Sep 22, 2014

Private Members’ Business – Mr Peter Greste

Federation Chamber 

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (12:03): I rise to support this important resolution moved by the member for Werriwa—important because it is an opportunity for us to show as a parliament our absolute unity in support of Peter Greste’s release and our support for freedom of the press. Peter Greste, of course, has been detained in Egypt since December of last year. Peter was charged with defaming Egypt and having ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. In June of this year he was convicted of these charges and sentenced to seven years in jail. Peter is detained with his colleagues Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, who have also been convicted of defaming Egypt and having ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Baher Mohamed was also sentenced to an additional three years in prison for possession of ammunition. This referred to a spent bullet casing he found on the ground during a protest in those tumultuous times in Egypt.

Freedom of the press is something that we take for granted here in Australia. Our governments do not always like what they read in newspapers, nor do we as parliamentarians. But we accept that openness is a part of our democracy. I welcome the idea that Egypt has gone down the path of democracy with an independent judiciary. But, when a journalist simply going about his duties finds himself breaking the law, it is very clear that Egypt has much more work to do to adopt all of the institutions that are essential to democracy. I find it unfortunate that the Egyptian government cites one of these institutions, the independence of the judiciary, to justify its failure to protect another: the freedom of the press.

There is no doubt that the work of journalists, particularly in the zones that Peter Greste worked in, is challenging and takes great courage. It is courage based upon the principle that people have a right to know what is going on in the world. Every day journalists place their own safety behind the principle of getting access to information and informing the citizenry of what is occurring. Around the world, many journalists—too many journalists—are killed each year or imprisoned for simply doing their job. The Peter Greste case brings home to Australia that this is the case.

It is a fact that, as Thomas Jefferson said, you cannot limit freedom of the press without destroying it. What we have here is a case where that freedom of the press is being restricted. The press are being intimidated by the fact that not just Peter Greste but also his colleagues from Al Jazeera have gone through what has been described as a farcical trial. The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance report that according to the International Federation of Journalists 88 journalists and media workers have been killed so far this year. That is an extraordinary figure! It is an extraordinary figure which shows the danger that people put themselves in.

Peter Greste is someone who left Australia in the 1990s to pursue his dream of becoming a foreign correspondent. He worked for the BBC and Reuters, where he covered Latin America, the Middle East and Africa. In 2011 he started with Al Jazeera and, in that year, he also won a prestigious Peabody Award for a BBC report on Somalia.

One of the lawyers for the Al Jazeera journalists concluded their final argument by saying:

This is not a trial for these defendants alone—this is a trial of all journalists.

Our entire parliament stands, as well as with Peter Greste, with the Greste family, who have shown such courage. On behalf of the opposition, we give every support to the government in its endeavours to ensure Peter Greste’s early release.