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Monday, 16 June 2003
Page: 16391


Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP (2:35 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. In the light of recent terrorism arrests in Cambodia and Thailand, would the minister advise the House what Australia is doing to promote counter-terrorism cooperation at a regional level to address this serious security threat?


Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the member for Mackellar for her question and for her interest. We have been working tirelessly with our regional partners on the issue of counter-terrorism. Tomorrow I will be going to Phnom Penh for a meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum, as well as the ASEAN postministerial conference later in the week. A very important component of the discussions in the ASEAN Regional Forum will be a focus on counter-terrorism. I remind the House that Australia recently co-hosted with Singapore an ASEAN Regional Forum workshop in Darwin on managing the consequences of a terrorist attack. I talked about this in the House on a previous occasion. The outcome of that meeting will be part of the discussions in Phnom Penh.

It is true that it would be quite wrong to claim that the battle against terrorism in our part of the world—in South-East Asia and the east Asian region more generally—is a battle that is won; it is far from won. There is a long way to go and there is still a lot more work to be done, but there has been an unprecedented level of cooperation between countries in the region, particularly on sharing of information, law enforcement and so on. This has not come quickly; it has come more slowly sometimes than we would have liked. But the House does not need reminding of the excellent cooperation between Australia and Indonesia, particularly on the Bali investigations. There is also very good cooperation now on the question of Jemaah Islamiah and its activities in South-East Asia, including Indonesia.

Recently I have been delighted that Cambodia has arrested three people suspected of having Jemaah Islamiah connections. On 11 June, Thailand arrested three people suspected of planning attacks against Western interests in Thailand at the time of the APEC Leaders Summit in October. One of the targets was alleged to have been the Australian embassy. We are delighted that the Thais have now taken action against Jemaah Islamiah. We have been very concerned about Jemaah Islamiah activities in Thailand, and on many occasions we have drawn our concern to the attention of the Thai government. It is a good development that they are now taking decisive action against Jemaah Islamiah.

We were reminded of the dangers just the other day, when a Thai national was arrested in Bangkok trying to sell radioactive material. According to media reports, the material originated in Russia and was smuggled through Laos into Thailand. Incidents like that not only reinforce the great dangers of terrorism but also remind us of the links between terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. The meeting this week of the ASEAN Regional Forum will coincide with the continuation of the Bali trials. Those two events should help our region to focus substantially on our continuing work on counter-terrorism. As I said earlier, there is still a long way to go to win the war against terrorism in our part of the world, but enormous progress has been made.