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Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26369

Senator BROWN (4:16 PM) —I give great thanks to Brenton Holmes and the members of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee, who have put in so much work to facilitate this committee. I pay homage to and share my ongoing grief with and respect for all those who have lost loved ones in or who have been injured or damaged by the Bali bombings. I pay homage to all those who came to the aid of the sufferers and indeed to those who worked so hard to bring to justice—a process still unfolding—those responsible.

In the 12 months leading up to this disaster, it was known in the Australian intelligence services and to government that there was an escalating threat of an imminent attack and that there were terrorists who had the capability and the intent to attack a Western target in Indonesia in the near future. Indeed it was known that what turned out to be the ringleaders of the Bali bombings, people like Imam Samudra and Hambali, were abroad in Indonesia. They had already carried out or taken part in terrorist attacks on Christian churches and other facilities, and they had the intent, the money, the weapons expertise, the weapons and the wherewithal to make a further attack. So seriously was this taken by the intelligence agencies that on 18 and 19 June, four months before the Bali disaster, they—instead of being satisfied with putting it in writing—asked to give a special briefing to the minister responsible, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and in sessions over two days that briefing, which alerted the minister to the danger, took place. Amongst other things, ONA says of that period that he was alerted to the potential for terrorist activity from JI in particular. It says:

We were trying to make the impact on the minister ... to explain the danger ...

... ... ...

... we knew that there was no shortage of explosives available to them in Indonesia ... .

It says that, in the region:

... we knew there was no shortage of explosives and no shortage of weapons. We made these points clear. We said that basically they had the intention, they had the capability, and getting access to the kinds of equipment they needed would be no problem.

Bali was mentioned and the briefing alluded to possible `soft targets', including hotels, nightclubs and the airport. There was no definitive description of an impending attack but there were the ingredients of the disaster about to unfold.

This question hangs in the air: what did the minister do? He was the responsible agent of government. We as a committee have no evidence of any action consequent to and commensurate with that awesome briefing as to the danger, in the face of the Australian government, that was confronting Australians and others in Indonesia, which is on our doorstep. Certainly there is no evidence that the information was taken and conveyed to government and no evidence that appropriate action was taken with the Indonesian authorities to track down the terrorists then known to be on the move. There was no action, beyond a question to the wrong department, taken at that briefing to raise the alert with Australians who intended to travel to Indonesia, particularly Bali, where on any given day 75 per cent of Australians in Indonesia were gathered, including some 7,000 on that fateful 12 October. We cannot overlook the failure to act.

There has to be a royal commission into the circumstances leading up to the Bali bombings, to help safeguard and improve the security of Australians into the future. This committee, with its inability to vet all the information available, did not have the wherewithal to carry out the task that is warranted. It is not a case of seeking to blame; it is a case of seeking justice and seeking answers for broken hearts. Mostly it is a case of preventing such a disaster from happening again. It warrants a royal commission. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.