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Monday, 22 September 2014
Page: 10089

Ms HENDERSON (Corangamite) (12:08): I rise to add my voice to those of my parliamentary colleagues who have today shared their concern and frustration that Australian journalist Peter Greste remains behind bars in Egypt's Tora prison. I heartily welcome this opportunity to ensure Australia and the international community do not stop fighting for Mr Greste's freedom. As we have heard, Mr Greste was erroneously found guilty of spreading false news and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. He was sentenced to seven years in jail. As a former television journalist myself for many years, I was shocked by both the conviction and the severity of the sentence. This shock has resonated with journalists and foreign correspondents around the world. To describe this finding as unjust is a monumental understatement.

Peter Greste is a man who was simply doing his job: reporting the facts with integrity and with balance, without fear or favour. He was also, and is, a journalist of great distinction and courage. His track record speaks for itself. Mr Greste was not pushing any agenda other than that of a reporter seeking to report the truth.

In 1991, Mr Greste first left Australia to pursue his dreams of becoming a foreign correspondent. He had a long and notable career reporting from conflict zones, shining a light on some of the most disturbing aspects of humanity. He spent time working across Africa, the Middle East and South America for media outlets including CNN, Reuters, BBC and Al Jazeera. Notably, he reported from Kabul on the emergence of the Taliban. He returned to report from Afghanistan after 9/11. Mr Greste has also spent time in places including Bosnia, Mexico, Chile, Kenya and Tanzania. He moved to Mombasa on Kenya's Indian Ocean coast in 2004, where he became a freelancer.

In 2011, as we have heard, he won a prestigious Peabody Award for his documentary Somalia: Land of Anarchy. Six years earlier, his producer, Kate Peyton, was shot dead while they were reporting from Somalia's capital, Mogadishu. It shows the absolute courage and determination of the man that he would return to the scene of such an horrendous incident to complete the report they had been working on together. Peter Greste said later of Ms Peyton's death:

I was with her when she was shot. 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 judgement of either Africa or Islamic extremism without understanding why that country has remained so anarchic. So when I am asked who cares what happens at a dusty, poverty stricken, anarchic backwater on a corner of Africa, the answer is as simple as it is obvious: Kate Peyton cared.

Peter Greste laid bare the confronting truths about Somalia for the world to see, as he did in Egypt. Today I call on the Egyptian authorities to do the right thing and to release Mr Greste and his colleagues immediately. As we have heard, he was jailed along with Al Jazeera colleagues Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Baher Mohamed.

Our government will continue to take all opportunities to raise this case with the Egyptian government. The government has made clear that it supports an expeditious appeal process, so that this case can be finally resolved and Mr Greste allowed to return home to his family. The Australian embassy in Cairo will continue to provide consular assistance to Mr Greste, including visiting him on regular occasions. I commend foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, and Prime Minister Tony Abbott for the way they have handled this terrible situation. They, along with other Australian authorities and officials, have been making numerous representations to the Egyptian authorities.

We must now wait for the appeal to come before the court. We—of course, all parliamentarians here in Australia—are incredibly hopeful of a more favourable outcome. Egypt must realise that a free press is a crucial element to a democracy. I urge the court to make the right decision and send Mr Greste home to his family.

Debate adjourned.