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Thursday, 17 October 2002
Page: 5392

Senator ELLISON (Minister for Justice and Customs) (2:00 PM) —Thank you, Mr President, and I thank the Senate for its indulgence. The foreign minister, Alexander Downer, and I returned this morning from a two-day visit to Indonesia, where we visited Bali and Jakarta. Key objectives of the visit were to provide reassurance to the victims and their families and thank emergency response personnel, as well as assess the situation on the ground and obtain Indonesian agreement to the establishment of a joint investigative team. As we now know, this mass murder resulted in a loss of life for Australians, Indonesians and many other people of different nationalities. Although early days, it would seem that Australia and Indonesia are the two countries that have suffered the heaviest loss of life. At present, 30 Australians are reported dead and 119 are unaccounted for. We have very serious concerns for these missing Australians.

In Bali, Mr Downer and I met with the Governor of Bali, the Chief of Police and friends and families of the missing and deceased. We met with the directors of the main hospital and morgue in Denpasar and spoke to those who had treated many of the victims. I expressed my sincere gratitude for the amazing effort of the hospitals and volunteers in their care of victims and their families. The hospitals dealt with an emergency that went well beyond their supplies and their capacity. They did more than their best and, without question, with the utmost commitment. Australia has delivered medical supplies to hospitals in Bali and committed $200,000 to the Indonesian Red Cross. Volunteers from the local Australian community in Bali have made an outstanding effort throughout this whole affair, and we met with them and thanked them. In particular, I spoke to a surgeon from Adelaide who was holidaying in Bali with his wife and three children. When he heard of the disaster, he went straight down to the Sari Club and worked there ministering to the injured. As I understand it, he was there for some days. Such were the efforts made by volunteers of all nationalities, but in particular I want to pay tribute to those Australian expats who did such a great job.

Mr Downer's and my visit to the bombsite in Kuta had a lasting impact on us both. On behalf of the government of Australia we laid wreaths to record in some small way a tribute to those who had lost their lives. Yesterday, in Jakarta, we met with the President of Indonesia, Mrs Megawati Sukarnoputri; the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr Hassan Wirajuda; my counterpart, the Minister for Justice, Mr Mahendra; and Mr Yudhoyono, the Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs. We expressed our sincere condolences to the people of Indonesia, and in particular to the families of those who had died. It was an aspect felt by both Mr Downer and me that all whom we met in Indonesia, particularly those in the government including President Megawati, were deeply shocked by what had happened. They conveyed to us their condolences on the loss of Australian life and indicated their total commitment to supporting us in finding those guilty of this outrageous act. They also indicated their total support in relation to helping those who had been injured and the families and friends who were still looking for missing ones.

A significant outcome of our visit was the establishment of a joint investigative and intelligence team to investigate the bombing. The Commissioner of the AFP and the Director-General of ASIO have remained in Indonesia to finalise arrangements to ensure that the very best of Australian and Indonesian expertise is applied to this crucial task. We will hold discussions with other countries affected by the incident about contributions that they can make to this investigative team. The agreement has been made possible under the auspices of the Memorandum of Understanding on Combating International Terrorism signed by President Megawati and Prime Minister Howard earlier this year. The joint investigative and intelligence team will build on existing cooperative efforts with Indonesian authorities that have seen 45 Australian Federal Police and other state and territory officers undertake investigative work and, importantly, victim identification work in Bali.

As the Senate would be aware, within 24 hours Australian law enforcement officers were in Bali to assist the victims of this brutal, unjustified mass murder and to provide assistance to the Indonesian police in their investigation. It is important to remember that this outrageous crime was committed on Indonesian soil. Consequently, Indonesian authorities are responsible for the investigation of this atrocity. The AFP continues to work closely with Indonesian authorities in assisting them with the criminal investigation. I can inform the Senate that we have now a team of police personnel in Bali assisting the Indonesian police with this investigation and that the group currently includes forensic specialists, crime scene investigation officers, search and rescue, specialist victim identification officers, post bomb blast investigators, intelligence officers, general investigators and support staff. The composition of the team is necessarily varied as the task is extremely complex.

Understandably, family and friends are seeking detailed information on the progress of the investigation but, as with many other criminal investigations, to discuss operational detail is not only inappropriate but dangerous, particularly during an investigation of this nature. Likewise, there will be much speculation in the public arena over likely arrests and other issues relating to the investigation. I expect that will continue but, as I have said, to comment on such speculation is detrimental to the investigation. Suffice it to say that during an investigation of this scale hundreds of people will be interviewed, some likely more than once. To draw premature conclusions from the standard process does not assist investigators in pursuit of the truth. Overseas experience has shown that an investigation of this magnitude will not be concluded overnight. We fully expect that this investigation will take some time but we are in it for the long haul and we will not relent in our pursuit of those responsible for this crime.

