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Transcript of Press Conference of the Leader of the Oppostion: Cairns: 10 September 2004: Jakarta bombing.



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FEDERAL LABOR LEADER MARK LATHAM

TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE, CAIRNS, 10 SEPTEMBER 2004

*E&OE **

Subjects: Jakarta Bombing

LATHAM: Good morning. Today, I am returning to Canberra for two important purposes. The first is to call upon the Indonesian Ambassador, Imran Cotan, to convey to him personally my condolences for the tragic bombing outside the Australian embassy in Jakarta and pass on my condolences to the Indonesian families who have been so badly affected by this, and also to convey to him the support of the Australian Labor Party for the investigation, for supporting the families, for assisting the Indonesian people in whatever way we can in the trauma and tragedy that they face out of yesterday’s bomb blast.

My second purpose in returning to Canberra will be to receive a briefing on the latest information from senior officials of a range of Government departments and agencies that are dealing with the information flow and of course supporting the investigation. In that regard, can I express my full support and confidence for Commissioner Mick Keelty and the work of his AFP officers. We are indeed fortunate that, since the Bali bombing, the Australian Federal Police have established such a strong working relationship, a cooperative working relationship, with their Indonesian colleagues. I’m confident that everything will be done in this investigation to bring these barbaric terrorists to justice, to ensure that every avenue is pursued in finding out the truth of this bombing and to apply the full weight of the justice system against those who have done it.

Can I also express my thanks and appreciation to Ambassador Ritchie in Jakarta and his staff for their outstanding efforts in responding, to ensure that every support is given to the victims and to ensure that all considerations are made in the Australian response in Jakarta to the damage that’s been caused, the terrible damage caused by the bomb blast yesterday.

The Australian Labor Party supports this investigation. We support all the things that need to be done in response to the bombing. We stand resolute in our determination to fight terrorism, to ensure that we make Australia as safe and secure as possible, that we do as much as we can in our region in particular in the fight against terror. We always step forward in this regard. We always step

forward to ensure that it’s possible to win the war against terror and make our country as safe and secure as possible.

This is an issue that’s beyond politics. There are matters that go beyond an election campaign, that go beyond party politics - this is one of them. The paramount priority of all of us in public life is to secure the safety and wellbeing of the Australian people. So it is certainly not a time for making any political observations or points: it’s a time for trying to bring the country together in its determination to respond to the blast, to support the victims, and our very strong determination, our rock solid determination, to see this investigation through, to track down the evil and barbaric terrorists who have committed this act, and apply the full and harsh weight of the justice system against them.

JOURNALIST: Mr Latham, will your approach to not discussing the political implications or the differences in policy on how to fight the war on terror last throughout the entire campaign?

LATHAM: Obviously, the campaign will have the debate on Sunday and, in the context of a national election campaign, it is possible in the general to talk about national security strategies for the future. Our policy positions with regard to the region, with regard to homeland security, are well known. We’ll continue to advocate the policies that we believe are important for making Australia secure in the future. That’s what a democracy is about. That’s what election

campaign advocacy is about but I certainly won’t be seeking to link our general policy approach, our important policy approach to this particular incident, this particular tragedy, unless there is information that arises, firm information, that would draw some sort of connection.

JOURNALIST: Will this attack in Jakarta mean any reassessment of your national security policy?

LATHAM: Obviously we are receiving briefings this afternoon, and we always respond in a positive and constructive way to the information that is provided to us. National security is not something you ever fix in concrete, fix in

stone, it is something where you need to always be relevant to the latest information, the latest situation and, of course, that’s how we approach it.

JOURNALIST: What did you think of the news that a little girl has been killed - a little girl who has just become an Australian citizen?

LATHAM: I haven't been told that she has passed away I -

JOURNALIST: I beg your pardon -

LATHAM: I understand that she’s in a critical condition in hospital and I’m sure all Australian parents, all Australian citizens, our thoughts go out to her father. This is the most senseless and barbaric part of terrorism when it impacts on innocent children. What sort of people go out of their way to help hurt little kids? What sort of people go out of their way to bring harm and so much damage to children? It is the worst side of terrorism and something that appals all fair-minded people. Anyone with an ounce of emotion or decency would be appalled by this and we can only hope and pass on our best wishes in the circumstances that she’s able to make a recovery and offer our full support and sympathies to her father and other family members in the terrible circumstances they face.

