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Doorstop interview of the Attorney General at the inagural Meeting of the augmented Police Ministers Council attended by the Commonwealth, State and territory Ministers. \n



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Date: 4/03/05

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Transcript

Event: DOORSTOP INTERVIEW Date: 04/03/2005

Slip ID: C00016983449 Time: 12:30 PM

Item: INAUGURAL MEETING OF THE AUGMENTED POLICE MINISTERS COUNCIL ATTENDED BY COMMONWEALTH, STATE AND TERRITORY MINISTERS RESPONSIBLE FOR EMERGENCY SERVICES AND THE AUSTRALIAN LOCAL GOVERNMENT ASSOCIATION PRESIDENT.

SPEAKER: PHILIP RUDDOCK, ATTORNEY GENERAL

ATTORNEY GENERAL PHILIP RUDDOCK: I guess the only point I’d first make is that we’ve had a very constructive meeting, a very useful meeting today in which a wide range of issues have been addressed.

We’ve had the opportunity of being addressed by

the Director-General of Security on issues relating to national security and threat assessments. We’re obviously seized of the importance for cooperating in relation to the development of an all-hazards approach to dealing with emergency management issues.

There have been, as always, some issues that are

the subject of some discussion and about which people might put views to you. One of those matters which has been the subject of discussion today relates to the introduction of cigarettes which have a reduced propensity to continue to burn, a very interesting issue, and one in which everybody if there was at this stage resolution of matters

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relating to research, one might well want to consider.

But it is a matter where I think others who’ve

addressed this issue have done so only recently, where research is not yet available that one would regard as robust enough to conclude a view. And we’ve agreed to examine that issue and to report back on it.

I think everybody would be desirous of ensuring

that any steps that can be taken to reduce fires which take people’s lives that were known to be effective should be progressed. And in this issue, our consensus view was that some more work needed to be done in relation to the evaluation of the research and there should be discussion with all interested parties, particularly those who develop standards as well as those who manufacture the products.

There are other issues that we’ve had under

discussion today which have concluded how we acknowledge the importance of volunteers. In dealing with many of the emergencies that we face around Australia, and particularly fires, we rely heavily upon people to give of their time

voluntarily. And we’ve agreed to look at the ways in which tangible assistance might be provided to encourage the people to volunteer and to remain as volunteers. And we’ve agreed that the fully range

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of issues that might be looked at should be

examined.

Some people come with a view that - at times - that

there’s only one way forward. And I’ve indicated if they think the one way forward is to ask the Commonwealth to provide some form of tax relief, while we wouldn’t exclude looking at that in a general review of these matters, it’s certainly not a matter to which we can give any endorsement when it would lead to a much more elaborate tax system, one which we’re frequently being called upon to simplify and make easier for people to be able to navigate.

We still have some other issues to discuss later in

the day and some briefings in relation to tsunami and I think that will be quite valuable discussion. I’ve regarded it as a very productive day and one in which the Commonwealth together with the States are working through issues that can be important to managing the whole host of hazards that we have to deal with from time to time.

QUESTION: Have you heard yet from any of the experts,

scientific experts, in relation to the natural disasters or is that all happening this afternoon?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well in relation to tsunami, we’re going to hear from Geoscience Australia and the Bureau of Meteorology and so that will occur. We’ve had a briefing from ASIO and we’ve had discussion on a

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wide range of issues relating to management of emergency issues - the cigarette issue and support for volunteers as I’ve indicated.

QUESTION: Mr Ruddock, in your briefing with ASIO, was there any discussion of changing Australia’s threat assessment level?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: We take advice on the threat assessment question and, in the context of our involvement for instance in Iraq, no changes have been made. I’ve heard some suggestions that conviction of Abu Bakar Bashir might have some influence. I’ve received no advice in relation to that. And immediately there is nothing obvious to me that would suggest that the threat level would be reviewed. But it is a matter on which we will take advice. I don’t make those decisions.

