people running the show in the mean time.

JOURNALIST: Do you think the situation has been handled badly though, that there is now this speculation?

ROXON: Obviously any political party doesn’t want this sort of speculation happening, I think it is an unnecessary distraction when there are so many other things that are happening in the world and in Australia. But clearly if someone is sick they are entitled to their relaxation and recuperation and I hope that these matters will be put to rest on when Mark makes his statement at the end of the week.

JOURNALIST: When Mark does make his statement, what do you expect the reaction to be?

ROXON: Well I think we are getting into more and more hypotheticals. I’ve made pretty clear I’m not here to comment on that, and we will all be in a better position on Friday when Mark has made his statement to talk about the issues more thoroughly then. Thank you.


For further information contact David Robinson on 03 9687 7355 or 0427 519 394