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Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26367

Senator STOTT DESPOJA (4:06 PM) —In conducting the inquiry into security threats to Australians in South-East Asia, the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee undertook to take an objective assessment of the intelligence that was available to Australian authorities prior to the 12 October 2002 bombings. We needed to know if this was reflected in any of the travel advisories. Yet at the same time we have all been acutely aware of the human element associated with all these issues. As a consequence this inquiry was at times incredibly moving, emotive and difficult. At a public hearing in Adelaide we heard evidence from a number of victims of the bombings. We heard from David Marshall, son of Bob Marshall, who was killed in the bombings. We heard from Leanne and Samantha Woodgate, who were both seriously injured as a consequence of the bombings. We heard from members of the Sturt football team, who lost mates and suffered severe injuries. And we heard from Brian Deegan, who lost his son Josh. I acknowledge Brian Deegan's presence in the gallery today.

These witnesses spoke from the heart, and their evidence was compelling. For them, this was not just another Senate inquiry; it was an opportunity for them to share their experiences, to tell their stories, and to express their frustrations, their anger and their search for some answers. As David Marshall told us, they were there `because none of our questions have ever really been answered truthfully'. As committee members, we were also searching for answers. But this inquiry was never intended as a witch-hunt. While the committee has not shied away from criticising those in responsibility, the primary objective of this inquiry was never to cast blame; it was to find out what went wrong and what changes needed to be made in order to prevent a similar tragedy in the future.

As the Democrat representative on this committee, I have considered all of the evidence and given careful thought to what conclusions can be drawn from that evidence and what recommendations, if any, should be made. While the chair's report identifies a number of issues that do concern me, in the end I felt that it did not go far enough. For this reason, Senator Brown and I have prepared a supplementary report. Our report refers to intelligence indicating that, prior to 12 October, Jemaah Islamiah had developed the intention and the ability to attack soft targets such as hotels, bars and airports. Given the abundance of tourists, especially Australian tourists, at any given time in Bali, it was an obvious target. Indeed it had been identified as a possible target by an ONA official during a face-to-face briefing with the Minister for Foreign Affairs in June 2002. It had also been the location of a fictional attack in a training exercise involving Australian intelligence officers. The committee found that intelligence available to Australian authorities prior to 12 October suggests that Bali could not be seen as an exception to the high terrorist risk which applied to the rest of Indonesia.

Our dissenting report does go one step further. It finds that the intelligence demonstrated that Bali was an obvious target and presented a particularly high risk. This was not reflected in any way in the travel advisory in force immediately before the bombings. That advisory failed to warn of the high risk associated with travel to Bali or even counter the prevalent view among tourists that Bali was a safe haven. More significantly, the advisory contained a misleading statement which fostered a misconception that Bali could be excluded from the high risk which applied in other parts of Indonesia. Our report also documents evidence of a lapse on behalf of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, where he failed to act on information conveyed to him in a face-to-face briefing that Bali was a possible target for a terrorist attack.

The report concludes that there is a need for a judicial inquiry into the Bali bombings and recommends accordingly. I would like to record that this is not a conclusion that I have reached lightly, but one which I have given careful and considered thought to. In reaching this conclusion I have been influenced by two particular considerations in addition to the evidence before the committee. First was the fact that this committee faced severe limitations in conducting this inquiry, which prevented us from getting to the bottom of some of the key issues. Second, I have been acutely aware of the responsibility which the committee bears in relation to the potential for this inquiry to help prevent further terrorist attacks in the future. Having heard incredibly moving evidence from those who were directly impacted by this tragedy, it is my strong conviction that we must turn every stone in the pursuit of information that might increase our understanding as to why we failed to detect the Bali bombings. I seek leave to incorporate the last paragraphs of my remarks.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

This is why I believe a Royal Commission is justified—indeed, necessary—in these circumstances. For the sake of the victims of the Bali bombings, and the entire Australian community, I hope that the Government will take this recommendation seriously.

I conclude by acknowledging that this has been a long and intensive inquiry. The preparation of this report has involved a meticulous analysis of the evidence by the Committee, with invaluable assistance from the Secretariat, in particular the Committee Secretary, Brenton Holmes.

(Time expired)