Foreign Minister Marise Payne says she’s relieved complex and sensitive talks to bring Australian academic Tim Weeks home after three years in Afghanistan have borne fruit.
Mr Weeks, a teacher from Wagga Wagga, arrived at Sydney Airport on Thursday night after being transferred from a US military base in Germany.
He and US colleague Kevin King were last week freed from custody in Afghanistan after being grabbed outside Kabul’s American University in 2016.
They were released in exchange for three members of the Taliban’s Haqqani network, an offshoot responsible for several fatal Afghan attacks.
Senator Payne on Friday told reporters her first conversation with Mr Weeks on Wednesday was “particularly inspiring” given his time in captivity.
She thanked the Afghan government, led by President Ashraf Ghani, and her counterparts in the US State Department for their work on the case, and said the 50-year-old’s release was a relief for his family.
“The conversation I had with Professor Weeks was very positive – he was very much looking forward to returning to Australia, very much looking forward to being reunited with his family,” Senator Payne said in Sydney.
“Speaking with his father, sister, in the preceding days … they are as excited as you can imagine to have him back after three years.”
Mr Weeks and Mr King were last week handed over to US forces in southern Afghanistan and flown out of the country by chopper for medical care.
Senator Payne admitted the process by which Mr Weeks was freed was complex, involving both state and non-state actors.
Wagga Wagga mayor Greg Conkey, meanwhile, said it was “fantastic news” Mr Weeks was home and hoped he’d have space to heal.
“As a community, as a city, we’re delighted that he has been released after all this time,” Mr Conkey told AAP on Friday.
“It’s hard to imagine what he has suffered during these last three years.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week said Mr Weeks had endured “three years of absolute hell” in Afghanistan but was now in good spirits.
Senator Payne said in their phone conversation Mr Weeks had recounted his first discussion with an Australian compatriot post-release.
“Virtually the best thing he’d heard in three years, after all of that time, was an Australian accent, a member of DFAT’s consular team,” she said.
“(It) was very special.”