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No-ransom policy to stay

Thursday, September 27, 2012
By Daniel Flitton

Douglas Wood was abducted by insurgents in Iraq. Photo: Damian White

A CALL to allow families of kidnap victims to make ransom payments overseas to free their loved ones without fear of legal prosecution in Australia has been rejected by federal authorities.

A parliamentary inquiry into official emergency response measures when Australians are held hostage abroad had recommended that the foreign minister - under "exceptional circumstances" - allow money be sent overseas to save the life of an Australian citizen.

The inquiry looked at the cases of Douglas Wood, the engineer kidnapped in 2005 by insurgents in Iraq, and Nigel Brennan, the freelance reporter held hostage in Somalia for almost a year and released in 2009.

But while accepting most of the inquiry's findings, including to alert families about private kidnap and ransom services, the government baulked at facilitating ransom payments.

"Changing the relevant legislation would undermine Australia's no-ransom policy, and indirectly result in Australians overseas being targeted," the Foreign Affairs Department warned.

Backed by the Attorney-General's Department, it said Australia was bound to international financial sanctions against terrorists groups and made no exception for the payment of ransoms.
Mr Brennan has criticised the official Australian response to his kidnapping and blamed the government for spending longer in captivity than needed.

He had ignored official travel warnings to go to Somalia in 2008 with a Canadian colleague to film a documentary.

Foreign Affairs agreed families should be made aware of private companies specialising in kidnap cases. It said it provided a list of companies without making an endorsement and giving clear advice on consulting private contractors for paying a ransom, "given the government cannot''.


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