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Monday, 22 September 2014
Page: 10087

Mr COULTON (ParkesThe Nationals Chief Whip) (11:58): I would also like to acknowledge the member for Werriwa and thank him for bringing this important motion to the parliament. I rise to speak in support of this motion. Peter Greste has a distinguished career with a number of media organisations working right across the world. His plight first came to my attention in December when his brother Andrew, who is a constituent of mine and is a farmer out near Wee Waa, sent me an email outlining the situation that his brother Peter was in. At that time, I contacted the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop. I understand that, in a myriad of ways, Australia has been endeavouring to help Peter Greste return home.

Peter Greste graduated in journalism from the University of Queensland. He has worked everywhere from regional Victoria to Afghanistan. The respect that his colleagues have shown for him throughout the trial has been an accurate indication of the regard in which he is held. Mr Greste is no stranger to tragedy, and indeed in 2005 he witnessed his producer, Kate Peyton, being killed by being shot in the back outside their hotel in the Somali capital of Mogadishu. In reflection on her death, he said:

We were working together on the story, just the two of us, and we both knew what we were getting into.

It was a risk we both judged to be worth taking, if only because so few reporters have been into Somalia in the past decade, and nobody can hope to make a considered judgment of either Africa or Islamic extremism without understanding why that country has remained so anarchic.

Peter had only been in Egypt for two weeks when he was arrested in his hotel room. Since his arrest his legal team have announced to the public that they have lodged an appeal against his conviction. At the moment we do not have any clear idea about the time lines for this appeal process. This is obviously distressing not only for Peter Greste but for his entire family. Mr Greste is receiving regular visits from consular officials in Cairo and we will continue to provide support to Mr Greste. Mr Greste's parents, who have been based in Cairo since late June, have also been able to visit Peter and I would like to also comment on the great courage and dignity that Mr and Mrs Greste have shown through this incredible ordeal.

The Australian government has, at every opportunity, expressed concern about the way in which this case has unfolded. Representations have been made to the relevant Egyptian authorities throughout Mr Greste's trial, including by the foreign minister and the Prime Minister. As the Prime Minister has said, these journalists were just doing their job. We do have to acknowledge that Mr Greste is subject to the Egyptian justice system, however frustrating that may be. The Prime Minister has publicly stated his commitment to taking all reasonable action to ensure Peter Greste and his colleagues are released as quickly as possible. The Australian government has been clear: we respect the outcome of the recent elections in Egypt, but Mr Greste's trial highlights the concern that we have about Egypt's commitment to the transition to democracy.

Inherent to any good democracy is a free press. These sentiments have been echoed by leaders around the world including US Secretary of State John Kerry and United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron, as well as representatives of the highest level from New Zealand, Canada, Germany and the Netherlands. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also issued a statement about their deep concern at the court decision of 24 June. In the statement, Secretary-General Ban described the trial as having proceedings that clearly appear not to meet the basic fair trial standards. It is clear that the Egyptian authorities are completely aware that the Australian government is seeking Mr Greste's release in order for him to return to his family as quickly as possible. We support an expeditious appeal process and we will continue to work with Mr Greste and his family throughout this process. I acknowledge the great courage that Peter Greste has shown through this horrendous ordeal and my sincere hope is that he returns to Australia sooner rather than later.