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Minister discusses training with Kopassus; and whether he has been offered the position of Ambassador to the United Nations.



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TRANSCRIPT SENATOR THE HON ROBERT HILL Minister for Defence Leader of the Government in the Senate

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INTERVIEW WITH ABC WORLD TODAY PROGRAM

12.30pm, Monday 12 December 2005

E&oe______________________________Special Forces training with Indonesia and

ministerial position

Journalist:

Co-operation was cut in 1999, when Kopassis-trained militia killed East Timorese while Australian led a peacekeeping force there. The first SAS-Kopassis counter-terrorism training will take place next month in Perth. The Defence Minister, Robert Hill, says that in the event of a terrorist incident, the safety of Australians in Indonesia could well rest on effective cooperation with Indonesia’s military. He says Indonesia knows Australia’s views about human rights issues, and the military

leadership will ensure those sent to Australia won’t cause Australia any embarrassment. Senator Hill spoke to Alexandra Kirk.

Senator Hill:

Australians have been targeted in Indonesia, and there will be occasions where the best response available is through Kopassis, and we would like to see Kopassis trained to be as capable as possible. So I’m talking about counter-terrorism, counter-hijack, those sort of capabilities; it’s where we have a mutual threat, and we should work together to defeat that threat.

Journalist:

You don’t have confidence in the Indonesian police to fight terrorism, considering that there is a special counter-terrorism unit within the Indonesian police force?

Senator Hill:

I think they’ve improved significantly, and I think Australia has helped in that regard as well. But, as is the case in Australia, you need various layers, depending upon the nature of the threat, and in some instances, the military will have capabilities that the police don’t have.

Journalist:

And what circumstances would you foresee that being the case?

Senator Hill:

Well, it could be in relation to an aviation incident - we don’t generally like to speculate on the detail of these things, but you imagine the sort of circumstances where the SAS in Australia would be called in to assist.

Journalist:

Now, who initiated this resumption of training with Kopassis - was it Australia’s idea, or Indonesia’s?

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Senator Hill:

There’s been a recognition on both sides that it would be in each of our interests to assist Indonesia in this regard.

Journalist:

But whose idea was it though?

Senator Hill:

Who thought of it first?

Journalist:

Yes.

Senator Hill:

I don’t know who thought of it first (laugh), they’ve always thought that they can benefit from training with Australians, and we’ve always thought that it can benefit Australia. But after the East Timor incident, it’s had to be a gradual rebuilding of confidence.

Journalist:

Well, in Australia in 1999 the Federal Government took the principled decision not to deal with Kopassis any more in any official capacity - in other words, training exercises. So is there any indication now, in deciding to overturn that decision, that the culture in Kopassis has been drummed out, and that those responsible for human rights abuses are no longer there?

Senator Hill:

I think there’s been significant improvement in that regard. Indonesia has changed significantly - the political leadership of TNI has grown. They’ve been more demanding on their forces in terms of professional standards, they look to us for assistance to continue to improve the professionalism of the force. If we take the latest experience of the withdrawal of forces from Aceh, under the peace settlement, TNI has been very good.

Journalist:

But aren’t there lingering concerns though about Kopassis’ tactics in Aceh?

Senator Hill:

Of course there are lingering concerns, but when we’re getting positive signs through their behaviour on the ground it’s important that those positive signs be recognised and rewarded. So we’ve taken the re-development of the relationship steadily, at a pace at which both sides are confident, and we now believe we’ve got to this stage where we can provide this extra training and support for Kopassis.

Journalist:

And have you sought any guarantees or assurances from Indonesia that those responsible for human rights abuses in East Timor and elsewhere are no longer in Kopassis?

Senator Hill:

Indonesia knows our position in that regard, and the Indonesian military leadership will ensure that those who are sent to Australia - they put on the list - will not cause us any embarrassment. The relationship has improved to that extent, that

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instead of those becoming a blockage to the further development of the defence forces, Indonesia will ensure that we are not put in an embarrassing situation.

Journalist:

On a more local front, the Prime Minister appeared to rule out a Cabinet re-shuffle last week - for the time being, at least. Does that mean that the pressure is off you to accept a diplomatic posting?

Senator Hill:

I didn’t know there was any pressure on me.

Journalist:

Well, it’s generally thought that you ruled out the job of Australia’s Ambassador to the UN previously in order to be close to your family. Is that still the case?

Senator Hill:

Who generally thought that?

Journalist:

Well, it was generally reported that that was the case. That’s not the case?

Senator Hill:

I’m very happy in the job that I’ve got - it’s a great privilege, and I enjoy doing it.

Journalist:

And you haven’t been canvassed in terms of taking over the UN Ambassador’ job?

Senator Hill:

Well, any canvassing, if it’s taken place, would be an internal matter about which it would be inappropriate for me to comment.

ENDS