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Transcript of media conference: Perth: 30 September 2008: Consular Cases: Greg Crombie, Thomas McGuiness; Britt Lapthorne; North Korea Nuclear Program; Australians detained in Papua.



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MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS HON MR STEPHEN SMITH, MP

TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE

DATE: 30 September 2008

TITLE: Media Conference, Perth: Consular Cases: Greg Crombie, Thomas McGuiness; Britt Lapthorne; North Korea Nuclear Program; Australians detained in Papua

STEPHEN SMITH: Can I start just by making some remarks about the tragic events involving staff and students from the Winthrop Baptist College in Thailand over the last few days.

Firstly, on behalf of the Government, can I express our condolences to the families, the Crombie family and the McGuinness family, on the tragic death of Greg Crombie and Thomas McGuinness. Our thoughts are with them, as our thoughts are with the family members of the Thais who were also killed in the tragic event.

Can I also say that I'm pleased that officers of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, both in Australia and Thailand, were able to render consular assistance both to the travelling group, but also to families of the deceased and the injured.

I'm advised that the party will return to Australia tomorrow, will leave Bangkok today and return to Perth tomorrow. One of the students remains injured in hospital. Her mother is in Thailand with her and she'll return when she's able to travel. I'm advised that her injuries are not life threatening.

So can I again thank our officials for their good work in very difficult and tragic circumstances and again express our condolences to the families of the deceased.

Can I move to a second very difficult consular case, the case of Britt Lapthorne, the young Melbourne girl whose been missing in Croatia for nearly a fortnight. And again, can I express our best wishes to the family who are feeling the adverse effects of a family's worst

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nightmare. Their daughter has been missing for nearly a fortnight and these are terrible circumstances for any family, as I say, the worst nightmare for any parent.

Yesterday I received a full briefing from our officials both in Canberra and also when time zone allowed, spoke to our Ambassador on a couple of occasions in Zagreb. And can I indicate what arrangements have been put in place, in addition to the consular assistance and consular contact from Australian officials, with Croatian officials, from the 19 September, when we were advised that Miss Lapthorne was missing.

Yesterday, after discussions with officials in Canberra and the Ambassador, we put into place a number of measures. Firstly, the Croatian authorities agreed that an Australian Federal Police Officer could join the investigation. That Australian Federal Police Officer will travel

from London to Croatia in the course of the day and will spend time both in Zagreb and Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik of course is where Miss Lapthorne went missing and where the local investigation is occurring. That police officer will render assistance to the investigation, to the inquiry. And we're very pleased with the cooperation that we've received from the Croatian authorities in that respect.

Secondly, yesterday officials in Canberra indicated to the Croatian Ambassador the high degree of concern about Miss Lapthorne's disappearance and indicated that the Australian Government would hope that no stone would be left unturned in seeking to ascertain her whereabouts.

As coincidence would have it, there's an Australian Parliamentary delegation which arrived in Zagreb last night. That delegation is headed by Senator Hogg, the President of the Senate and yesterday arrangements were put in place for Senator Hogg to meet with the Croatian Minister for Interior today, to raise our concerns about Miss Lapthorne's disappearance with

the Minister. The Minister for the Interior, of course, is responsible, or has ministerial oversight over police investigations, and that will occur today.

Senator Hogg, in the course of the next couple of days, will also see the President and the Prime Minister and raise the case with them. The delegation, later in the week, will also go to Dubrovnik and Senator Hogg will meet with relevant local officials to raise the investigation and the case with them. And so I'm pleased that the President of the Senate, by coincidence, happens to be in Croatia with the parliamentary delegation and the delegation led by Senator Hogg will raise this case with those relevant ministers.

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Arrangements have been put in place for me to have a conversation with my Croatian counterpart, Foreign Minister Jandrokovic. That will occur later this afternoon Perth time, early morning Croatian time.

So this is a very difficult case. Our hearts go out to the family. But this is an investigation being conducted by Croatian authorities on Croatian soil and we're pleased they have cooperated with our request to have an Australian Federal Police Officer associated with the inquiry.

Finally, can I just indicate that in respect of another difficult consular case, the five Australians currently detained in Papua. You might recall that in the last couple of weeks the five Australians landed in Papua, allegedly, and the facts seem to indicate this without either air traffic, security or visa approval.