JOURNALIST: Have you had a chance to speak to Megawati yet?

LATHAM: No, I’ll be speaking to the Ambassador this afternoon and conveying a letter of sympathy and support for President Megawati and obviously talking to the Ambassador as to whether there is an opportunity for me to speak to her in the first place.

JOURNALIST: Jemaah Islamiah have claimed responsibility through a web site. Can you respond to that? Were you surprised at all that that's the case?

LATHAM: That’s not something that’s been confirmed as a credible claim. To my understanding that’s one of the issues I’ll be raising in the security briefing this afternoon, to get an assessment about the credibility of that claim. I think it’s important to deal with the facts rather than to jump to a concrete conclusion at this stage. I’ll be relying on the advice I receive this afternoon in my judgement on that matter.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it is more than a coincidence that the terrorists have chosen this moment, in the lead up to the Australian election, to strike in the way that they have?

LATHAM: Again, I’ll be taking the advice of security experts and what information they’ve gathered in that regard. The purpose of the investigation is not only to track down the people who have done this and bring them to justice but obviously to understand and assess their motives, to get an appreciation of who’s been involved and why and then apply the full weight of the justice system against them. That’s the purpose of the investigation. It’s not for politicians to be making judgements in that regard. We’ve got to be guided by the expert assessment and advice.

JOURNALIST: Are you satisfied with the way in which DFAT has warned travellers re the potential risk in Indonesia?

LATHAM: I’ve heard what everyone else has heard in the media but I understand there’ll be DFAT officers at the briefing this afternoon and that’s obviously one of the areas where I’ll be seeking some information about the nature of the warnings they received and the action that they took. I couldn’t possibly pass judgement until I get the information from them directly and make

an assessment about it.

JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister said this morning that the US Government warning about not visiting hotels, western hotels, that the intelligence about that changed in some way over the last couple of days - nothing specific about the Australian Embassy, but there has been a change. Have you been told anything about that and will you be seeking more information?

LATHAM: I will be seeking more information this afternoon, of course.

JOURNALIST: Mr Latham, have you had any further discussions with the Prime Minister and would you expect to do so over the next day or two?

LATHAM: I haven't had further discussions with the Prime Minister. Obviously, if there are matters coming out of the briefings this afternoon where I’ll need to speak to the Prime Minister directly, I will do that. But at the moment I’ve not had those further discussion and I’ll await the briefing from Government agencies and the departments this afternoon to see what information they can provide to me.

JOURNALIST: Does this reinforce your earlier view that our troops in Iraq would be better used in the defence of Australia?

LATHAM: I am not getting into what are obviously political points in the context. That’s not appropriate. I’ve said that last night and I say it again today, that it’s not a time for making political points or related observations: it’s a time for expressing our national resolve to step forward against terrorism to ensure that this investigation is successful, that the people who have done this are brought to justice and as a nation we come together in providing the support and condolences to the victims of the attack. I think that’s the appropriate form of national leadership that’s required so I’m not going to go into the subject matter of the question.

JOURNALIST: Has any link been raised in the briefings that you’ve had thus far between our participation in Iraq and this attack?

LATHAM: Not on the information that’s been provided to us. But the point is of course that we are dealing with the specific details of this attack and

the comprehensive briefing will be this afternoon with the agencies and departments that are gathering in Canberra.

JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister has set up a foundation to help the families of the Indonesian victims. Is that something that Labor supports?

LATHAM: Yes, absolutely. When I talk about supporting the victims; it’s financial support, it’s counselling. Its’ sympathy, condolences - everything we can do in their terrible moment of grief and mourning. I mean, the horrible thing is that there are children from homes where their dad didn’t come home last night, and this is the horror of what's happened. For those families in their shocking grief and mourning, we need to do everything we can as a nation to assist them. That’s not just the humane thing to do, it’s the decent thing to do, especially in recognition that some of these people have passed away guarding our facility, guarding our interests in Jakarta, and we owe it to them to be as supportive as possible.

JOURNALIST: Mr Latham, what's your understanding of your role as Opposition Leader in this caretaker period and the relative responsibilities and roles of the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader in this situation during a caretaker period?

