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Monday, 22 September 2014
Page: 10086

Dr CHALMERS (Rankin) (11:53): I rise to support the important motion moved by the member for Werriwa and commend him for moving it. In most democracies the media and the judiciary are two parts of a single story. The best of these institutions are motivated by the same objective: the pursuit of truth in the interests of all the people. Nations function best when the press and the justice system serve to strengthen not weaken each other. But when these institutions fail, and if they are pitted against each other, if one or other is compromised, freedom and justice are threatened and contaminated. It is real, honest, innocent people who can be the victims. So it was in the appalling and heart-wrenching case of Peter Greste in Egypt this year.

As the member for Werriwa mentioned, Peter is a distinguished journalist with more than 25 years of experience working for an array of high-quality agencies, including Reuters, CNN, WTN, BBC and Al Jazeera. His experience in the industry is extensive and diverse, having worked for bureaus in London, Bosnia, South Africa, Chile, Mexico, Belarus, Afghanistan, Kenya, Somalia and most recently, of course, in Egypt. It was in this last location that Peter became a news story himself, as the injustice and unfairness that he suffered at the hands of the Egyptian judicial system was disseminated around the world.

Accused and convicted of spreading false news and conspiring against certain powerful groups in Egypt, he was shamefully sentenced in June this year to seven years in prison just for doing his job as a journalist. What is more, the process that led to his arrest and conviction, along with that of his two other colleagues from Al Jazeera, was fraught with procedural irregularities and extraordinary breaches of the principles that underlie any just and reasonable system of law. Throughout this whole process, the government and the opposition here in Australia have been united in condemnation of the miscarriage of justice that is the Peter Greste case. At what must be an awful time for his family, for his parents and for his brothers, Mike and Andrew, who live here in Australia, our hearts go out to them. We have no alternative but to maintain hope that the appeal lodged in August will be successful and that Peter will be granted freedom.

We all heard the words of Egypt's envoy to Australia that Peter will be back home in Brisbane sooner rather than later, and many of us were encouraged by them, although we have learned over the past few months not to get our hopes up. Our message to the Greste family must be that the Australian parliament will stand with them for as long as it takes to free their beloved son and brother. Peter Greste's brother Andrew wrote an article recently in TheSydney Morning Herald. He described how, throughout most of his professional career, the idea of constitutionally enshrined press freedom was just an abstract principle. It is an important principle but it is not an abstract one. It needs to be protected and advanced. It needs constant attention.

In many countries, freelance journalists and foreign correspondents risk their lives every day to maintain our awareness of the situations unfolding throughout the world. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, we have seen 36 journalists killed on the job around the world this year. We have seen the shocking and deplorable public executions of Steven Sotloff and James Foley in Syria that haunted televisions around the world. And there have been less-well-publicised but equally devastating murders in Iraq, Israel, Ukraine, Pakistan, Brazil, Mexico and Africa. Each and every death, and each and every journalist who lives in fear of harm or detention, is a tragedy for the profession and a tragedy for all of us who depend on their work for information and for knowledge.

The Labor Party believes fundamentally in the freedom of journalists to be able to do their work, as does, I think, every member in this place—and I commend the member for Ryan for her remarks a moment ago. We will continue to stand beside Peter and his family, and all the journalists who risk their lives in the course of their important work. They should never be imprisoned or harmed for doing their job and for reporting the news. That is why this is an important motion moved by the member for Werriwa, and that is why I am proud to support it.