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Greens Senator discusses the necessity of a Senate inquiry into the bombing in Bali.

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VIVIAN SCHENKER: It is still very early days as Australia comes to terms with the Bali tragedy, but the hard questions are already being asked and one of the most politically difficult issues for the federal government is the question of whether there has been an intelligence failure. The Prime Minister’s responded by ordering a review of all intelligence material after government agencies admitted they had received a US warning that Bali was a potential terrorist target. John Howard has reiterated we received no specific threat about Bali, and that has been backed up by the US, but the federal opposition says that’s not the point.


Cathy Van Extel is with us again from Canberra. Now Cathy, what is the point?


CATHY VAN EXTEL: Labor wants to establish whether our intelligence agencies responded correctly to the information that they were given or whether there has been a system failure. One of the chief concerns is the differing advice by American and Australian authorities on travel to Bali. Underpinning that, of course, is the question: would stronger advice by Australia have saved any lives? It is a question that can never be answered, but it is important to establish just what occurred, if only for the peace of mind of Australians in the future.


The Prime Minister was really left with no alternative but to order a review of the intelligence information. The Greens Leader, Bob Brown, believes that there should also be a Senate inquiry and he is in the studio with me this morning. Thanks for coming in today.


BOB BROWN: Good morning, Cathy.


CATHY VAN EXTEL: What would a Senate inquiry achieve that won’t be covered by the government’s own review?


BOB BROWN: Preferably, it would be a parliamentary inquiry with the backing of all political parties. I think that is very important because we are talking about the interests of the nation here. It has to be sorted out over the next couple of weeks. The priority must be bringing aid to the people suffering from this terrible outrage—and people are very much suffering, both in Bali and here and elsewhere around the world; and secondly, to track down the killers; that is the priority. But it is inevitable that there will be a major inquiry to look at the background and the events leading up to the Bali bombing, and what warnings were given will be included in that—and how they were handled. The Prime Minister has asked the Director-General of Security to look at the Australian performance on that matter but a wider inquiry is inevitable, and we will—as a body politic—need to be looking at how to shape that inquiry to make sure it is inclusive and it has the backing of the nation and it’s rigorous. Because while we can’t undo the horrific events in Bali, we can help better prepare ourselves for any potential future terrorist threat. It’s impossible always to be able to abolish terrorism but we can better prepare ourselves if there is a further attack planned at some time in the future.


CATHY VAN EXTEL: You say that an inquiry is inevitable but do you have the support or will you get the support of other parties?


BOB BROWN: It is not necessarily going to come from the Greens. I think it should come from all parties including the government. I am mooting the fact that it is inevitable; it is going to happen. We’ll certainly be looking at the parameters of that inquiry but I expect that, in the coming couple of weeks, it will evolve that there will be an agreement between the opposition, the government and all parties that an inquiry go forward, and the parameters for that inquiry—which will need to be very wide and need to take in expertise from wherever it might come—will be set quite soon.


CATHY VAN EXTEL: In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, you called for the government to turn its focus back on our region rather than more broadly, and particularly on the issue of Iraq. There has been some quite strong public reaction on this particular point. Do you expect that the tragedy is going to polarise attitudes in Australia?


BOB BROWN: I think we do need to concentrate on the region. We are country of 20 million people; we are not the United States; we have big problems in our own region. One of the great problems—and this is going to have to be met with an inquiry—is what is going on inside Indonesia? We’ve got a huge country to our north; terrorism and terrorist cells are there; yet, just in the last day, the Security Minister, Mr Bangbang Yudhoyono, has said that there aren’t terrorist cells there, and there is a denial there that we have to be able to break through. And that is going to take enormous diplomatic wherewithal. But the whole world is putting pressure on Indonesia now because more than 20 nations have lost citizens in this outrage; many Balinese have died; and in Indonesia the pressure is on.


I am right behind the government having sent Foreign Minister Downer and other personnel to Indonesia. They have got results. There is now to be a joint Indonesian-Australian effort at intelligence to track down terrorists and prevent such events in the f uture. But we’ve got a long way to go, obviously, and I think we are going to have a big job coping with our region, both in terms of defence and infrastructure, and it doesn’t leave room for us to be joining a Bush-led invasion of Iraq.


CATHY VAN EXTEL: Now, prior to the Bali tragedy in discussions about the Cunningham by-election which is coming up this weekend, Iraq was one of the issues. Post-last weekend, how is the tragedy being played out in Cunningham?


BOB BROWN: That is very hard to say. The people of the Illawarra are hurting like everywhere else. There’s tragic stories coming from the region of people trying to find loved ones in Bali and unable to do so at the moment. That whole frustration which is striking right across the nation is impacting on the people of Cunningham as well. It is extraordinary that the American Embassy has decided to send people to Cunningham to interview the 13 candidates. I find that quite remarkable, but we will see what their motivation is for that. However, it is one of the factors in this by-election which has overshadowed this awesome tragedy that all Australians are feeling.


CATHY VAN EXTEL: Senator Brown, thank you for your time this morning.


BOB BROWN: Thanks, Cathy.


VIVIAN SCHENKER: Greens Senator, Bob Brown, talking to Cathy Van Extel in Canberra.