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Monday, 21 October 2002
Page: 8100

Mr CAMERON THOMPSON (2:12 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Will the minister update the House on Australia's current travel advice to Indonesia? Given that extremist leader Abu Bakar Bashir has now been detained, does the minister have particular advice for Australians in Indonesia?

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the honourable member for Blair for his question and I appreciate the interest he shows in the travel advisories in relation to Indonesia. As the House is aware, we have changed over the last week the travel advisories for Indonesia on a number of occasions. On each occasion these changes have been made to reflect information that has come particularly to intelligence authorities and to other Australian government officials about what could be possible threats to Westerners and, in our case, obviously, particularly Australians. I understand that the Leader of the Opposition has been briefed on some of this information today.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is continuing to recommend that Australians defer non-essential travel to Indonesia, that all Australians in Indonesia who are concerned about their safety should consider leaving and that those who are there on a short-term basis and whose presence is not essential should depart. We also, to be specific about that, include Bali—that is, Australians should defer travel to Bali. Australian visitors in Bali should consider advancing their departures on available flights, and I understand that seats are available on these flights. In the meantime, they should remain in their hotels; avoid public places, where possible; and call home to advise families of their wellbeing—it is very important they do that so that the families are aware of where they are and what they are doing.

The government has authorised, on a voluntary basis, the departure of non-essential staff and all dependants from our various posts in Indonesia and, in particular, our embassy in Jakarta. This is not to say that these posts, our consulates and our embassy will be closing. There still will be substantial numbers of staff available at those missions.

Australians should also be particularly careful in Jakarta, in Balikpapan, in Surabaya and in Yogyakarta. More generally, Australians in Indonesia should exercise extreme caution and avoid commercial and public areas known to be frequented by foreigners: places such as clubs, restaurants, bars, schools, places of worship, outdoor recreation events and tourist areas. We have received reports that certain up-market entertainment areas may be targeted. Also, based on new information, we now note that these tourist areas include resorts outside of the major cities, and historical and cultural locations including the temple of Borobodur.

The honourable member asked about the arrest and detention of the extremist leader Abu Bakar Bashir and whether this had any implications for the safety of Australians in Indonesia. The detention of Abu Bakar Bashir is welcomed by the Australian government and we look forward to the Indonesians successfully questioning Abu Bakar Bashir with a view to obtaining information about the activities of both himself and the organisation of which he is the spiritual leader, Jemaah Islamiah. It is important that Australians and other Westerners in Indonesia understand that the detention of Abu Bakar Bashir may very well lead to a strong reaction from his supporters and supporters of other extremist organisations including the risk of public demonstrations. Although this has not happened on any significant scale yet, that is not to say that it will not in the future.

So, in the context of the detention of Abu Bakar Bashir, our expectation is that there could be further detentions, further arrests of other extremist leaders in Indonesia. In those circumstances it is extremely important that Australians in Indonesia heed the travel advisories that have been issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It is extremely important that they are aware of the danger of demonstrations and of possible attacks of one kind or another by militants—be they bomb attacks, gun attacks or whatever they may be. It is something that I cannot emphasise strongly enough. There are risks of these types of incidents occurring.