Press conference - Bangkok, Thailand

17 Nov 2022
Bangkok, Thailand
Prime Minister
Release of Sean Turnell; Myanmar; APEC; ASEAN

PRIME MINISTER: Well, it's good to be in Thailand for the APEC Summit. This is about the economic integration with the fastest growing economies in the world in human history. So, over the coming two days, I'll be participating at the APEC Summit, as well as having a range of bilateral meetings.

But tonight, I want to talk about something else. Occasionally in this job you have a big moment. And I've just spoken to Sean Turnell, who has been released from 650 days of unfair, unjust imprisonment in Myanmar. And he has now landed and is well in Bangkok. He will travel overnight to Australia to be with his family. And this is just a wonderful outcome. And I do want to thank, as Professor Turnell did, the members of the Government, particularly the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade who've worked so hard, the officials, on this. Our embassies in Yangon and Bangkok have worked so hard. I do want to thank, as well, our ASEAN friends, in particular, Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia who has chaired ASEAN and has kept the pressure on. Our friends here in Thailand as well, including the Prime Minister. But other friends in ASEAN, who've been so consistent about the need to release Professor Turnell. But Sean said to me that he wanted to thank, also importantly, the people of Australia who have not given up, continued to run a campaign and to advocate for his release. And he was very conscious of that while he was detained. He went through a hard time. He tells me that, to quote him, he asked for a couple of quotes to be conveyed, one is that, 'People have been wonderful', a direct quote from Sean. The second was a story he told me about the Australian Embassy would give him food hampers. And they'd be in tote bags with the Australian Crest on it. And he said that normally his food would be served in a bucket. But he would get this food. And he would eat it and he would put the tote bags at where the bars were on the cell in which he was being detained so that both he could see, and the guards who were detaining him could see, the Australian Crest so that he could keep that optimism. And the Australian Crest, of course, with the kangaroo and emu that don't go backwards. They don't go backwards. It was very important for him. So, he was in good spirits. And can I just pay tribute to Senator Penny Wong. There has been a range of things. This like this just don't happen. We have an articulate, determined, strategic Foreign Affair Minister, who has worked hard each and every day, on a range of issues repairing relationships in the region. But on Professor Turnell's release, she has been unrelenting during the past five months. And I pay tribute to Penny Wong. I'm sure I speak for all Australians when I sent Professor Turnell our very best wishes. He was in amazingly good spirits. We, of course, are giving him, as you would expect, health support as well. And we'll make sure that he gets with his family. We would ask at this time that his privacy be respected while he just gets through this period. And his family as well have asked for that to occur. Happy to take a couple of questions on this and then I need to go to the APEC meeting.

JOURNALIST: Is he okay physically?

PRIME MINISTER: He's not a large man, for those of you have seen photos of him. And clearly, has lost weight. But he was in very good spirits, it must be said. But he's being checked over. We need to make sure, after 650 days, and he was clearly counting them, he said to me, 'This is day 650'. That can have a physical toll, but it can have other health tolls as well. We need to bear that in mind. And we need to give him the space to recover.

JOURNALIST: Did you speak to him personally or over the phone?

PRIME MINISTER: Over the phone. We're very consciously not trying to take people to him and all of that. We're making sure that he is looked after. He's at the airport. He has health support there. The Australian Chargés d'affaires travelled with him to Bangkok and will travel with him to Australia as well. And he will be looked after, as you would expect.

JOURNALIST: Now that Professor Turnell is out of Myanmar, does the issue of sanctions against the military junta become more of a live option?

PRIME MINISTER: This is a day to celebrate the release of Professor Turnell.

JOURNALIST: The French president Emmanuel Macron has said...

PRIME MINISTER: This is a day about Professor Turnell.

JOURNALIST: This also happened today, though, about AUKUS.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, this is about Professor Turnell. This is about Professor Turnell and his release. And that is what this press conference is about.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, a Japanese and a British citizen were also announced as being released. How significant was the operation in terms of coordinating with our allies?

PRIME MINISTER: It was very important. And in particular, the role of ASEAN taking place just a week ago, I think, was significant as well. The regime in Myanmar have used their National Day to do this. We, of course, have discussed these issues as well with our Japanese and our British friends. And it is a good outcome for our three nations. On the question that was asked just over here, I'll conclude with that, that his spirits were remarkably good. Like he was in really, really good spirits. He was making jokes. He is from my electorate and apologised for not voting at the election. I assured him he wouldn't be fined and that it was understandable.

JOURNALIST: Is he a Labor voter?

PRIME MINISTER: We have secret ballots in Australia. But he's a remarkable man. And he was there doing his job as an economic policy adviser. He was doing his job, nothing more, nothing less. And he's very good at his job. And he is a proud Australian. And today, I think we should all be proud of him. Thank you very much.