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Senate calls for better hostage responses


A Senate inquiry into the government’s response to citizens kidnapped overseas has recommended eight measures to improve communication and coordination in future cases, Australian Greens Leader Bob Brown said today.

“I referred this matter to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade committee following the release of photojournalist Nigel Brennan who was held hostage in Somalia for 14 months,” Senator Brown said.

“The committee heard firsthand of the experiences of Nigel Brennan and his family; Dr Malcolm Wood, the brother of Douglas Wood who was kidnapped in Iraq in 2005; and journalist John Martinkus who was kidnapped in Iraq in 2004.

“The common thread from witness statements was the desire for better communication and better coordination between government agencies. 

“A key complaint from the Brennan family was that the government allowed negotiations with the kidnappers to drag on too long and didn’t talk to the family about hiring a private consultant to negotiate a ransom. The committee has recommended that the government alert families to the services of private consultants and that it should cooperate fully with consultants if they are hired.

“Both the Brennan and Woods families detailed their fears about sending large amounts of money to war-torn countries in light of Australia’s anti-terrorism funding legislation. The committee has recommended that the government alerts families to the legal complications of paying ransoms at the outset of a case and that it investigate how to grant exemptions in exceptional circumstances, such as ransom payments.

“The committee also recognised that the government could communicate better with media organisations and has recommended it examine ways to improve this relationship. 

“Other recommendations seek to improve coordination within government and training of staff, developing expertise in kidnappings, the operation of internal reviews after each kidnapping case, placement of dedicated family liaison personnel, and improving counselling services for hostages once back in Australia.

“The government’s internal McCarthy Review has already identified areas for improvement and combined with the Senate inquiry recommendations, I hope the next family that undergoes the trauma of a loved one being kidnapped will feel better supported,” Senator Brown said.

The report can be found here.


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