Standing up for Canberra

Peter Greste's release

Before I start, I would like to thank the member for Ryan for moving this motion and for her sustained interest and advocacy on this issue. I also want to commend the member for Berowra for his speech, particularly in commending the officials that he has dealt with over so many years. As Father of the Parliament, he has dealt with a number of government officials over more than four decades, so I thank him very much for his commendation of their work and for his acknowledgement of their work.

Last time I spoke about Australian journalist Peter Greste was more than six months ago, and at that time it was a plea for help. By contrast, today we are standing here celebrating his release. In celebrating I would like to commend the Greste family for the strength and resilience that they have shown. I say to them: you took us with you on you quest to bring Peter home, and we were hoping and praying with you every step of the way.

I would also like to congratulate the government—particularly the minister, for her work lobbying the Egyptian government. As the former speaker said, the number of representations that have been made on this, not just from government ministers but also from the opposition, frontbenchers and backbenchers, is significant. I commend everyone and thank everyone for those official representations and for those personal representations.

I would like to come back to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the diplomats and officials who worked tirelessly and quietly on this issue. As the former speaker said: they worked persistently; they worked constantly; they made endless representations; always quietly, always tirelessly, always constantly, always persistently. I congratulate and commend those Foreign Affairs and Trade officials for their great work both here in Australia and overseas for the advocacy work they did on this.

Peter Greste and his two colleagues—Cairo bureau chief and Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy, and producer Baher Mohamed—were detained by Egyptian authorities in December 2013, charged with airing misleading news about Egypt's political situation. What followed was more than 400 days of imprisonment and a worldwide campaign for their release. That campaign was extraordinary, particularly on social media. They were repeatedly denied bail, with their case being repeatedly adjourned. In a letter describing the conditions of Cairo's Tora prison, Greste said 'the authorities routinely violate legally enshrined prisoners' rights, denying visits from lawyers, keeping cells locked for 20 hours a day, 24 hours a day on public holidays.' His prison cell, which he shared with up to three other people, measured three metres by four metres.

Following many long months of lobbying and campaigning by the government, by government officials and by groups like Amnesty International, Peter was deported earlier this month with his conviction overturned. But the fight is not over. The world now looks to Peter's two colleagues, who face a retrial today following their release on bail after they too spent more than a year behind bars. We are all hoping and praying for a similar outcome so the pair can head home to their families and friends—particularly Mohamed, who has a very young child, I understand.

The case of Peter Greste and his al-Jazeera colleagues has reminded us of the importance of press freedom and how lucky we are here in Australia to have a genuine freedom of press. But it is not enough for us to have freedom of press at home. We cannot rest until journalists are free to report from any corner of the globe without fear of harassment or imprisonment. Peter Greste's life and the lives of his colleagues will never be the same. Greste wants to put his experience to use by becoming an advocate for freedom of expression, and I commend him for that.

The trio is now identified with freedom of the press and freedom of speech, and it is vital that this campaign does not stop with their release. We must fight until the last Egyptian journalist is freed from jail. More broadly, we must fight until journalists around the world are free from jail—free from being incarcerated for basically getting out there and telling the truth.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, more than 221 journalists were jailed last year. So, while we celebrate the fact that Peter Greste is back on Australian soil with his loved ones, we must remind the world that telling the truth is not terrorism and being a journalist is not a crime.

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