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Tuesday, 15 October 2002
Page: 5118


Senator BARTLETT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (2:18 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I note the government's intention to review Australia's antiterrorist laws and capacity. What, if any, of the government's plans are to better undermine some of the root causes of terrorism such as poverty and racism? Does the government plan to increase non-military engagement in cooperation with, and assistance to, Indonesia—for example, through increased overseas aid and scholarships, reinstating the National Asian Languages Program, improving Australian broadcasting to the region and other measures aimed at improving relations between Australia and Indonesia and other countries in our region? In light of the recognised role of poverty, inequality and injustice in fostering extremism and potentially terrorism and the fact that around a quarter of the 230 million people in Indonesia live below the poverty line, will the government be stepping up its development assistance for countries in our region?


Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I do not think it follows in any way that poverty leads to terrorism or that in some way terrorism is understandable to the background of poverty or even inequality or injustice. We are talking here about people who are prepared to destroy the lives of innocent human beings to advance a political objective. We are not certain yet as to the motive of these particular terrorists, but there is growing information to indicate an al-Qaeda involvement and perhaps Jemaah Islamiah. If that is so, it may well be a militant Islam doctrine that is driving these people, and basically it is a jihad, a holy war, in which they are seeking to destroy alternative ways of life. They see those who support what we loosely refer to as the Western lifestyle of freedom and democracy as the enemy, and they believe that the destruction of innocent lives is a legitimate tool in fighting that enemy. I think to confuse that with global problems of inequality and poverty is to make a fundamental error.

It might well be that that international environment will help foster and support the fanatics, but that is another issue. In answering the question in this way, I am not in any way seeking to understate the importance of Australia, as with all civilised nations, contributing to a more equitable international community and to the reduction of poverty wherever it is possible to do so. That is a principle of Australia's foreign policy and it is a principal goal of our foreign aid program, and we will continue to implement our policy to that objective and to implement our aid program to that objective.


Senator BARTLETT —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for his answer. Surely it is the case that better education and lower levels of poverty help to prevent the development of extremism and equally help enable countries to better combat that extremism. Does the minister not agree that we would be better able to cooperate with Indonesia and other countries in our region in combating terrorism and extremism if we had better links with those countries and better economic stability and prosperity in our region?


Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I think the honourable senator is making a fundamental error. Those who flew planes into the World Trade Centre and into the Pentagon were basically well educated. They were not suffering from poverty or inequality or anything like that. They were fanatics and they were pursuing a political goal. In relation to Indonesia, we want to work with the Indonesian government and with the Indonesian people to address the issues of extremism and terrorism, and we will continue to do so, because it is not only a threat to Australians but a threat to Indonesians. Indonesians lost their lives in Bali as well. Indonesia will suffer greatly from this horrific event, in the same way Australia is suffering greatly from it. It is important that we work cooperatively with Indonesia in addressing this particular problem, and that is one of the reasons that Mr Downer and Senator Ellison are in Indonesia today.