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Wednesday, 16 October 2002
Page: 5294


Senator BARTLETT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (3:28 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Defence (Senator Hill) to questions without notice asked by Senator Bartlett today relating to terrorist attacks in Bali, Indonesia.

Firstly, in relation to the evacuation of people who were in need of specialist medical care, I think it is unfortunate that the minister seemed to take some form of offence to the second part of my question when I asked why no Indonesians had been among those airlifted to Australia. It is worth noting the background to this issue.

The Australian foreign affairs department has ensured that all injured Australians have now been evacuated from the island, and that is to be noted and it deserves congratulations. According to newspaper reports this morning, 86 injured people have now been airlifted from Bali, including people of a number of other nationalities. The first couple of aeromedical evacuations did consist solely of Australian nationals. Again, the Democrats' view is that it is entirely appropriate for the Australian Air Force to focus on ensuring that severely injured Australians are provided with Australian expert medical assistance as soon as possible, and that other nationals then follow on.

From the minister's answer to my supplementary question, or indeed his additional answer at the end of question time, it was inferred that some approval from the Indonesian government is needed to remove Indonesian nationals, and that may well be the case. The point the Democrats would raise as a consequence is that it seems fairly improbable that all the most severely injured people needing specialist medical assistance for severe burns injuries, for example, are non-Indonesian. It seems fairly likely that some people in the Indonesian hospitals are in desperate need of the specialist medical assistance that Australian hospitals can provide. I was not in any way implying that the Australian government was deliberately saying that those Indonesians matter least. I wanted to get information on the reasons that Indonesians had not been able to access that extra assistance to date.

The government's offer to provide that assistance to those in special medical need should be applauded, and it is applauded by the Democrats. But, if there are delays, we urge that they be dealt with speedily. As everybody knows—it has been noted frequently in the media in the last couple of days—the quicker that medical assistance is provided the better. In circumstances where people have severe injuries, the rapidity of response can be very crucial to recovery. So if there are some delays due to bureaucratic aspects from the Indonesian side of things, the Democrats urge that all effort be put into trying to remove those delays.

In an article in the Australian today Megan Saunders reported that a long-term Bali resident had said that the initial policy for removing people was that local people could not be taken—anybody who was not Australian, or could not have been Australian, was not able to be taken. So it is important that the record be corrected about any reasons why locals were not provided with that assistance. Of course they are being provided, as is everybody at the Indonesian hospitals, with extra assistance in the form of Australian medical supplies. Again, it is worth noting and supporting that fact.

I would also like to note briefly the minister's answer in relation to potential cooperation between Australian SAS forces and Kopassus in resuming training in antiterrorist activities. I note the minister's statement that cooperation with Kopassus has yet to resume, despite reports to the contrary in the paper this morning. The Democrats believe that there is welcome caution from the government in relation to that. We do acknowledge that all assistance needs to be provided to maximise antiterrorist action capabilities amongst countries in the region. But we do need to be aware of the past record of those we may provide assistance to, particularly given that there seems to be ongoing evidence that, at least in terms of what may be some rogue elements in Kopassus and TNI, there are still human rights abuses, particularly in places like West Papua. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.