Nigel was lucky to survive

A FORMER Australian consul has called for an inquiry into the government’s kidnap negotiation policy, saying it was a miracle that Nigel Brennan made it home alive after 15 months as a hostage in Somalia.

Alastair Gaisford worked as an Australian consul in Cambodia in 1994, when Victorian David Wilson was kidnapped and murdered.

At an inquest into Mr Wilson’s death, Mr Gaisford gave evidence that the government deliberately kept the Wilson family in the dark, and bungled several negotiations that could have freed the 29-year-old.

Fifteen years later, after the release of Moore Park Beach man Nigel Brennan, Mr Gaisford said the government has learned nothing from Mr Wilson’s case and in subsequent kidnappings of Australians abroad.

“When officials say ‘we did everything we could’ to free Mr Brennan, they are actually following the policy to do nothing, to do as little as possible. That way, if anything goes wrong, they can’t get blamed. But doing that is a direct threat to (the kidnap victim’s) life.”

Despite the government saying it would not enter into ransom negotiations to free Mr Brennan, a taskforce was set up in Nairobi, Kenya, to handle the case.

“Based on my personal experience in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, I would safely bet we spent far more on the Nairobi taskforce than the highest ransom figure asked — US$2 million —for them over 465 days. The ransom could have been paid on day two of the kidnapping, for less risk and much less money than was spent.”

“What we’ve learned from Nigel’s case, and his family’s actions is that the government doing nothing does not work.”

He said the Australian Government guidelines were outdated and at odds with those of other Western countries including France and America, which reportedly successfully negotiated releases recently.

“The successive government’s inability to learn from previous cases, as strongly criticised by the Victorian Coroner in David Wilson’s inquest in 1998, clearly shows the only way forward now is to hold a public inquiry into this lethal and repeatedly failed policy,” he said.

After Mr Brennan’s release last month, the NewsMail sought comment from Prime Minister Kevin Rudd about criticisms of the Government’s handling of the case. Mr Rudd refused to speak and referred all his comments through the Foreign Minister.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith admitted that the Australian Government’s efforts to free Mr Brennan had failed, but said “everything possible” was done to help him.

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