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Parliament House, Canberra: transcript of doorstop: departure for Bali with the Prime Minister; intelligence briefings regarding travel warnings.

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Subjects: Departure for Bali with the Prime Minister; Intelligence briefings regarding travel warnings

CREAN: I’m very pleased that the Prime Minister has chosen to go to Bali today and I’m very pleased to be joining him. Coincidentally, as he rang me, I had sent a letter to his office proposing that we do go. I think, in the circumstances of the grief and suffering that the families of the victims are going through at the moment, that we require a better-coordinated effort. And I was proposing that in the process of developing that effort, we should go and understand the nature of the problem in Bali.

I had intended in Question Time today to propose to the Prime Minister that Australia appoint a single coordinator-general for our relief activities in Bali. We did this in Darwin in 1974, a single point of command. Now, I know that this is different to ’74 in that the tragedy that’s occurred has occurred on foreign soil, and so that coordinator-general’s role would have to take account of local circumstances. But given the cooperation that is now developing between the Indonesian police authorities and intelligence authorities and the Australians who have been sent up there, I’m certain that we could get similar acceptance of the coordinating role.

I’ve had many calls into my office, particularly over the last 24 hours - a lot of grief and suffering and pain and hurt - frustration being experienced by the families that are up there looking for their loved ones or, having found them, wanting to get them home. We have to identify with that grief and that hurt, and we have to do all that we can to assist them. In the spirit of bipartisanship this visit, I’m sure, will help but I think that we have to take it further in a coordinating sense.

I know that the Prime Minister is leaving as he’s scheduled to leave because of the mourning service tonight, which we’ll be attending. But I’ve also suggested to him that we really need to talk with the relatives of the victims up there and to better understand their grief and suffering, and just see how better we can respond to it. But I put forward this as a constructive proposal. I intended to raise it in the


Parliament today; I will now have the opportunity to talk to the Prime Minister about this as we move forward.

JOURNALIST: Mr Crean, you’ve now seen the intelligence reports that Mr Howard promised you in Parliament. What do you think of them? Is there anything that you can tell us about them, and should the warnings on Bali been stronger?

CREAN: Look, I think our immediate concern has got to be for the victims and their suffering. I don’t think it’s appropriate to point blame, but I do believe it’s important that they understand what happened and how it happened and so, therefore, information concerning that does need to be pursued. I don’t think today is the day to pursue that information and, of course, I am restricted by what I can say from what I heard last night.

JOURNALIST: Mr Crean, are you satisfied that the advice given to Australians from Foreign Affairs last week about travel in Indonesia was adequate?

CREAN: I think that we need to further pursue that matter. I think that the circumstances in which the Americans upgraded their warnings and the Australians didn’t is a cause for concern. And I think it’s appropriate to establish why it was that the Americans upgraded theirs and we didn’t. And, in particular, the link to that is: were they operating off the same information? Now, they are facts that still need to be established.

JOURNALIST: Will Labor be pursuing it in Question Time, Mr Crean?

CREAN: This will be an issue that needs to be pursued in the course of coming days and weeks.

JOURNALIST: So what enlightenment have you got from the intelligence that you saw? Have you been reassured by that or disturbed by that?

CREAN: I don’t want to comment about what was told to me last night by the briefing that I had. I am…

JOURNALIST: Is it pertinent?

CREAN: It is pertinent, and I think that the appropriate line of questioning is to try and understand why it is that Americans gave a different set of warnings and upgraded those warnings and the Australians didn’t. But they are factors that need to be established on all of the facts. I don’t think that we should be rushing to judgement or accusing, and I certainly do not believe that in the circumstances of a whole lot of families still grieving and wanting to get their relatives back or to identify them, that has got to be our first priority.

JOURNALIST: …pursued this yesterday?


CREAN: Well we did pursue it yesterday and it’s appropriate to pursue. But it’s a question of priorities, Michelle, and my priority is to ensue that those people who are hurting and suffering are given the greatest attention. I know what it means to have gone through circumstances in which you don’t know what’s happened to one of your loved ones. And in those circumstances, I have strong empathy with the people concerned. People want to know what’s happened and they want to know the identity and they want to know the finality. It doesn’t help the hurt, but it creates a different environment when you know versus when you don’t know.

JOURNALIST: Will you be discussing this with the Prime Minister on your way to Bali?

CREAN: Yes, I will. I think the opportunity is there in the visit, in the trip that we have both ways, to talk this through. But I say that I want to be constructive about this. I have been committed to resolving these issues, or addressing these issues, in a bipartisan way since the tragedy began, since the tragedy occurred on Saturday night over there. I’ve put forward constructive proposals; I continue to do that, because I think we need to address the immediate problem. But there is also the need to know, and that’s why those issues do need to be pursued at the appropriate time.

JOURNALIST: Mr Crean, are you happy that the bodies are being returned to Australia as soon as possible?

CREAN: We have to ensure that the bodies are returned as soon as possible. We need to talk with the Indonesians about expediting that. We need to see if additional assistance is required to undertake the identity checks, and that’s why I’m suggesting that we need a single coordinator-general of our relief effort. That, I believe, will give us focus, it will give authority and it will produce expedition if done properly.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it might have been more appropriate that the Governor-General stayed in Australia this week?

CREAN: Until today, I wasn’t aware he was out of the country.

JOURNALIST: Will you be pursuing the travel advice with the Prime Minister when you’re on your way to Bali and back?

CREAN: I will have the opportunity to talk to the Prime Minister around a number of factors and I, of course, will have the opportunity to talk to him about information I got last night that I’m not able to talk to you about for reasons that I am restricted in how I can use that information. That is appropriate in terms of having access to important intelligence information. But if we can speak freely to each other, I think that we should be seriously addressing some of the consequences that come from a range of information.