They're currently detained in an immigration detention centre. Our officials have been in continual contact with Indonesian officials seeking to resolve this matter. For the present, they remain in immigration detention facility in Papua. They are receiving consular assistance from two of our officers who are on the ground in Papua.

I'm happy to respond to questions on these matters and any other matters you wish to raise.

QUESTION: Mr Smith have you spoken to the family?

STEPHEN SMITH: Yes I spoke to the father, I spoke to Dale Lapthorne last night, Perth time. And I indicated to him the content of the briefings that I'd received from our officials. My conversations with our Ambassador in Croatia indicated to him the action that we were putting in place and indicated to him that we would, of course, be monitoring this assiduously, as our officials have been from day one. I do want to make the point this is a Croatian investigation on Croatian soil. From the moment our officials were advised of Miss Lapthorne's disappearance, our officials have been in contact, regular contact with Croatian authorities.

QUESTION: Then why has it taken so long to actually offer the assistance

STEPHEN SMITH: Well I returned...

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QUESTION: [Indistinct] quite critical that it's taking a long time to [indistinct].

STEPHEN SMITH: Well in these circumstances I think the family frankly is entitled to say whatever they want to say. These are terrible circumstances for the family and I think everyone would understand that whatever the family says, I'm happy for the family to say that. My conversation with Mr Lapthorne last night, my starting point was, of course, the very

difficult circumstances the family found themselves in. So the family's entitled, in my view, to say whatever they want.

My responsibility is to ensure that no stone's being left unturned to try and find Miss Lapthorne.

QUESTION: But why has it taken so long for Australian authorities to get involved?

STEPHEN SMITH: That's not the case. Australian authorities have been in contact with Croatian authorities from the first moment they received advice she was missing which was on the 19 September. And they have been in regular contact on a daily basis, with Croatian

officials since then. Our Ambassador has been on the case, in Croatia, including in the media, drawing her disappearance to attention.

QUESTION: Are you...

STEPHEN SMITH: I returned from New York on Sunday evening. Yesterday, Monday, as I said, I received a full briefing from our officials in Canberra and also when the time zone allowed spoke to our Ambassador. As a consequence of those discussions and as a consequence of our conversations with Croatian authorities, which included conversations both in Canberra and in Zagreb, we are taking the additional measures that I have referred to and we hope that they may help find the whereabouts of Miss Lapthorne.

QUESTION: And do you share any of the - there are concerns about the way the authorities over there are handling this, that they're searching for her rather than investigating her disappearance? Do you share those concerns?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well I'm not proposing and I'm not in the position to second guess the investigations being conducted by the Croatian authorities. I make this point; there have been two occasions in the past where Australia has had close contact with Croatian authorities. The

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first, a couple of years ago, was the disappearance of an Australian national. And the second involved a terrible car accident involving Australian citizens. And on both those occasions the cooperation with the Croatian police and authorities was first class, just as the cooperation on this occasion has been first class.

The family have indicated their concerns about aspects of the Croatian inquiry, and partly as a consequence of that, partly as a result of my briefing from officials yesterday, we requested the Croatian authorities to allow an Australian Federal Police officer to be associated with the investigation. That's now occurring.

QUESTION: [Inaudible question]

STEPHEN SMITH: I'm not proposing to second guess the Croatian investigation. My responsibility is to try and ensure that everything that Australia can do is being done. Bear in mind what we can do is limited by the fact that it is a Croatian investigation on Croatian soil.

QUESTION: Is Mr Lapthorne happy with what you had to say?

STEPHEN SMITH: Mr Lapthorne can speak for himself, I'm not proposing to put words into his mouth. But he was very pleased when I advised him that an Australian Federal Police officer would be associated with the investigation firstly; and secondly, that President of the Senate, Senator Hogg would be raising the case with Ministers; and thirdly, that I would be speaking with my Foreign Minister counterpart. When I spoke to him last night that conversation had not been confirmed, it was confirmed overnight by our officials from Croatia. But he was, I think, particularly pleased that the Croatian authorities had agreed to an Australian Federal Police Officer being associated with the investigation.

