23 February 2015


For 400 days, Peter Greste found himself languishing in senseless confinement—400 days marked by missed birthdays, holidays and the precious moments with family and friends which we all take for granted.

But while Peter was gone he was never forgotten. His parents, Juris and Lois, tirelessly led the campaign for their son's freedom, as did his siblings, Mike and Andrew, who took turns flying to Cairo and back to ensure their older brother always had kin nearby. I had the privilege of meeting Lois in passing late last year and, whilst I could see how busy she was, the one thing that struck me was her determination, how focussed she was on getting her son home.

Peter was also not forgotten by his journalistic fraternity, who showed their solidarity with poignant images of their mouths gagged with tape. And he was not forgotten by his fellow Australian citizens, or indeed all global citizens, who rallied against an incarceration recognised as an attack on the principles of justice, liberty and the dignity of all human beings.

We all share in the joy that the Grestes feel. Each of us has truly been inspired by their courage and determination. And we pause to thank everyone involved in securing Peter's release and that of his colleagues. And yet, whilst we rightly rejoice in Peter's liberation, it would be wrong of us to overlook the message he so resolutely conveyed from behind prison walls. Dwindling with his colleagues in a small scorching cell, it would have been logical for Peter to be overcome by a sense of bitterness and despair. Instead he found solace in the words of Nietzsche who once said, 'He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.' 'It is such a beautifully succinct way', Peter wrote, 'of saying that it is possible to bear almost any hardship, as long as we have a reason for doing so'. And so there in his cell, under the long shadow of imprisonment, Peter found powerful meaning to his ordeal, transforming his confinement into a campaign for, to use his own words, 'that most basic of rights: the right to know'.

As we speak here today, nearly seventy years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed the right of every person 'to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers', that right remains unmet in far too many parts of the world. As a nation long blessed with a free, pluralistic and independent media, we have a responsibility to stand with all those who are striving to uphold the values we cherish. As members of parliament, we recognise that only when journalists are free to scrutinise and criticise policies and actions can good governance exist. We therefore have a moral imperative to speak up for freedom and transparency and to speak out against repression, so that every journalist can do their job without risk or restraint and every citizen is empowered to be actively engaged in their public and political discourse.

'The freedom of the press will not come without loud sustained pressure,' Peter wrote inside his jail cell. Today I, and I believe all speakers in this motion, lend our voices to this noble cause. We cannot remain silent when global press freedom has fallen to its lowest level in over a decade and only one in seven people live in a country with what can be described as a 'free' press.' We cannot remain silent when during this past year 66 journalists were reportedly murdered, 119 were kidnapped and 853 were arrested for simply safeguarding what Peter Greste correctly affirmed is 'a fundamental pillar of democracy' and 'an indivisible part of a free society'. And we cannot remain silent when Peter's colleagues, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed are yet to be freed.

Peter's campaign and eventual release teaches us that whilst the barriers of oppression may seemingly be unyielding, we should never underestimate how influential people power can be each time we collectively stand up for an ideal, or act to strike out injustice. 'Global support, will be what ultimately saves us', Peter wrote while confined. And every last letter, petition, email, tweet, essay and article the world penned on his behalf not only provided him with comfort during the darkest hours of his incarceration, but it demonstrated that no matter how unjust the circumstances may be, no matter how long the night, justice will always prevail. It highlights that, collectively, we can indeed bring the change we seek. The freeing of Peter Greste therefore represents a moment of hope. Whilst we have rightly come together to celebrate this, let us also come together in renewed dedication and renewed vigour.

Let us vow to stand up and give voice to the millions around the world who are reaching out for the same freedom, opportunities and progress from which we as a nation derive great satisfaction and much strength.