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Foreign Minister discusses detention in Iraq of Nuri Alwan from Adelaide.

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DATE: November 24 2003 TITLE: Radio 5AN ABC Adelaide

Journalist: There’s been a bit of criticism earlier today that Mr Alwan’s family shouldn’t have been left in the dark. Well there’s a very simple reason behind all of that. Alexander Downer, Minister for Foreign Affairs - good afternoon to you.

Downer: Yes, good afternoon Kevin.

Journalist: Now you are restricted in what information you can pass on to what family members I understand, is that right?

Downer: Absolutely. Under the Privacy Act we can’t just pass on information to anybody we want. If the individual involved asks us not to, and in this particular case the gentleman involved, and they’ve still asked us not to confirm his name so excuse me honouring that, but I’m going to - he asked the Department to be in touch with his fiancée throughout the period he was detained, which obviously was done. But he did specifically ask that his other family members not be contacted. Now, it’s not for me to ask why that was the case, or for the Department to ask why. That’s entirely a matter for him.

Journalist: And you are bound by the privacy laws on that matter?

Downer: Yes, that’s right. You’re not only bound by a legal technicality. You’re bound by common decency if that’s what the person requests for whatever reason there may be behind it. And I wouldn’t even speculate on that.

Journalist: Now what is the latest information you have regarding his release and what condition he’s in?

Downer: I understand he’s ok. I don’t know that the circumstances he’s been in have been terribly comfortable. He’s obviously been very concerned about being caught up in the way he has been caught up with this sweep on a house, which the British suspected was being occupied by Saddam loyalists. So he just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. And given what we know about him it seems very unlikely he himself would have been a Saddam loyalist. But anyway, I think his feeling now is he would like to come back to Australia. And that’s understandable. So, no doubt he’ll make his way back pretty soon.

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Journalist: Are you able to assist him in respect of that?

Downer: Well he’ll be able to make his own way back. He has been over there on a contract. He hasn’t been there very long actually. He’s only been there for a month. He arrived in Iraq, I understand, in October to fulfil a contract there. But it’s understandable he wants to come back.

Journalist: Unusual case isn’t it?

Downer: It is unusual. It’s bad luck. I mean it is bad luck for him, and our Embassy there in Baghdad has been able to speak to him and make sure he’s alright. But as you can imagine in an environment like that it’s a high pressure environment. The British and the Americans and others are doing what they can to try to round up Saddam loyalists, the people who are largely responsible for perpetrating these acts of violence against any manner of people in Iraq. So, he just happened to be, as I’ve said in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s bad luck for him.

Journalist: That coupled with the change in domestic arrangements though, has made it a little bit difficult for you. As you say you’re bound by the Privacy Act, and there’s been a lot of criticism over the last twelve hours or so.

Downer: We get criticised the whole time. It just comes with the territory. Don’t become the Foreign Minister, or work in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade if you’re not prepared to put up with that. It’s just part of the job. And look, I’m sorry if people feel that way but we have to abide by the law. And also do the right thing. As I’ve said it’s not really for me to speculate on why he made the judgements he made. That’s entirely a matter for him. And I would just respect his decisions.

ENDS………………………………………………………………November 24 2003