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Tuesday, 11 February 2014
Page: 84

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Senator MILNE (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (17:44): by leave—I rise to take note of Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop's response to a Senate motion regarding the Arctic Sunrise that was agreed by the Senate on 2 December, and I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I remind the Senate: this motion, which was carried, supported the right to freedom of assembly and peaceful protest. It expressed deep concern about Russia's disproportionate charges of hooliganism against two journalists and 28 crew of the Greenpeace vessel Arctic Sunrise. It also urged the Prime Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs to be in continuous direct contact with the Russian government, to urge it to abide by the law of the sea and also to help ensure the release of Colin Russell, Australian citizen. I note that the minister has indicated that she and the government had done everything possible, and I just want to note that I do not believe that that is the case.

I want to first put on the record the gratitude of the Greens, of the Australian community, and of the family—who have said this publicly—for the excellent assistance of the consular staff, who, at all times, supported Colin Russell and did everything they could on the ground. When Mr Russell came home, he again praised the brilliant consular support that he had received. So I am not making comment about people in the consular service; they did a great job.

The point here is: the Prime Minister did not engage, at any level, compared to countries of the other people detained. The Netherlands' Prime Minister held a press conference and initiated action against Russia. The British Prime Minister called President Putin. The French Prime Minister met with the Russian Prime Minister and President. Germany did not even have any of its citizens jailed, and yet its Chancellor still expressed her concern. The best that Australia did is that the minister wrote to the Russian foreign minister. There was no formal meeting with him or any other Russian minister. The highest level reached was a side meeting with the deputy foreign minister. Well, I do not think that is good enough, especially given that, in opposition, the now Prime Minister, then opposition leader, Tony Abbott, criticised the Labor Party with regard to two Australian businessmen who were being held in the Middle East. And when Tony Abbott became Prime Minister he went to the Middle East and had a meeting with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi to secure the release of Mr Joyce and Mr Lee. I think that, at the very least, when he was at APEC the Prime Minister had the opportunity to raise this issue with President Putin, and he did not.

I would urge him now to reflect on that and to act in the case of Peter» «Greste» , who is an Australian journalist now being held in Egypt and will face trial later this month, beginning on 20 February. Again, I want to congratulate the Australian consular officials in Egypt, who are doing a fantastic job. I have been assured by the family that not only have the consular officials been doing everything possible to assist «Peter» «Greste» but also here in Australia they have been supporting the family and keeping them informed to the best of their ability to do so.

I particularly want to call on the Prime Minister to do more. I know that Minister Bishop has been in contact with her counterpart in Egypt; I am aware of that. But I think that, given the seriousness of the charges that have now been laid against Mr «Greste» ; given the fact that he is going to face trial, beginning 20 February; and given the global campaign that is now underway—we have had the human rights chief of the United Nations and senior political figures in the US speaking out—it is time that the Australian Prime Minister spoke out on behalf of «Peter» «Greste» and took this matter up in the same way that he was prepared to do for two Australian businessmen who were being held in the Middle East.

I understand that, whilst Minister Bishop has said it is not possible for a nation to interfere in criminal proceedings in another country, precisely when Prime Minister Abbott went to see the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, the charges were reversed. So I think that the behaviour of the Prime Minister previously sets a precedent. He has been prepared to intervene personally in the case of Australian citizens, and I would urge him to do so in the case of «Peter» «Greste» . There is a global campaign now being run by journalists around the world, by Al Jazeera colleagues. It is well worth noting that this is also about the safety of journalists and a free and fair press. Mr «Greste» has worked for Reuters, for CNN, for the BBC; he is a well-known, respected journalist accused of very serious crimes. I do not want to see a situation—as occurred previously with Colin Russell—where there is not the level of political engagement that is necessary. That engagement occurred for many other leaders around the world. I would urge that the Australian government, the Prime Minister, now intervene on behalf of «Peter» «Greste» .

In relation to Colin Russell, I want to say how pleased I am that he is now home with his family. I think it is important that, again, the right to peaceful protest is reaffirmed, because we are going to see, clearly, with global warming, a fight over the resources of the Arctic, and this was a measure to show the world what response the Russian government would take to nonviolent peaceful protest highlighting the impacts of global warming and of course oil drilling and fossil fuel extraction.

We have to have an ability for the world to be able to express its concern—for other countries, places and people to be able to express their concern. Equally, we need a free and fair press, and that is exactly what «Peter» «Greste» was doing in reporting on the situation in Egypt for Al Jazeera. I think all Australians would be horrified to think that he now faces a seven-year jail sentence because he has been charged under article 86 of the Criminal Code. He has been accused of collaborating with the Egyptians by providing them with, money, equipment, information, airing false news and so on.

It is really important now that a point is made about the Australian Prime Minister's support for freedom of the press. I note that he said at a press conference today that he supports a free media. I am glad to hear that he supports a free media abroad and recognises that detaining journalists who are going about their ordinary business is not conducive to the kind of free media that, in the end, is in the long-term best interests of everyone.

Having made that observation, I call on the Prime Minister to intervene in the case of «Peter» «Greste» as soon as he possibly can, because the charges that «Peter» «Greste» now faces are serious. I do believe that they are absolutely unjustified charges. I believe he was doing his job as a journalist and we should support him in what he was doing. As an Australian citizen, we should stand up for him.

I want to thank all those people who worked and stood up for Colin Russell throughout his ordeal. I also thank the other members on the crew and the journalists on the Arctic Sunrise. I am glad they are now all released. Including Greenpeace, I thank the people who were part of a strong global campaign. Let us get behind the campaign to free «Peter» «Greste» . I call on the Prime Minister to now personally intervene. I reiterate my thanks for the consular support that he is receiving and express how much that is appreciated. It was appreciated by Colin Russell's family, and is currently appreciated by «Peter Greste's family.

Question agreed to.