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Monday, 22 September 2014
Page: 10085

Mrs PRENTICE (Ryan) (11:48): I am happy to second the motion, Mr Deputy Speaker. I rise to speak on this motion today with a heavy heart. On the day of Peter Greste's sentencing, 23 June, I introduced a motion to this place commending the government for their continued representations on his behalf. I acknowledge that my colleagues from all sides joined with me in the hope of a just and proper outcome; however, this was not the case. Unfortunately, on this occasion justice was denied. Being a journalist is not a crime; telling the truth is not terrorism. I spoke with Peter's parents, Lois and Juris, following the sentencing and they assured me that they and Peter were not giving up and that they would appeal and make every possible effort. The Australian government has not given up either and continues to take up opportunities to raise this case with the Egyptian government and authorities.

As a result of the large number of official representations already made on Peter's case since December 2013, the government is confident that Egyptian authorities are fully aware of the importance of this case. The foreign minister has assured me that the Australian Embassy in Cairo will continue to provide consular assistance to Peter, and this includes regular visits. Unfortunately, Peter Greste's case must exhaust all legal processes before a pardon or presidential clemency can even be raised.

There have been a number of instances where our government has made representations to the Egyptian authorities, and the government has made it clear that it supports an expedited appeal process so that this case can be finally resolved and so that Peter can be allowed to return home to his family. From Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop and Attorney-General Senator Brandis to senior bureaucrats, including Australia's Ambassador to Egypt, Dr Ralph King, all have continued to make representations at the highest levels on behalf of Peter Greste. Obviously not all the behind-the-scenes works are for public discussion. Prime Minister Abbott spoke by telephone to the then interim President Mansour on 27 March, expressed his appreciation for the President's letter to Mr Greste's parents and sought assistance from the President to bring about an early resolution of the case and Mr Greste's release.

The case of Peter Greste is incredibly concerning. A free press is in every person's and every country's interests. As Prime Minister Tony Abbott stated:

A free press will help every country, including Egypt, to be better in the months and years ahead and obviously a free press is not compatible with harassing journalists going about their ordinary business.

The trial of Peter Greste has also received notable international reactions. In January the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, said:

We have consistently expressed our serious concern about the limits on freedom of peaceful assembly and expression in Egypt … The United States again urges all sides to condemn and prevent violence and to move towards an inclusive political process based on the rule of law and respect for the fundamental freedoms of all Egyptians.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has also called for the release of Mr Greste. A spokesperson for the high commissioner said that the arrest was based on 'vague charges', was of great concern and had increased fears among the general media. In a White House press briefing in February, spokesman Jay Carney said that the tension was 'of deep concern' to the administration: 'We have strongly urged the Egyptian government to drop these charges.'

With the ongoing appeal process, I think I can speak for all Australians when I say we are hopeful for a positive outcome, and our hearts go out to Lois and Juris and their family during this tough time.

Journalism is an honourable profession. We rely on the integrity of journalists as a primary source of our information—information upon which we base judgements and decisions. We rely on the courage of journalists who report from troubled places, who place their lives at risk to report the facts. Peter Greste is a journalist of integrity, a journalist of courage. He is a constant reminder of the importance of freedom of speech, particularly in the Middle East. I am honoured to stand today beside my colleagues from all sides of politics to demonstrate our united and unwavering support for Peter and his colleagues. I look forward to the day when we can welcome Peter Greste to this place and thank him for his courage and integrity. I commend the motion to the House.