Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Hobart: transcript of doorstop interview [terrorism, security, asylum seekers, Manoora, Federal Court appeal]



Download PDFDownload PDF

SPEECH The Hon. Peter Reith, MP Minister for Defence

 

12 Sep 2001 MIN 120901/01

TRANSCRIPT OF THE HON PETER REITH MP

DOORSTOP INTERVIEW - HOBART

JOURNALIST:

Mr Reith, what has come out of the emergency Cabinet meeting?

REITH:

Oh well, we’ve had a full briefing on matters. Australia has obviously offered all practical assistance where possible whatever that might be to the US as well as obviously expressing our concern and sympathy for our friends in the United States. We’ve had a briefing on all of the intelligence and information available to us in respect of this matter. I can say that on all the advice that we have there are no concerns in respect of Australia’s security situation but obviously the Government is taking all necessary and sensible precautionary measures but there is no evidence or indication in any way whatsoever that affects Australia immediately or directly.

We are obviously very anxious about those Australians that may have been caught up in this in one way or another but there is scant information available to us on that. I think Mr Downer will be saying, you know, giving you an idea of some of the information that he has in a press conference in the next hour.

JOURNALIST:

Do you have any idea of how they are going to get the PM back to Australia?

REITH:

There are discussions going on, practical discussions in terms of making arrangements in that regard but that will be a matter for the PM to announce.

JOURNALIST:

What practical assistance will Australia offer the US?

REITH:

Well, obviously we are very keen to do anything we possibly can but our, certainly from a Defence side, we have been in contact with them and made that offer and had some discussions but obviously there’s a lot going on.

JOURNALIST:

Can you outline the Defence precautions that are being taken in Australia?

REITH:

There are various security measures that can be taken and have been taken in terms of ensuring that we are undertaking all necessary surveillance in other such matters.

JOURNALIST:

Did you contemplate closing Australian airports?

REITH:

Mr Anderson is responsible for aviation but I don’t believe that’s been a possibility.

JOURNALIST:

How would you personally describe this act of terrorism?

REITH:

Well, I think I am, like most Australians, in a sense of shock when I first saw it on the TV in the middle of the night last night. In one sense angry at the cowardly act but so overcome by the shock of it to see it as we have seen it. It’s a state of absolute devastation in New York. It’s the sort of thing you see on the movies not see in real life.

I was very pleased to hear the President say that this was an attack on freedom and freedom would be defended. And that was the most important thing to say because we obviously don’t know who has perpetrated this dastardly act but we do know that the US has been subject to terrorist threat in the past and as the leader of the free world it does carry that burden and responsibility of all the basic democratic freedoms which we so greatly value in our society and in the US society.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible] as an act of war. Would you agree with that?

REITH:

Well, it is of that dimension and we have not seen anything like it as the PM referred to in his comments last night. We have seen nothing like it since Pearl Harbour and it does reinforce the point that acts of terrorism are a real threat and from the Defence point of view they can be of equal devastation to what we would otherwise think of conventional acts of war.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

 

REITH:

[Inaudible]... The view is that CHOGM will proceed as intended. Australia does have quite a bit of experience in managing large functions as it were and in respect of the Olympics [inaudible] and obviously we have been putting a fair bit of effort into our security arrangements for CHOGM already.

JOURNALIST:

How could US intelligence agencies actually fail to pick this up and how much of a concern is that to Australia’s Defence Force?

REITH:

I cannot answer that question because we don’t know what has happened or how it’s happened. We don’t know who the perpetrators of this act are and obviously there will be, you know, close investigation of all the events leading, including up to it and surrounding it.

JOURNALIST:

What level of resources is Australia prepared to commit to any action…..

REITH:

Well, we have already committed as an ongoing operation significant resources in respect of intelligence and security generally. We’ve had some practical experience recently with the Sydney Olympics where we ran a major security operation and on all the reports and analysis of that operation it was done very well and done very successfully. So we do have a lot of resources and obviously we have built a fair amount of expertise in dealing with it. But in the US obviously likewise they have got a lot of resources in their security and this event has still happened so it is a matter of major concern.

JOURNALIST:

Just quickly on the asylum seekers why has the Manoora not stopped at Port Moresby?

REITH:

The Government has made it clear that the Manoora will transit all the way to Nauru. We think that’s an effective and practical measure. The Government is appealing the decision by Mr Justice Tony North. We think that is a bad decision. We think it’s wrong in law. It might be good for people smugglers but it’s certainly not good for Australia. We are strongly opposed to the position and that’s why we have already lodged an appeal. The matter’s on before the courts today.

Mr Beazley can carry some of the responsibility for that decision because it would not have

been able to have been brought down if Mr Beazley had had what it takes to stand up to his own Caucus and vote for the legislation which the Howard Government had in the Parliament only a week or so ago.

It is unbelievable the Labor Party should yesterday say oh they are now prepared to negotiate on the legislation. They rejected the legislation. We went to them and said we’d be prepared to put a sunset clause in that legislation so that you could vote for it. They rejected that out of hand. I mean, Kim Beazley should bear a lot of the blame for this because he voted against legislation that would have stopped this. We have got other boats which have arrived since and we still don’t have that legislation because of the Labor Party failing to stand up for the national interest so we are very unhappy about that decision. It’s a bad decision in law. It’s wrong for Australia. I think it’s very wrong for me as a respondent, as the Defence Minister to be told that we can’t use Defence assets to protect this country’s territorial integrity and that is why we are appealing it. We are completely against it. In my view, you know, what do people think we have got a Defence Force for if we have got the Australian courts telling us that we are not allowed to use them to defend the country.

JOURNALIST:

Nevertheless, aren’t you now defying the court’s order?

REITH:

No. We are availing ourselves of the rights to lodge an appeal and all of the actions that we have taken subsequent to the handing down of the position have been taken on the best legal advice.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible] the possible responsibility of Osama bin Laden in the attack?

REITH:

We don’t have any advice as to who perpetrated this act. Obviously the perpetrators must be brought to justice and we will do as Australia can anything within our power to assist the efforts being made by the US to bring these people to justice.

 

[ends]

Receive media releases automatically via email. Register your address at www.defence.gov.au/media/mainidx.html

[ Defence Home ] [ back to top ]