Now my understanding is that the officer will arrive in Zagreb sometime this afternoon or this evening Croatian time, will get briefings in Zagreb and then subsequently go to Dubrovnik to get briefings and review arrangements in Dubrovnik.

QUESTION: [Inaudible question]

STEPHEN SMITH: Well so far as North Korea is concerned our very strong position is that North Korea should be open, honest and up front about its nuclear program. It should comply with two things. It should comply with the Security Council resolutions. And it should

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comply with the verification measures requested by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The so-called group of six have been very active in seeking to bring North Korea to account, and Australia has been very supportive, not just of the United Nations security council resolutions but also of the actions of the group of six.

When I was in New York I had a meeting with the Deputy Secretary of State Hill who updated me on the group of six activities, I indicated to him Australia's continuing support. We, of course, have sanctions in place, and indicated to Mr Hill that we continued to support very much the actions of the group of six. And we'll continue to give support to their activities through the International community forums including the United Nations. So we support strongly the efforts that Deputy Secretary of State Hill and the other group of six are engaging in trying to bring North Korea to account so far as its nuclear program is concerned.

QUESTION: [Inaudible question]

STEPHEN SMITH: No. They have been detained by Indonesian authorities. They're currently detained in a detention centre. Our officials both in Jakarta and on the ground in Papua have been in conversation with the Indonesian authorities seeking to resolve the matter. But on the basis of the facts as they appear to be, the five have entered Papua apparently without security, air traffic control or visa authority.

QUESTION: Do you know what they were doing there?

STEPHEN SMITH: No, I don't. I've seen suggestions that they were there either as tourists or contemplating tourist possibilities for the future. But I've only seen that from media reports. I'm dealing with the facts as I know it which is we have five Australian citizens in an

immigration detention centre in Papua. Our officials are working very hard with Indonesian officials to seek to resolve the case. But it appears as though they have landed by aircraft in Papua without the relevant authorities, either air traffic control, visa or security. We're seeking to resolve it with Indonesian officials.

QUESTION: [Inaudible question]

STEPHEN SMITH: No charges have yet been laid and we're seeking to resolve it with Indonesian officials.

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QUESTION: [Inaudible question]

STEPHEN SMITH: Well it's not helpful for me to categorise people's conduct. My responsibility in these matters is to make sure they're being given the Consular assistance that they require. That's occurring with two of our officers on the ground in Papua. It's also occurring through our officials in Jakarta making representations direct to Indonesian officials in Jakarta as well as representations being made on the ground in Papua.

QUESTION: [Inaudible question]

STEPHEN SMITH: Well we had terrible and tragic circumstances. Our officials travelled to the scene where the lightning strike occurred, helped with transport arrangements and helped with greeting next of kin and family members when they arrived at Bangkok to meet up with the staff and students. They have provided the sorts of assistance that we expect our officials to render to Australians in distress.

Whilst there were terrible and tragic circumstances, on this case we were able, in my view, to offer a great deal of support and comfort and assistance to the family, which largely revolves around travel arrangements and assisting on the ground. We also assisted in getting the travelling party back from where the lightening strike occurred in the north of Thailand, to Bangkok.

But there are limits on what we can do and this is the point I make in respect of the Lapthorne case where it's more than just trying to render travel or other assistance. We're dealing with a Croatian investigation on Croatian soil.

So whilst we endeavour to do everything we can, for Australians overseas, very often our capacity is limited and dependent upon either the legal systems or the cooperation of the relevant government of the sovereign nation state where Australians are. Which is why we always indicate to Australians who are travelling abroad to consult our travel advice, but also

to respect the laws of the land, or the laws of the country to which they are travelling.

STEPHEN SMITH: Oh, we're very concerned. We are very, very concerned by North Korea's continued refusal to comply with UN Security Council resolutions to comply with the verification requirements of the International Atomic Energy Agency and its refusal to comply with previous agreements with the group of six.

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QUESTION: [Inaudible question - Papua]

STEPHEN SMITH: Well no charges have yet been laid, so I never speculate in advance of events.

QUESTION: [Inaudible question - Papua]

STEPHEN SMITH: When people travel to any country they need to respect the laws of the country they're travelling to, including security, visa and travel arrangements.

Okay. Thanks very much.

[Ends]