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Monday, 11 August 2003
Page: 12966

Senator NETTLE (2:34 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Defence, Senator Hill. In light of comments made by the Chief of the Defence Force, General Peter Cosgrove, can the minister confirm whether the ADF will be re-establishing a cooperative relationship with the Indonesian special forces, Kopassus? Can the minister inform the Senate what form the relationship will take and whether the government has information that this controversial regiment has reformed since its involvement in East Timorese militias and the murder of West Papuan independence leaders?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —There has been quite a deal of public discussion of this matter; I have been questioned on it several times. I have said that Australia has an interest in protecting Australians and we therefore have an interest in working with Indonesians in protecting Australians. The part of the Indonesian force structure best able to provide counter-terrorism capabilities is within Kopassus. On that basis, we have commenced some discussions with Kopassus as to how we may work with them to protect Australians in the way I have just mentioned. We have also been pleased, I might say, at the response of the Indonesian police to terrorist activities in recent times, and we are working closely with the Indonesian police as well. Whether it is with the police or with Kopassus, we will work with those Indonesian force elements as is necessary to best ensure the safety of Australian citizens.

Senator NETTLE —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Is the minister aware of current accusations that the Indonesian military, particularly the two battalions of Kopassus troops that were deployed in Aceh province from 19 May this year, have been involved in numerous human rights abuses during the continued imposition of martial law in the province, including kidnapping and the burning down of community buildings, resulting in the deaths of civilians? Given General Cosgrove's announcement of the ADF's intention to re-establish military ties with Kopassus, can the minister tell the Senate whether this indicates a willingness on behalf of the government to sacrifice the human rights of Indonesians in the pursuit of closer security ties in the region?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —There is no issue of sacrificing the human rights of Indonesians. We have on many occasions made representations in relation to human rights issues in Indonesia and, in appropriate circumstances, will continue to do so. We are also happy to work with Indonesia and with its force elements to achieve a better human rights outcome. You can, we believe, do both: you can have that objective in mind whilst at the same time look to protect the interests of Australians and citizens of other countries, including Indonesia, from terrorist operations. We, apparently contrary to Senator Nettle's view, believe that that is a very worthwhile priority.