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Monday, 23 June 2003
Page: 17168

Mr JULL (2:06 PM) —My question is directed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. What recent counter-terrorism measures have been taken in our region? Have any alternative proposals or views been put forward?

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the honourable member for Fadden for his question. I note that he is the chairman of the parliamentary intelligence committee and has a great interest in these issues. I think everybody accepts that, from 11 September 2001 onwards, the world has changed and that since then Australia has played a leading role in the campaign against terrorism globally, regionally and, of course, domestically. We have never had any illusions that the challenge to defeat terrorism would be difficult—of course it will be. In that light, the government negotiated back at the beginning of 2002 a memorandum of understanding on counter-terrorism with Indonesia. We have through 2002 negotiated and signed like agreements with Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia. I think we signed one with Fiji this year, and just last week when I was in Phnom Penh I signed an MOU on counter-terrorism with my Cambodian counterpart. We have been funding capacity building initiatives, supporting law enforcement, transport, security, border controls and antiterrorist financing projects. Since the Bali bombing there has been extraordinary cooperation between Australia and Indonesia in investigating that tragic incident.

As we became aware of the emerging terrorist threat in South-East Asia, we spoke about it publicly on many occasions. I answered many questions on the issue from our side of the House and even one or two from the opposition. We drew attention in particular to Abu Bakar Bashir, Jemaah Islamiah and their activities through 2002. It is tragic that all of our efforts were unable to prevent the Bali bombing. I know that all Australians are aware there was no specific intelligence on that. That has been made clear in the last few days. It was also made clear quite some time ago in the Bill Blick report.

As for alternative views, I did notice while I was away last week that the member for Griffith was playing with this issue in, I thought, a rather incendiary way. We certainly do not believe that grief should be in any way politicised—and I am sure the opposition would not want it to be. But last Thursday I saw the member for Griffith at a doorstop had said:

Mr Downer received specific intelligence on Bali ...

I could not help but think that that was entirely untrue and that that was politicising an issue. I note that the member for Griffith, having said that, turned around the very next day and said, `No-one seriously engaged in the debate about Bali has ever suggested that the Australian government had specific prior intelligence about the bombing'—precisely what the member for Griffith said the day before. Somebody obviously took him aside and spoke to him—and, if they did not, they should have done—in relation to the misuse and the misleading abuse of the Canadian travel advisory.

This was a travel advisory—and I do not think everyone in the House quite understood this—which had been issued for a total duration of four days over one year before the Bali bombing. I thought for a minute that the member for Griffith may not have known that that travel advisory had been withdrawn after just four days, but I note that on the Insiders program, when he was asked about it yesterday—and I thought it an interesting interview as well—he said that he had been aware that the travel advisory was withdrawn four days later by the Canadians.

Opposition members interjecting

Mr DOWNER —It is my point. My point is that trying to politicise this issue in that way is a very sad reflection on the honourable member. I am very glad to see that since then somebody, somewhere, has drawn him into line and he has started to back away from some of the inflammatory, unnecessary and, frankly, completely incorrect remarks that he has made.