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Foreign Minister discusses sentencing of David Hicks.

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Saturday 31 March 2007

Foreign Minister discusses sentencing of David Hicks


ELIZABETH JACKSON: Joining us now is the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer. 


Minister, you've just heard Michael Rowland's report. The jury, I guess, will ultimately decide how long David Hicks will serve, but what do you think? 


ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, obviously this is bringing to an end a long saga. We've always explained to the Australian public that David Hicks had been involved with al-Qaeda. We, of course, regard that as an extremely serious matter when you consider what al-Qaeda has done, you consider not just what it did on 9/11 and in other parts of the world, but also its links with Jemaah Islamiah and the association of al-Qaeda with terrorist activities in Indonesia. 


So for us it's always been a very serious matter. We've wanted to see a trial. The trial's taken place. 


Hicks has admitted now to… that the prosecution could clearly win a case against him. He's said that these facts, more or less the facts that are in the charge sheet, that they are consistent with his memory of events. So, you know, we're glad now that it's up to the sentencing point. 


ELIZABETH JACKSON: So is it your understanding that there will be a considerable suspension of at least a portion of the sentence? I mean, how long do you think he'll serve in Australia? 


ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, look, we won't have long to wait, but first of all this has to go to the military commission itself. 


The plea bargain has been done, as you've now heard. It goes to the military commission itself, and the military commission will make a decision in relation to the sentence, which will be confirmed by the judge. 


So I think it'd be inappropriate for me to talk about any of the details of the plea bargain. 


ELIZABETH JACKSON: Will the Australian Government honour the sentence, whatever it is? 


ALEXANDER DOWNER: Ah, yes, we will. I mean, we have a prisoner transfer agreement with the United States, so under that agreement Hicks can be … look, if Hicks applies to be brought back to Australia, we can agree to that, which we would do, if he makes that application, and he could serve out any sentence that is needed to be served here in Australia. 


But of course this is an international agreement. The sort of "Free David Hicks" campaign and people may wish, once he gets back to Australia, to start trying to get him out of prison immediately. We won't be facilitating that, because we have an agreement with the United States. 


ELIZABETH JACKSON: But there is a provision, isn't there, in that transfer agreement that the Australian Government could grant amnesty or commute the sentence if they so desired? 


ALEXANDER DOWNER: No, not if we desired, but it would obviously be … this is a sentence which is determined in the United States or by the United States authorities, to be specific here, and under the terms of the agreement they set the sentence, not us. Now…  


ELIZABETH JACKSON: So there's no provision for the Australian Government to commute the sentence? 


ALEXANDER DOWNER: Ah, no, and we wouldn't be doing that. We would not commute the sentence. The sentence would be carried out fully. 


And I say that with a bit of passion, because we take a very strong stand against terrorism, and I personally have seen the consequences on the ground in Bali and at our Australian Embassy, for Australians of terrorist attacks, and if any Australian gets involved in terrorist activities they get no sympathy from us. 


ELIZABETH JACKSON: Now, David Hicks has to be gone from Guantanamo Bay within 60 days. When are you expecting to see him arrive in Australia? 


ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, we're just in the process of working out all the logistics. I mean, there are logistical issues here, so within 60 days, certainly within 60 days. I don't think it'll take anything like as long as that. 


But there is the usual, as you can imagine with bureaucracies, there's the usual paperwork that has to be concluded, and that can't be done until the trial is really complete, although we expect that to be the case within the next day or so, once the military commission has dealt with the sentence. 


And then, of course, there's transport and so on, so none of that's been worked out yet. But it'll take a bit of time, but it won't be as much as 60 days, I suspect. 


ELIZABETH JACKSON: Where will he serve his sentence? 


ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, that's also yet to be confirmed, but it's likely that he would serve the sentence in one of the prisons in Adelaide. 


ELIZABETH JACKSON: Minister, just very briefly now, if you would, to another matter, the European Union has called for the immediate release of the 15 British naval personnel that are being held in Iran. I believe that you have recently intervened in this matter. 


ALEXANDER DOWNER: Look, I spoke on Thursday evening for about 25 minutes to the Iranian Foreign Minister. I offered to speak to the Iranians when I had a meeting earlier in the day with one of the British Foreign Ministers, and so I had quite a long conversation with the Iranian Foreign Minister about it. Of course his argument is that, well, the British have to admit their guilt for transgressing into Iranian territorial seas, and before any negotiation on the release can take place. 


But I made the point to him that this was, regardless of where the sailors were, whether they were on the Iraqi side, and all the evidence suggests they were, or whether, according to the Iranians they were on the Iranian side, this kind of seizing of the sailors and taking them away into Iran and putting them on television and so on was a completely disproportionate response, and risks isolating Iran still further from the bulk of the international community.  


And it made good sense for the Iranians to hand the sailors back to the British, and if they wish to protest they should protest any transgression of their border in the normal way, through diplomatic notes, not through seizing hostages. 


ELIZABETH JACKSON: Do you think you had much of an impact? 


ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, look, I have no idea, this actually hasn't been released yet, but, you know, this sort of incident can blow up into, as I said to the Iranian Foreign Minister, it can blow up into something increasingly serious, so it makes good sense for the Iranians to release the sailors forthwith. 


ELIZABETH JACKSON: Alexander Downer, thank you. 


ALEXANDER DOWNER: It's a pleasure. 


ELIZABETH JACKSON: That's the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer.