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Thursday, 5 February 2009
Page: 601

Mr OAKESHOTT (3:47 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. Prime Minister, what are you and your Minister for Foreign Affairs doing to secure the return to Australia of Old Bar resident Mr Keith Mortimer, who is one of five grey nomad senior Australians who went on an hour-long fun but ill-conceived joy-flight from Thursday Island, Australia to Mopah airport, Papua, Indonesia, and because of this seniors moment they have now been unfairly sentenced to two years in an Indonesian jail for visa confusions, much to the distress of family, friends and the relevant local communities? Prime Minister, surely sense can prevail and surely we can return these Australians soon.

Mr RUDD (Prime Minister) —I thank the honourable member for his question and the fact that he legitimately raises the interests of his constituents here. In terms of our dealings with the Indonesian government, we of course will exercise every effort on that. But to further update the member on actions taken by the government to date, with the indulgence of the House, I would ask the Foreign Minister to add to that.

Mr STEPHEN SMITH (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the Prime Minister for the opportunity to add to his remarks and I thank the member for his interest and his concern. The five Australians generally now known as the Merauke Five arrived in Merauke, part of Indonesia, allegedly without visas or appropriate travel and aviation authority. As a consequence of that they were detained by Indonesian authorities.

Effectively from the moment of their detention, Australian consular officials from Indonesia were there and rendered consular assistance. After appropriate investigation by Indonesian authorities, they were charged and subsequently tried and convicted of offences which I have referred to generally. They were sentenced and that sentence has been the subject of an indication by them that they are proposing to appeal.

Australian officials have ensured that they have had access to legal advice, and my most recent advice is that that appeal process is in the course of being prepared and will be lodged in the near future. They received an opportunity to apply for bail but decided, in conjunction with the advice of their lawyers, not to apply for bail, on the basis that any time they served in detention following their sentence in the first instance would be held in account for any sentence they were subject to in appeal.

I make this point, which is often not understood. When an Australian citizen, an Australian national, comes into contact with the legal system of another country, there is a limit to what Australia can do. That is not to say that Australia cannot or does not do anything. There is simply a limit to what we can do when one of our citizens in another country has to go through their legal processes. And the reverse of course applies.

If a national of another country falls within the processes of our criminal legal jurisdiction, they are subject to it. On more than one occasion an Australian government has indicated to a foreign national that it would be inappropriate for the government of the day to seek to interfere in the legal processes of our own country. The same rule applies in respect of the legal processes of another country.

We have made the point to the Indonesian authorities through our officials in Indonesia that we are very concerned about their welfare, very concerned and interested in the outcome of the legal processes. On the basis of personal conversations with our ambassador and consultations with our consular officials, I am satisfied that everything that we can do in a consular sense, everything that we can do in terms of expressing our concerns to the Indonesians authorities, has been and continues to be done. In the meantime we await the outcome of the Indonesian judicial and legal processes.