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Foreign Minister discusses Abu Bakar Bashir; banning Jemaah Islamiyah; and relations with Indonesia.

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DATE: October 6 2005

TITLE: 5AA interview with Nicole Haack

NICOLE HAACK - PRESENTER: We’re joined now by Foreign Minister Alexander Downer. Welcome to the program.


HAACK: Thank you for agreeing to talking with us this afternoon.

DOWNER: A pleasure.

HAACK: I understand you’re planning a trip to Indonesia to raise some of these issues.

DOWNER: Yes, I’ll probably be going next week. We’re just finalising the details and making sure we can make the appropriate appointments there. But your introduction says a lot of it. I mean, we obviously don’t want to see these sentences that are currently being served reduced, including Abu Bakar Bashir under the current decree which determines the reduction of these sentences.

When Ramadan comes to an end, which will be in a couple of months time, if Abu Bakar Bashir, for example, who’s sentence will be reduced by, I think, about one and a half months, which means he’ll get out in June next year, according to our estimation.

So, we want to encourage the President and the Government to give a priority to stopping this process of automatic reductions in sentences and, well, I hope that we can be successful. I’m not sure whether we can be.

HAACK: When you say encourage, just how far can you go, because understanding, of course, there’s some sensitivity involved when you’re dealing with another government and its affairs?

DOWNER: Well yes. I mean, in the end, obviously, they make the decisions, not us. So, the question is, to what extent are we able to persuade them. I think, you know, being rude to them and just generating publicity here for its own sake, and not thinking through what the consequences of that might be in terms of the Indonesians losing faith, those things you have

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to think through. But, look, we do our best, but ultimately these are decisions they make, just as the decision on whether to ban Jemaah Islamiah is made or not, well, they’re going to have to make that decision. We would like Jemaah Islamiah, I don’t have any exaggerated expectation that it would solve the problem of terrorism, but it would be a good symbolic gesture if they did that.


DOWNER: And it might have some practical value.

HAACK: What message would it send, do you believe, the banning of Jemaah Islamiah? What could that achieve?

DOWNER: Well, look, it could achieve, first of all, sending a stronger message to the world of Indonesia’s determination to crack down on terrorism. Though, to be fair, they have been pretty aggressive towards many terrorists, and there are some of them now on death row. Others have been sent to life imprisonment and others - still others on very long custodial sentences. But it would send a strong message, and it would - look, in terms of stopping further terrorist attacks, it would have a limited impact to be honest. But anyway, it would be a good step forward.

HAACK: Would it have some impact in terms of the schools and the training organisations that Jemaah Islamiah is involved in running?

DOWNER: Well, it might not, because it’s hard to prove what men (inaudible) Jemaah Islamiah are actually involved. It (inaudible) kind of an organisation. It’s not like belonging - I said to someone the other day, it’s not like belonging to the Mount Barker bowling club or the, you know, something like the Liberal or the Labor Party in South Australia where you have membership and you pay proscriptions and they have an annual general meeting and they elect their office bearers. There’s none of that.

It’s much vaguer or more - although amorphous is the right word, I think, much more amorphous type of an organisation. So, proving someone is a member of it would be incredibly difficult to do. Because more of it’s more of a state of mind, I suppose, you would say, than a club.

HAACK: Do you think that the latest bombings, and, of course, the devastation that it will cause, not only to those involved, but certainly within Indonesia itself, may assist you in getting the ear of the government on some of these issues?

DOWNER: Yes, I do. Yes. I don’t think there’s any question of that. I think they’ll be interested in what we have to say, and hopefully, they’ll be responsive. See, part of the problem in Indonesia is that the system moves a little more slowly than our system. You know, for example, after the London bombings, we had a review of our antiterrorist laws by our various agencies, police, and so on. And then, as a result of that review the government’s announced what it wanted to do. And now all those agreements are reached with the premiers and now all those laws are going to be implemented.

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It’s all been done pretty quickly. In Indonesia that sort of thing can take a lot longer, and the government has got to get legislation through the parliament, the President doesn’t have control of the parliament. The majority in the parliament belongs to different political parties. It’s all very complicated.

HAACK: One of the issues that we hear raised, from time to time, I guess, when it comes to talking about how tough, or otherwise, Indonesia is on terrorists, and the ability of our government to have any impact, I guess, on the decisions made by the Indonesian Government, is this issue of the aid we offer to Indonesia. Suggestions that pressure could be brought to bear there. What would be your response to that?

DOWNER: Well, I don’t think that’s, frankly, a very good idea, because it wouldn’t be in our interest to cut off the aid, because if we did, that would simply weaken Indonesia still further. And to weaken Indonesia is to reduce their capacity to do all sorts of things. And one of the things we want them to do is fight terrorism. I think you’d just get into a tit for tat. You’d basically slide down, in terms of your relationship, and by reducing our aid, you’d weaken Indonesia’s capacity anyway.

I, look, I understand that people raise this with me. It’s tempting to think, well, we’ll just punish them if they don’t do what we say. But you can’t really treat countries like that, and expect to get away with it. They wouldn’t just think, here, we’ve done something wrong, we’d better rectify our errors. If we did that, they would respond quite aggressively, and it would be unhelpful. I mean, it would just create a disaster in our bilateral relations.

HAACK: How important are those bilateral relations? The fact that we maintain somewhat of a harmonious relationship with the Indonesian Government?

DOWNER: Well, we get good results out of it. I suppose, you know, at the end of the day, that’s the test, not whether we have dinner together and like each other. But the test is, what comes out of a dinner together and us liking each other. They have been quite good in terms of counterterrorism.

I know, your listeners might find that a bit hard to believe, but they have arrested a lot of people. We’ve had very important cooperation with them at the level of the Australian Federal Police and the Indonesian Police, which has led to the arrest of a lot of terrorists in Indonesia. A lot of terrorists would still be on the loose in Indonesia if it hadn’t been for the cooperation between the Australian Federal Police, and the Indonesian Police. That’s only been possible because of the good political relationship we have with Indonesia.

So that’s an illustration of the point. I mean, we do do a lot for Indonesia, it’s true. But you know, they’ve been very helpful to us in a number of other ways. For example, in the area of people smuggling. And there’s a bit of talk about all that today, and we wouldn’t have had anything like the success we’ve had in stopping people smuggling if it wasn’t for the cooperation we’ve managed to win from the Indonesians.

HAACK: Well, who will you be seeking a meeting with when you hopefully travel to Indonesia next week?

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DOWNER: Well, certainly with my counterpart, the foreign minister, who’s a man called Hassan Wirajuda. And also with the coordinating minister for security, the police chief; those sorts of people would be on my list. So, you know, I don’t know at this stage (inaudible) the

embassy is working on it so that they’re all going to be around or not. But if they’re all going to be around next week then I think that would be a good time for me to go.

HAACK: Minister, I thank you very much for your time this afternoon.

DOWNER: It’s a pleasure, Nicole.