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Tuesday, 12 November 2002
Page: 6077

Senator BARTLETT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (2:25 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Defence. It relates to the minister's recent comments that `Australia should engage in cooperation and mutual support' with Indonesia's Kopassus forces as part of the fight against terrorism. Given the ongoing human rights abuses by some members of Kopassus, why is the minister so strongly pursuing cooperation with, and support of, Kopassus? The minister indicated in a response to a question I asked on 16 October that training and joint exercises had not yet resumed. Can the minister explain exactly how far cooperation has progressed, whether the intent to resume ties with Kopassus has been agreed to in principle by the federal government and what formal approaches have been made to the government of Indonesia regarding this matter?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I have not been strongly supporting a new relationship with Kopassus. I have, however, been pointing out that Kopassus has the principal counter-terrorism capability within Indonesia and, in circumstances post Bali, it might well be in Australia's national interests in protecting Australian citizens to have some form of relationship with the body that has that counter-terrorism capability. Speculating, for example, on an event such as an aircraft hijack involving Australian citizens where Kopassus, as one would expect, were sent to address the issue, I think there is an argument that it would be in Australia's interests if we could at least communicate with that body and satisfy ourselves that the hijack was being addressed in a way that would best protect Australian lives. I recognise that, because of the record of Kopassus, it is not a straightforward issue at all. In rebuilding our defence relationship with Indonesia, we have been approaching it cautiously on a step-by-step basis when we have been able to identify steps of mutual interest. That has been the preference of both sides. But I do think, post Bali, that we are required to readdress these issues. Again, in a rational but cautious way, that is what this government will do.

Senator BARTLETT —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Could the Minister for Defence indicate exactly how far this cautious progression has gone? Has the government agreed in principle to seek to resume some links with Kopassus, and has some formal request along these lines been made to the Indonesian government?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —As I just said, the government has not made a decision on counter-terrorism. That being so, there has not been any specific approach to Indonesia; nor has there been an invitation from Indonesia. In my talks with the Indonesian defence minister and in talks between defence chiefs, there has been discussion of the general issue of areas of greater cooperation. I mentioned that in my answer to the first question. But, as the government has not made a decision, no specific relationship arising from the Bali experience has commenced.