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Parliamentary Secretary discusses Tallaal Adrey and Douglas Wood.

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Wednesday 18 May 2005

Parliamentary Secretary discusses Talaal Adri and Douglas Wood


TONY EASTLEY: The Federal Government has defended its handling of the case of Talaal A dri. Overnight in Kuwait, Australia's acting head of Mission in the Gulf State raised the matter with authorities there. 


Bruce Bilson is the Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and he joins us now. 


Mr Bilson, good morning. Did the head of the Australian mission get anywhere in his meeting overnight? 


BRUCE BILSON: Tony, the meeting overnight with the interior minister of Kuwait was quite encouraging. We'd outlined, at that stage, more than 16, 17 separate representations to Kuwaiti authorities to gain access to Mr Adri. The Interior Minister understood that effort and undertook to assist us in gaining access to him. 


It seems to be some confusion within the Kuwaiti authorities initially about whether Mr Adri was a dual citizen and therefore they may have believed access to foreign government representatives was not appropriate, but we've asserted Mr Adri's status as an Australian citizen and have pressed vigorously now 18 times to gain access to him, as is his entitlement. 


TONY EASTLEY: Why has it taken so long for action to get anywhere, do you think? Mr Adri's family says he's been kept in solitary confinement for three months. 


BRUCE BILSON: Uh, Mr… I can understand the anxiety of Mr Adri's family, and we share the concerns for Mr Adri's well-being.  


There's been persistent and ongoing efforts to gain access to Mr Adri, even to the point where our consular official attended the prison where he was being detained, encouraged by the hope that we would get to meet him, only to be turned away at the door.  


Mr Adri's family are receiving regular visits to him, and in fact Mr Adri has been able to make a phone call out of the prison to our consular officials. 


So there's been great vigour and effort gone into gaining access to Mr Adri, and we're optimistic that the contact overnight will see consular access provided. 


TONY EASTLEY: Do you think Australians were present or other westerners were present when Mr Adri was interrogated, as his family and his lawyer claim? 


BRUCE BILSON: Well, I've heard that report on a piece carried on the ABC last night, and have again checked with Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials, and been assured and reassured again that there was no Australian official present, and that… it seemed an odd claim to make, given that we've gone to such considerable efforts to try and gain access to Mr Adri. But there's certainly no evidence to back-up a claim of that kind. 


TONY EASTLEY: You say that the last representation was the 18th. When did the Australian officials start making representations about this man? 


BRUCE BILSON: Well, the day after Mr Adri's family contacted us, advising that he'd been detained by security, state security officials in Kuwait, that very next day efforts began at that point and have followed through with a number of representations on the ground in Kuwait. Minister Downer's actually personally met with the visiting Kuwaiti Parliamentary Delegation and pressed Mr Adri's consular rights.  


We've had a number of contacts with Kuwaiti officials here on the ground in Australia, including me personally ringing the Kuwaiti ambassador, and our department officials have maintained an ongoing vigorous campaign to get representation in to see Mr Adri (inaudible). 


TONY EASTLEY: So what about claims that the Government only got really interested when the media was tipped off about Mr Adri? 


BRUCE BILSON: That's a wildly inaccurate claim that is not supported by the ongoing effort that's gone into assisting Mr Adri. 


TONY EASTLEY: Do you think now that Australian consular officials will get access quite soon? 


BRUCE BILSON: Well, our reports from our acting Head of Mission overnight have been quite encouraging. The interior minister has tasked some of his officials to liaise with internal security and justice officials in other departments, to find out what the blockage is in consular officials gaining access to Mr Adri, and we're optimistic that that assurance will see access granted very shortly. 


TONY EASTLEY: Now, Bruce Bilson, as Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, I've got one other question for you. Channel Nine is reporting this morning that Sheikh Hilaly has some information that would suggest that Douglas Wood - the man being held captive in Iraq - may be released quite soon within the next 24 hours. Do you have any information about Douglas Wood? 


BRUCE BILSON: Not at this stage. Our information is that… we've seen those reports, Tony, and we're having our officials try and liaise with the Sheikh on the ground. As you'd be aware, there's quite a coordinated and active effort from many representatives to secure a good outcome for Mr Wood, and that news is certainly encouraging, although it's unconfirmed and we're making efforts to establish the veracity of that information. 


TONY EASTLEY: So, can you say there is some reason for optimism? 


BRUCE BILSON: Uh, it would be reckless of me to say so, Tony. I haven't been able to confirm those reports, and we're certainly pursuing them as we speak. 


TONY EASTLEY: Bruce Bilson, Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, thank you. 


BRUCE BILSON: Thank you.