Topics:  Missing Australians in Mexico; Labor’s detainee debacle;

09:20AM AEST
3 May 2024



Laura Jayes:  Two Australian brothers are missing in Mexico, and now three Mexican nationals have been arrested in relation to their disappearance. Jake and Callum Robinson were reported missing while on a surf trip with a friend. They last made contact with their family on Saturday. Joining me now is the Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, Simon Birmingham. Simon, thanks so much for your time. This is really concerning for the family, but I imagine DFAT would be doing all it can at the moment. How do these things usually work?


Simon Birmingham: Morning, LJ. LJ, this would be very concerning for the family, and our hearts really do go out to the parents of Jake and Callum Robinson and all of their loved ones who would be suffering immense stress at this point in time and very, very much worried about their wellbeing. As reports indicate, their mum, has been for a number of days since they had ceased to have any contact. Their disappearance would be something that is taken extremely seriously by Australian authorities. We have hard working consular staff are located in our embassies and missions around the world, and I have no doubt that they will be working carefully with Mexican authorities. I understand reports also indicate that US authorities, with the US citizen missing and possible involvement of the FBI in relation to the investigations. But there are, of course, limits to what our embassy staff and consular staff can do around the world. They can provide information, they can be a conduit for that information. They can seek to provide support. But ultimately, in parts of the world that are more dangerous, that present greater risk and greater threat, Australians need to be very cognisant of that. That is also why Australia provides clear travel advisories and warnings to people, that this is another reminder for anybody travelling to look at those, to review those, and to take steps to try to protect themselves as best they can.


Laura Jayes: Yeah, that’s absolutely right. What I find quite unusual in this case is that there are reports that a social media post by the boys’ mother was seen by Mexican authorities, and then they were able to act more quickly. Have you ever heard of anything happening like that?


Simon Birmingham: Certainly, that does sound unusual, LJ. As to why it, what has triggered this is, is in terms of the investigations and the steps, we may learn more about in coming days and weeks and months. It is clear that their mum, understandably distressed and concerned, started to reach out more broadly to friends, to contacts and potentially to authorities through online platforms to raise awareness of concern about her missing boys. And sadly, now as we see these three arrests, it seems that the circumstances of them going missing is something that is cause for grave concern. We can all only but hope that they can still be found and can still be found alive and well.


Laura Jayes: Yeah, we have everything crossed. Hoping that will be the outcome. Let’s talk about the detainee situation now. We’ve just heard from Anthony Albanese. He said the Commonwealth should have opposed bail for this particular detainee that allegedly went on to bash a Perth grandmother. That’s an admission, a welcome one?


Simon Birmingham: Well, not really, LJ, because if you look at the Prime Minister’s remarks, he seems to be completely washing his hands and those of his ministers of any responsibility at all. It’s all somebody else’s fault. It was the court’s fault. The government argued for days, and now it’s the advisory board established by the Albanese Government. But now it’s their fault, apparently. He’s not accepting any responsibility for the way his government has handled these matters. I think the Prime Minister’s comments today will be seen by many, not least of whom are victims of these released detainees, but by many others across the community and to be woefully inadequate, terribly weak and lacking in accountability. The Prime Minister needs to acknowledge that the buck stops with him, with his government, in particular with his minister, and stop running some type of witness protection scheme for Andrew Giles. It’s the Australian community who need protection, not an Albanese Government minister.


Laura Jayes: Okay, obviously there are government lawyers. Yes, the minister has oversight of this, and there’s a special advisory board. And the idea of that advisory board is that arm’s distance from government. It’s meant to be independent advice. What more could have the ministers and the Albanese Government done in this case, do you think, because I’m hearing there is also concerns that if they start putting electronic monitoring bracelets on all of these detainees, that too could be challenged in the High Court?


Simon Birmingham: Well, LJ, firstly, let’s be very clear that despite the government spending much of this week saying that they had not, that they had opposed bail and not supported.


Laura Jayes: That’s true.


Simon Birmingham: The reality is that the judge was very, very clear that the only reason the judge was considering bail is because lawyers for the federal government were supporting bail. Now, yes, there’s an advisory body. Let’s underline the word advisory there. It’s appointed by the government. It was established by the government and it is advisory, not one that the government is bound to follow the advice of.


Laura Jayes: So, lawyers for the government acting in this case, not opposing bail, and we know the comments of the judge now. How does these things work? Would the minister in charge be, you know, be directing these government lawyers as to oppose bail or not oppose bail, or would they be making decisions on their own about that without consulting the minister?


Simon Birmingham: I think these go to the type of operational protocols the government has or hasn’t established, and that’s why having Andrew Giles come out and actually answer questions rather than hide in his office or be locked away by the Prime Minister’s office, would be very helpful because this is clearly a very sensitive matter. It’s been sensitive from the moment the High Court handed down its judgement, and from the moment the government fumbled the response to that judgement. There have been plenty of issues that have come along the way, plenty of missteps made by the government, you would think, in a case of such extreme sensitivity that there would be the highest levels of engagement by government, where appropriate, in relation to any decisions that are being made. So, that’s where Andrew Giles needs to come out and be clear about what he knew and what engagement his office had in this case, but also why they’ve set up protocols in different ways. If he indeed is going to run the Sergeant Schultz “I knew nothing” defence on all of this, why he put in place protocols like that that kept him so far removed from being able to be accountable for what, in the end, is proven to be a terrible outcome for a woman in Perth.


Laura Jayes: Yep. You’re not wrong there and they’re all good questions that we hope we can ask him one of these days. Simon Birmingham, thanks so much for your time as always.