19 February 2015
Transcript - #2015021, 2015

Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News Agenda, Canberra

SUBJECTS: David Hicks, Bali Nine, Leadership

KIERAN GILBERT:

I am joined live now from Melbourne by the Small Business Minister, Cabinet Minister Bruce Billson.

Mr Billson first on this speech, an important address there from the US President – our Government represented by the Attorney General George Brandis at that summit. A couple of significant messages – one is that Muslim leaders must do more, he says to oppose the idea that the West is trying to suppress Islam and also pointing to of course that very potent approach to social media which has proven so effective as a recruitment tool for the ISIS terrorists.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Yes, it was a good speech. I found a lot of the messages resonate well with the kind of thinking that I have and the Government shares. It is good to see such attention being given to it.

It was particularly important, I thought, how President Obama pointed to the need for purpose and engagement of young people that may be disaffected.

I was really quite taken Kieran, by the take home message which is encapsulated in our citizenship pledge about an allegiance to Australia and its people.

An embrace of democracy is the way of resolving problems. The respect for the liberties that we share and each of us shares and to uphold the law.

Those parameters are the building blocks of people with purpose and opportunity and that is our best antidote to terrorism in my view.

KIERAN GILBERT:

On the other breaking news this morning, David Hicks has had his conviction overturned. Should the Government now apologise for the role that it did not play I guess in terms of his detention, his incarceration at Guantanamo Bay and not fighting for his release earlier?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I do not think so. I do not think anyone is under a misapprehension about what was going on with Mr Hicks. He certainly was not at a scout jamboree and I do not think anyone is contesting that issue.

What the decision overnight reflects is the American legal system finding that the charge that he was convicted of and accepted a plea bargain in relation to was invalid. This is at the heart of one of the challenges we face and is not too dissimilar from what President Obama was saying.

Conflict used to be between countries. There were rules of engagement, participants were known as enemy combatants, military courts were structured to deal with that. Here, we have got non-state actors or other organisations involved. There was always that discussion about how to deal with people engaged or alleged to have been engaged in that activity. Is it a civil matter? Is it a military matter? Where is the law?

The law has caught up now but the decision overnight found that the law was not sound and the charge was not valid at the time Mr Hicks was charged. I hope he now has an opportunity to get on with a purposeful and meaningful life and as his father said in media interviews this morning – that should be the end of it.

KIERAN GILBERT:

To the Bali Nine case now. Indonesia, well its foreign ministry, said that no one responds well to threats. Tony Abbott said that Australia would respond unambiguously if the two young Australians are executed. Is it a bit rich of Indonesia to say they will not respond well to threats when they have not responded well to anything in terms of the pleas of clemency thus far?

MINISTER BILLSON:

I was a little disappointed in the reaction because what I heard the Prime Minister say was not a threat.

The point he was making and the point that is undisputable is that we have been a reliable and unfailingly supportive neighbour in times of need in Indonesia.

You know Kieran, and many of your viewers would know, I personally was carrying a lot of the day-to-day responsibility for the response to the Tsunami. To see courageous Australian men and women getting in, showing their humanity to our dear friends and neighbours next door because that is what good neighbours do.

Same with the Nias tragedy. To see our service personnel lose their life as our helicopter crashed, I was there with the family as they grieved with the local Nias community about what together we had been through. The point the Prime Minister was making is that we have been unfailing in our support, wanting nothing more than to do what a trusted and reliable friend would do. We are now asking Indonesia to embrace its own argument for its own citizens overseas to show clemency, to show grace, to provide an opportunity for mercy.

And let us remember the crime that these gentlemen were convicted of was to bring drugs and the damage that they bring to our country, yet it is our citizens saying yes sentence them in a stiff way but these young men do not deserve to die. It is that humanitarian trusted, reliable neighbour who has been unfailing in our support. That was the point the Prime Minister was making – nothing to do with threats.

That detached diplomacy language is unhelpful. This is a humanitarian matter. We are asking our good neighbours to carry forward the best of themselves as we seek to do with our deliberations with Indonesia and the Indonesian people.

KIERAN GILBERT:

I agree that it does not look like a threat in any way but let us say if it is and the strong or direct language was perceived as a threat, why not, given nothing else has resulted in the Indonesian President budging one bit? There is no sign of that. This delay was because of logistical reasons, not because of any last minute eleventh hour decision to grant the young men clemency.

MINISTER BILLSON:

That is right and it also reflects the fact that the President of Indonesia carries an awesome responsibility to exercise a discretion gifted in him to offer clemency where cases are presented to him.

There is a parallel legal process where our young men’s legal representatives are arguing that that incredible gift of clemency needs to be exercised on an individual basis. The Prime Minister’s comments were entirely appropriate.

The Australian people have been heard. As trusting and reliable and unfailingly supportive neighbours. We are asking for mercy, for grace, for clemency for these two young men to keep doing meaningful things with their life to help others in Indonesia.

Mindful, these drugs were coming to our country Kieran. It was our citizens being placed at risk, yet our citizens have said that is what they are hoping for from the Indonesians.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Bruce Billson we have got less than a minute left but I want to ask you quickly about this focus group research that Phil Coorey reports on in the Australian Financial Review this morning. It suggests that the dramas around the Liberal leadership, the failed spill motion has blown apart the Liberal Party’s claim to being the only party that can offer stable and responsible government.

What do you say to that?

MINISTER BILLSON:

Kieran I was in this chair talking to you about this very matter some days ago and I made the point that a key equity, a key asset that the Abbott Government has is its stability, is its unity, it its plan, are its achievements to date and a clear agenda going forward.

That is what swinging voters, if I read that newspaper article you have drawn my attention to, are actually saying – get on with it, get on with the work, do not have this reality television show distraction playing out around the inner sanctum in Canberra when people’s lives and their livelihoods and the opportunities for the future are too important.

I think the clear message is not only get on with that work but also they are looking to Labor and saying Bill who? Who is Bill Shorten? He would rather have a fight than a feed.

They know where the problems are that we are seeking to grapple with and they are looking for the Parliament on all sides to get on with the job ahead of us.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Bruce Billson thanks for your time this morning. Appreciate it.

MINISTER BILLSON:

Thanks Kieran.