LATHAM: My understanding would be that we’ll be fully briefed and fully informed of major decisions that are taken. Obviously action is needed quickly. It is not the role of the Opposition to pretend that we’re the formal Government prior to election day and somehow get in the way of decisions that need to be taken. Obviously we need to get the AFP, the ASIO officers, and the bomb experts to Jakarta as quickly as possible and the Government also needs to move quickly to provide the support and comfort to the families as much as possible. I appreciate the Prime Minister’s action in inviting the Shadow Minister, Kevin

Rudd, to be part of that delegation to Jakarta where obviously he’ll be part of the discussions and decision making process and fully informed of what's going on, on the ground. I think that’s appropriate as is the capacity of myself as

alternative Prime Minister to receive these briefings this afternoon and get a full understanding of what's happened and the nature of the investigation that flows from it.

JOURNALIST: Mr Latham, did you give any consideration to asking the Prime Minister to cancel or postpone the so-called debate to be held on Sunday evening?

LATHAM: No, I think that debate should go ahead for the reasons I mentioned last night. I think it’s important, in the 48-hour period after the bombing, to have a suspension of regular campaign activities - that’s a mark of

respect for those who’ve lost their lives. I think it’s an appropriate public demonstration of our determination, as a country, to come together and to fight terrorism to ensure that the investigation is fully supported and that we provide as much support as possible to the victims. We’ve got to balance that against the fact that we are a democracy. We have freedoms that should never be undermined by terrorists and one of those freedoms is to have our democratic election campaign and for that reason the debate that was scheduled for Sunday should go ahead. I think to postpone it or cancel it would be a mistake, in that it would say to the terrorists they’ve been able to have an impact on what is obviously a very major event in our Australian democracy. They won’t have an

impact on Australian democracy. We will have the debate on Sunday and we’ll have the election campaign and advocacy of various policy positions that follows.

JOURNALIST: Mr Latham, with regard to questions like bolstering the number of troops in Australia, when might it be appropriate for you to answer those questions? They are party political but they are also a matter of national security and therefore important for you to say something on them. When will you lift the moratorium?

LATHAM: In terms of their importance, I’ve made hundreds if not thousands of statements about them in my time as Labor Leader. Our policy positions are crystal clear. In the important arguments about national security, we’ll be always advocating our policy positions throughout the election campaign. Now is not the time.

JOURNALIST: But when will you resume that?

LATHAM: I think we can gather on Sunday, when the debate is on, I will be there advocating Labor's approach for the national security of the Australian people.

JOURNALIST: Will you be advocating to bring troops home from Iraq by Christmas at the debate on Sunday?

LATHAM: Well - I mean, we have the debate on Sunday because it’s on Sunday. It’s not on Friday. I know everyone in the media gets keen about when you are releasing certain policies, when you are doing certain things, but I think to script the debate here and now would be just plain silly.

JOURNALIST: Would it be appropriate to discuss it at the debate on Sunday?

LATHAM: Let’s get to the debate on Sunday.

JOURNALIST: Talking about the debate on Sunday, are you surprised at all that the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the national broadcaster, isn't going to broadcast this debate?

JOURNALIST: Until later that night.

LATHAM: That’s a decision that they make. It’s not on their channel in the first place. I would have much preferred to have had three or four debates, couple of community forums, one on Channel Nine, one on the ABC, but the

Prime Minister obviously has a different approach and we’ll all be part of that on Sunday night.

JOURNALIST: While we respect the fact that you don’t want to talk about this issue in political terms, isn't it nonetheless a fact that this going, to a certain extent, submerge your domestic political agenda?

LATHAM: We’ve suspended our campaign activities for the next two days -

JOURNALIST: But beyond that, it will, won’t it?

LATHAM: I’ll be at the debate on Sunday and we’ll be advocating our policies, across the board, throughout the remainder of the election campaign. That’s the way it’s got to be in a democracy, where you don’t allow yourself to be affected by the act of terrorists. We have a robust democracy. It’s one of the reasons why we fight terrorism: to keep it. The robust and vigorous Australian democracy has always got to be our fundamental priority. We’ll be having an election campaign and I hope and trust for a change of Government on election day and I’ll be there advocating those things. Thank you very much.

[Ends]

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