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Friday, 25 November 2011
Page: 9711

Senator EGGLESTON (Western Australia) (16:41): On behalf of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee, I present the report titled Held hostage: government’s response to kidnappings of Australian citizens overseastogether with the Hansard record of proceedings and documents presented to the committee.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Senator EGGLESTON: I seek leave to move a motion in relation to the report.

Leave granted.

Senator EGGLESTON: I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

Senator EGGLESTON: I seek leave to incorporate an accompanying presentation speech into the Hansard record.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

Committee's report into the government's response to kidnapping of Australians overseas

On 23 June 2011, the Senate referred to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee an inquiry into the government's response to Australians kidnapped overseas.

The committee received 15 submissions and held two public hearings in Canberra.

From the outset, it was clear to the committee that the situation in the country where an Australian may be held captive limits the government's ability to work toward the victim's release.

For example, kidnappings often occur in areas experiencing economic and political turmoil, where law and order is weak, even non -existent, corruption is endemic and where Australia has little or no diplomatic or official representation.

The avenues for direct intervention may be too dangerous or attempts to exercise diplomatic influence unproductive.

A hostage situation involving an Australian citizen overseas presents many challenges for the government and the committee well aware that past responses should in no way be seen as indicative of that which may occur in the future. Any response will be very much determined by the circumstances of the day.

In this report, the committee looked closely at the government's response to incidents involving Australian citizens who have been kidnapped and held for ransom overseas. Particular attention was paid to three recent cases—

the kidnappings of Mr John Martinkus (Iraq, 2004), Mr Douglas Wood (Iraq, 2005) and Mr Nigel Brennan (Somalia, 2008-09).

The committee found that although such occurrences are infrequent, the global trend in this type of crime indicates that Australia must be prepared for another event.

One of the most compelling messages coming out of this inquiry was the importance of government agencies, especially the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), exercising greater care, consideration and diligence in the way they deal with the distressed families of a person kidnapped and held for ransom overseas.

The committee formed the view that DFAT must ensure that while its efforts are being directed toward the safe and expeditious release of a kidnapped victim, the family must also be a primary concern.

It must make every effort to keep families well informed about developments and to make them feel as though they are part of important decision-making.

If a family chooses to engage a private consultant, the department, while adhering to the government's no ransom policy, should continue to provide support to the family and do so in a generous and non-judgemental way.

In this regard, the committee recognised that government officers liaising with, and providing support to, a family require a particular tempera­ment as well as appropriate skills and training.

The support role of this specialist group should continue after the victim returns home in order to facilitate his or her smooth transition back into the Australian community, including assistance locating suitable counselling and medical services.

The committee also found that government officials should refrain from making unsubstan­tiated statements or comments that could be interpreted as politicising the kidnapping.

A debriefing from the relevant agencies that involves a genuine two-way exchange of information between the family and government officials is a critical aspect of the recovery period for the victim and the family.

In the committee's view, DFAT should offer, as an established practice, to conduct such a meeting and make arrangements for the victim of the kidnapping and family to attend, should they accept the invitation.

The committee has made eight recommendations directed at relevant government agencies with the intention, by and large, of ensuring that their engagement with the victims of kidnapping and their families is better directed at helping them through the ordeal.

These recommendations include:

The committee supports the establishment of the regular, whole of government coordinating group and recommends that DFAT give close consideration as to how it can maintain the high level of skills members of an interdepartmental emergency task force require to respond effectively to a kidnapping incident overseas.

The committee recommends that DFAT examine ways to improve its relationship with the media when dealing with a kidnapping situation and how it explains its media strategy to media organisations and family members at the outset of a crisis.

I conclude by reiterating that the way the government responds to the kidnapping of an Australian overseas is affected by a vast number of variables meaning that no standard or 'template' would ever be appropriate.

Any response will very much be dictated by the circumstances of the day.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.