Thursday, 17 October 2019
Questions without Notice
Palfreeman, Mr Jock
My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Payne. Can the minister advise the Senate of any continuing concerns the government has about the consular case of Australian citizen Mr Jock Palfreeman in Bulgaria?
I thank Senator Henderson for her question. I would like to note that the Australian government welcomes Jock Palfreeman's release from the Busmantsi detention centre in Bulgaria early yesterday morning. He is now in the community and that is a positive step. However, we are concerned that he remains unable to leave Bulgaria due to a travel ban that dates back to 2011. Mr Palfreeman and his legal team are challenging that ban and the Australian government is following that process closely. Also, the Prosecutor-General of Bulgaria is seeking a review of the process followed in granting Mr Palfreeman's parole. While the parole decision itself cannot be appealed, the Prosecutor-General is questioning technicalities about the handling of the case. We understand that this is outside Bulgaria's normal legal process, and we would be concerned if non-legal issues were seen to have an influence on this process. I'm advised that the decision by the court on that matter may take up to two months, which would mean that Mr Palfreeman continues to face uncertainty until early December. We have called and continue to call for the Bulgarian authorities to allow Mr Palfreeman to travel to Australia given his paroled status. I stress that we respect the independence of the Bulgarian court and wish to see it make a decision according to the rule of law.
The government has provided everything required to date to assist Mr Palfreeman to leave Bulgaria as soon as possible, and we will continue to do so. We are in contact with him and we'll provide every assistance to him as his case moves forward. He has received consular help throughout his case, both before and since the parole decision on 19 September. Officials have of course monitored his case. They have attended court proceedings and they have made over 100 prison visits in the lengthy time he has been in prison to check on his welfare. We have provided additional consular resources to our diplomatic post in Athens, which enables us to have a presence in Sofia, the Bulgarian capital, because we do not have a permanent mission there.
We are engaging with Bulgarian immigration authorities to seek clarification about facilitating Mr Palfreeman's ability to depart from Bulgaria. Previously, I have also raised our concerns about his case directly with my Bulgarian counterpart, Minister Ekaterina Zakharieva, on the sidelines of the United Nations. I have followed up that conversation and further conveyed our concerns in writing. I have also raised Mr Palfreeman's case in writing with our European Union counterparts, High Representative Federica Mogherini and EU Vice-President Timmermans, expressing our concern about his long immigration detention following the parole decision. In addition, our officials continue to raise our concerns with senior Bulgarian officials and authorities and the relevant ministers in Bulgaria, and we seek due process to be applied to Mr Palfreeman's matter to enable him to travel to Australia.