30 April 2015

'Outraged and offended': bipartisanship breaks down on Bali nine executions

Justice Minister Michael Keenan has attacked Labor.

The bipartisan response to the execution of the Bali nine drug smugglers has collapsed only a day after the men were killed, with the Abbott government accusing Labor of playing politics with "tragedy" by raising concerns about its approach to the death penalty.

I think they should take a long hard look at themselves if they think this is the sort of time to be politicking in a way that is completely inaccurate.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has praised the government for its handling of the matter and supported the decision to withdraw Australia's ambassador to Indonesia in protest to the executions of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

On Wednesday, opposition justice spokesman David Feeney wrote to Justice Minister Michael Keenan seeking an explanation to why the government changed its official directions to the Australian Federal Police last year.

In 2010, Labor's then minister for home affairs, Brendan O'Connor, included Australia's opposition to the death penalty in his official ministerial direction to the AFP. This was removed from a new ministerial direction issued last year by the Abbott government.

Mr Feeney said the omission "raises concerns that protecting Australians from the risk of being subject to the death penalty in a foreign jurisdiction is no longer to be considered a critical priority for the AFP".

When asked why he removed the reference to the death penalty in his ministerial directive, Mr Keenan said: "I'm pretty outraged and offended that the Labor Party would use the tragedy of two Australians being executed to make what is an incredibly cheap and invalid point.
"I think they should take a long hard look at themselves if they think this is the sort of time to be politicking in a way that is completely inaccurate."

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said she was "very angry" Labor had questioned the government on the directive.

"To think that less than 24 hours after the executions have taken place, the Labor Party is seeking to take a cheap, political shot. Shame on them," she said.

Mr Keenan said that Labor was deliberately creating confusion because the AFP's internal guidelines on dealing with the death penalty have not been changed since Labor's time in office.

The AFP's National Guideline on International Police-to-Police Assistance in Death Penalty Situations requires the AFP to consider "the degree of risk to the person in providing the information, including the likelihood the death penalty will be imposed" when co-operating with overseas agencies.

"The guidelines are the same as when they were in office and applied in the same way by this government," Mr Keenan said.

Mr Keenan said that the ministerial directive is a "high-level strategic document" and was a "red herring".

"This has no bearing on the way the AFP deals with cases potentially involving the death penalty," he said.

Mr Feeney responded by saying: 'We're not playing politics; we're asking questions. We're not accusing the government of anything; we are seeking an explanation on an important issue.

"Why did Mr Keenan remove the requirement from the ministerial directive? We haven't received a sufficient anwer."

Asked to explain the difference between the guidelines and the ministerial directive, Ms Bishop said: "Please. Twenty-four hours after the death of these two young men and the Labor Party is getting the media to quibble about the AFP guidelines that are the guidelines under which the AFP operate. They are precisely the same guidelines that Labor put in place. They are precisely the same guidelines that operate today. A ministerial directive is an entirely different document that does not dictate the operational activities of the AFP. I'm not going to answer another question on that."

Speaking after the execution of Chan and Sukumaran on Wednesday, Ms Bishop said she believed the AFP's guidelines relating to the death penalty were sufficient.

The AFP is set to break its silence on its role in delivering Chan and Sukumaran to Indonesian authorities in 2005 after previously declining to comment in detail because the mens' case was being heard before the courts.

The AFP has said it will hold a press conference in coming days while independent senator Nick Xenophon has said he will pursue the matter with the AFP at upcoming Senate hearings.

Senator Xenophon said the removal of any mention of the death penalty from the ministerial directive was "disturbing".

It - and the AFP's role in Chan and Sukumaran's arrests - should be examined urgently by the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, he said.
"There are legitimate questions to be asked about whether Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan would be alive if not for the actions of the AFP."