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Tuesday, 24 June 2003
Page: 17287

Mr RUDD (2:46 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Is the minister aware of ASIO's submission to the Senate inquiry on Bali where ASIO states that, on 9 August 2002, they issued a threat assessment which stated:

ASIO assessed the threat of terrorist attack against Australian interests in Indonesia remained HIGH and noted the following:

ยท the reports suggested Western interests, principally US, but also British and Australian, were among the intended targets.

Minister, could you advise the House how this ASIO threat assessment was reflected in your department's subsequent travel advice on Indonesia, dated 13 August 2002? Furthermore, in relation to the department's further travel advisories of 10, 13 and 20 September 2002, which refer to `the ongoing risk of terrorist activity' and that `Australians should maintain a high level of personal security awareness', could the minister inform the House where these travel advisories reflect ASIO's August threat assessment that Australian interests themselves were the target of terrorist threat in Indonesia?

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —Clearly, the travel advisories during 2002—as is certainly the case now—reflected the information that the department got, in particular, from ASIO. I do not have the details in front of me, but I do certainly recall during 2002 our travel advisories made it clear that there was a risk of terrorist attacks. These are travel advisories for Australians so, ipso facto, they were directed to Australians. There was no question of our concern about possible terrorist attacks. We had been warning not only through travel advisories but also, as I said yesterday, in answers to parliamentary questions—some of them from this side of the House and I think some of them from the other side of the House as well during the course of last year—and in a number of speeches about the risk of terrorism in South-East Asia and Indonesia. I particularly recall during the period of September-October, before the Bali bombing on 12 October, making some very robust and somewhat criticised comments in parts of Indonesia. I said on Lateline at one stage in September that Abu Bakar Bashir, who is the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiah, should be arrested.

Mr DOWNER —Yes, on Lateline. The Leader of the Opposition will be interested to know it is a very good program. He should be prepared to go on it more often. I also made a comment in a speech—

Opposition members interjecting

Mr DOWNER —I know he is frightened of Lateline.

The SPEAKER —The minister will come to the question.

Mr DOWNER —During early October when I was in Kuala Lumpur, I took the opportunity at a World Economic Forum conference of referring again to my deep concerns about Abu Bakar Bashir, who himself responded with some gratuitous remarks about how I should become a Muslim or something. The serious point here is that throughout 2002—not only through travel advisories which warned Australians in Indonesia of possible terrorist attacks but also in a number of other ways, and ONA in particular at the recent Senate committee hearing made this clear—our understanding of the threat of Jemaah Islamiah grew. It is well known that that particular concern came to a head towards the middle of the year. As that concern grew, so did our comments about the risks and the dangers. That was reflected in travel advisories. But it was very important to do more than that, and to talk about these issues.

All of this of course does not give much comfort to the victims of the Bali bombing. We all know that. It is such a terrible thing that so many people would be killed. It is a matter that everybody regrets: that nobody knew the Bali bombing was going to happen. Otherwise it could have been stopped. There has been information from time to time about possible terrorist attacks in South-East Asia. As the House may recall, there was one not very long ago in Surabaya, and it was possible not only to issue a warning in relation to that but also for people on the ground to take steps to try to deal with it. There was not the terrorist attack that had been feared. This was a few weeks ago. If only we had had that information on Bali, perhaps history would have been different.