It is anticipated that the total number of people returning from Bali and having contact with police will be in the thousands. Already, approximately 5,800 questionnaires distributed to returning passengers have been received. The vast amount of information obtained through this process is being collated in conjunction with many other sources of information. The number of inquiries resulting from this process will be extensive and will take time and resources to pursue. The Australian Federal Police is coordinating those inquiries and pursuing all possible leads. The Australian Federal Police is interviewing all those who were present at the scene of the bombings and obtaining items of clothing from them for examination, both in Bali and here in Australia. They are also obtaining and copying the many hundreds of photos and videos taken by tourists in Bali at the time, and those require close examination. In the meantime, the government urges those with information or material relevant to investigations of the Bali bombing to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000. This is a very important means of community assistance in gathering important investigation in relation to this inquiry.

I want to place on record the appreciation of the Commonwealth government in relation to those state and territory police officers who are also serving in Bali in relation to this matter and also to the assistance that we have from the state and territory police who have personnel at the Western Control Centre, which is overseeing this investigation.

The Prime Minister announced yesterday that the Australian government will offer a reward of up to $2 million to encourage the provision of information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the terrorist attack in Bali. The terms of offering the reward will be discussed with Indonesian authorities. The investigating authorities are currently focused on identifying victims and collecting and collating a vast quantity of information direct from the crime scene and witnesses. Inquiries are continuing with hospitals in relation to those Australians who returned with injuries. Physical evidence, including clothing, shrapnel and glass taken from those victims is being obtained for examination. This process also requires interviewing doctors and medical staff to ensure that evidentiary processes are followed.

The focus of the AFP's initial contribution to the Indonesian police investigation into the bomb blasts at Kuta has been at the crime scene and with victim identification. Currently we have 25 AFP members involved in the disaster victim identification process on the ground. There are plans to send further specialists on the first available flights. My last information was that we are looking at another 19 officers who can assist in this regard. Disaster victim identification includes the procedures used to positively identify deceased victims of events such as those bomb blasts which occurred in Bali. Disaster victim identification is primarily the responsibility of the Indonesian authorities and they have appointed a DVI commander who has assumed responsibility for the oversight of this process and repatriation of bodies to Australia and other countries.

The Australian DVI team in Bali has been engaged by the Indonesian commander to assist in identification and crime scene examination processes. Specifically, six members are currently providing assistance with the mortuary. A number of members are also involved in obtaining information from victims' families in Bali, and members have also been assisting in the forensic examination of the bomb scene. In addition, the AFP is establishing a major incident room in Canberra with experts from around Australia to assist with disaster victim identification. This process is an extremely complex one which requires an extremely high level of identity certainty to exist before victims can be released to relatives. Whilst the reuniting of families and victims is a priority, it is essential that there be certainty in this process and that there be no mistakes.

The identification processes must comply with internationally recognised protocols which require positive scientific identification in addition to visual identification by a friend or relative. Unfortunately, but unavoidably, this process takes time, and when one has regard to the injuries and the state of bodies at the mortuary and other aspects this proves to be a very difficult task. We had the example of the Childers backpacker case where there was a fire and some 16 people perished. It was two weeks before those bodies could be released. I urge patience from all those concerned, but we can understand the anxiety of those people who are searching for loved ones who are missing and of those who want to be reunited with them.

I am pleased to advise the Senate that arrangements have been put in place to facilitate the painstaking process of identifying the deceased as quickly as possible by using the Commonwealth's CrimTrac initiative. Under the arrangements, families and relatives of Australians who are presumed killed or missing as a result of the explosion will be able to register missing persons through their state and territory police services. Telephone numbers have been established in each jurisdiction for this purpose. Police will then visit relatives and friends to collect DNA samples to be cross-matched by CrimTrac with DNA data being collected by experts in Bali. This process is one which we believe will provide certainty and which will provide a speedy as possible result in the circumstances.

This has been a great tragedy for not only Australia but also many other countries. On this visit both Mr Downer and I impressed upon Indonesia that we wanted to work closely with that country—and I must say we received the same message in return. We indicated to them that this was as much an attack on Indonesia as on Australia. One only has to see the devastation and impact that this has caused in Bali to realise that. Tragically, this has occurred in a place which many Australians have happy memories of. It has been very much a happy destination over many years for many Australians. That has added to the tragedy of this. There will be an effect felt by the Balinese people, who have been such good friends to Australia. That impact will be felt personally not only through the loss of life but also, unfortunately, through economic aspects.

Again, I want to place on record our thanks to those outstanding volunteers who assisted the work of those consular officials and Defence and emergency personnel who are doing such a great job. I want to acknowledge the great work being done by the Australian Federal Police and other members of police forces from around Australia who are there—expert officers who are assisting in this. I want to acknowledge the cooperation of the Indonesian authorities. I also want to place on record this government's commitment and the commitment of all Australians who want to see those responsible for this outrageous act brought to justice.

Honourable senators—Hear, hear!