QUESTION: What’s your response to the Bashir sentencing?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well my response is the same as my colleagues’. He has been convicted in relation to an offence of conspiracy in relation to a bombing which took the lives of many Australians. And I must say that my own assumption is that when somebody is convicted of an offence of conspiracy in relation to a terrorist act which takes people’s lives, it’s a pretty serious matter. And so yes, we are very disappointed at the penalty that has been imposed.

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Our view is that the charge that was sustained

should have led to a greater penalty. We

understand that may be appealed. And obviously I wouldn’t want to prejudice that appeal in any way. But we are disappointed with the outcome.

QUESTION: Legal and terrorism experts are concerned that his sentence may be overturned on appeal. Is that something that you are concerned about, that you’re following?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well I don’t know that the sentence would be overturned on appeal, the conviction. And undoubtedly with any legal system, there is provision for appeals. And as I’ve said, I

understand the Indonesians are appealing against the leniency of the sentence, and we would encourage that.

And I daresay that, if Abu Bakar Bashir is

concerned about his conviction, he may want to well appeal that and that might well be the case. I don’t think I can be heard to complain about a system, a rule of law that provides for people to be able to appeal convictions.

QUESTION: So you don’t think it’s likely then that Australians at home or overseas are at greater risk because of the conviction of Abu Bakar Bashir?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: No. I’m simply saying I take advice on those matters. And I’m simply saying I have not seen

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anything that suggests that we should review that assessment but if that advice is forthcoming, then it is a matter upon which we would act.

QUESTION: …past violence from Bashir supporters, would you anticipate that threat level rising?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: No. I would wait until I’ve had the advice.

QUESTION: Is there anything Australian can do about a life

sentence?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: No, and we have encouraged Indonesia to appeal the matter. I mean it is a matter for their system. I mean our view is that aside from the leniency of the penalty, that Indonesia has been assiduously progressing the prosecution of those people who’ve committed terrorist acts and where evidence is available, have pursued it, and I think that is a good thing.

QUESTION: Is there any chance he could face court in Australia eventually? Could he be extradited to Australia to - these were - 88 Australians were killed in the Bali attacks and I understand it did happen in Indonesia. But would the Australian Government try to sort of get him sentenced in Australia?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well let me just make the point that there are issues in relation to double jeopardy which might impact on somebody who has been convicted being

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charged even in another jurisdiction such as Australia. And one might like to say, well, under our system, he would have received a larger penalty.

But I suspect that any question of extradition would

be looked at in terms of the legal regime, whether or not offences that are offences in Australia that have extraterritorial effect, whether they could apply and there was evidence to suggest they apply and you would take advice on those matters. I don’t pre-empt the taking of advice on those matters but I simply do make the point that, if the evidence supported a charge of conspiracy, then this man has been convicted of conspiracy in relation to this matter and the question of penalty is addressed in Indonesia under Indonesian law. We are concerned about the adequacy of that penalty and we’ve made that view known.

QUESTION: Some Indonesian experts have suggested Australia could have done more to help witnesses in the trial that would have testified to make the case stronger for the prosecution. [Indistinct]

PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well look, I just love these armchair advocates that offer a view about what you may or may not have been able to do in relation to encouraging people to present evidence. The only point I would make is that we do have mutual agreements with Indonesia in relation to dealing with criminal matters and

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every assistance that Indonesia sought or would have sought, we have cooperated with.

QUESTION: Mick Keelty says he has no doubt that intelligence agencies will be reviewing or are updating - his word - the threat assessment for this country. Is he wrong?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: No, he’s right.

QUESTION: Is there a review going on?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: He’s right. You review threat levels all the time. And if there is a variable, you take that into account. So if he says officials are going to look at it and review it, he’s right. I have received no advice that threat levels should change.

QUESTION: How about travel warnings for Indonesia?

PHILIP RUDDOCK: Well, travel warnings incorporate the advice and they’re developed by the Department of Foreign Affairs. And while I’m assisting Alex this week while he’s on partial leave, let me just say, I’ve received no advice from the Department in relation to a change in the travel advisory at this time.

All right? Thank you very much.

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