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Monday, 21 October 2002
Page: 5472

Senator CHAPMAN (2:05 PM) —My question is directed to the Minister for Justice and Customs. Will the minister update the Senate on the efforts of Australian law enforcement agencies to hunt down those responsible for the Bali atrocity and bring them to justice? Will the minister also advise the Senate about the progress of identifying the bodies of victims and returning them to their families in Australia?

Senator ELLISON (Minister for Justice and Customs) —Since I reported to the Senate last week on this matter, the figure for Australians about whom we have very serious concerns has been reduced to 92. Thankfully, there have been Australians found in Bali and they are well and safe. But of course that figure remains and we have serious concerns for those 92 Australians. Last Friday the Australian Federal Police and the Indonesian National Police signed an agreement to form a joint Indonesian-Australian police investigative team into the Bali bombings. This agreement followed a meeting between President Megawati; the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer; and me. It gives the AFP equal partnership in the conduct of the investigation and builds on the already strong relationship between the Indonesian police and the Australian Federal Police.

As the Senate would be aware, within 24 hours of the tragedy occurring, a multidiscipline team from Australia was on site in Bali. I might add that this agreement provides for such things as security at the crime scene, the taking of evidence and the comparing of information. The AFP, of course, is a highly experienced police force. It has dealt with complex murder cases and war crimes investigations and has a mandate to investigate criminal terrorist acts. I have every confidence in its ability in relation to this investigation and I can say that we welcome also the international involvement of other police forces who have had experience in such tragedies as the World Trade Centre and other bomb attacks and terrorist attacks. We now have, with the Indonesian-Australian joint police investigative team, officers from France, Germany, the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Korea, Sweden, Taiwan and Hong Kong who are all assisting.

At this time we have 109 Australian law enforcement officers and specialists in Bali as part of the investigative team. Sixty-two members of that team are from the Australian Federal Police and the remaining number are made up from the various state and territory police forces, and we acknowledge the assistance we have had from those police forces.

Investigating the bombing in Bali is an enormous task. To date over 6,300 questionnaires have been completed by passengers returning from Bali. Of those, approximately 450 witnesses have indicated that they have worthwhile information, and detailed statements will be taken from these people. Approximately 100 victims are currently in hospitals around Australia and they also need to be interviewed. As I advised the Senate last week, in a number of instances where shrapnel and glass were taken from these patients, medical staff also need to provide statements for evidentiary purposes. Furthermore, it has been established that approximately 200 people were treated by Australian Defence Force personnel in Bali and discharged. The Australian Federal Police has obtained details for those people and they are being traced internationally so that they can also be interviewed.

Of course, there is the issue of disaster victim identification, and this is something which is of high priority. This is being carried out as expeditiously as possible so that families can be reunited with victims. We have over 50 law enforcement officers from Australia directly involved in the disaster victim identification process. This is a complex process and we have secured the cooperation of the states and territories, and recently two state coroners have been up to Bali in order to ensure that state processes are also followed. This is a very important aspect and we are pursuing it as far as possible. (Time expired)

Senator CHAPMAN —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The minister did give some insight into the progress being made with regard to the identification of victims and the return of bodies to Australia. Could the minister give further information on that very important issue?

Senator ELLISON (Minister for Justice and Customs) —We have employed CrimTrac, as I mentioned, in relation to its database to assist with the identification of the victims. The Australian Federal Police has established a forensic major incident centre in Canberra with representatives from all state police agencies. We have to remember the state coronial requirements so that when we bring the victims back to Australia they are not delayed by state or territory law. That is something we are working on with the state and territory coroners, because it is essential that once we bring those victims back to Australia their loved ones can receive them.