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Monday, 10 November 2008
Page: 10276

Mrs IRWIN (2:56 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Will the minister advise the House of the Australian government’s advice with respect to travel to Indonesia, following the execution of the Bali bombers?

Mr STEPHEN SMITH (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the member for her question. Can I start where I have started on this matter in recent days, and that is to express my deepest sympathy for the family members of the victims of both Bali bombings. The last week or so, in particular yesterday, has been a terrible reminder of tragic personal circumstances and loss. I am sure that all members of the House join in the expression of sympathy and condolence to the families in what has been, in my view, a terrible reminder of very tragic family circumstances.

For some time, indeed since November 2002 in the aftermath of the first Bali bombing, the effective travel advice for Indonesia, including Bali, has been for Australians to reconsider their need to travel. Whilst until 2005 it was described differently, that has been the effective travel advice, so far as the Australian government is concerned, to Australians contemplating travel to Indonesia, including Bali.

On Saturday, 8 November and again on Sunday following the executions of the Bali bombers, the travel advisory was reissued and updated. It remains at the same level, the second-highest level: ‘Reconsider your need for travel’. But, to bring it up to date and remain current with ongoing events, it has been reissued and updated following the executions.

Can I draw the House’s attention to important parts of that travel advisory. Australians should reconsider their need to travel to Indonesia, including Bali, due to the very high threat of terrorist attack. The executions of the Bali bombers could prompt a strong reaction from their supporters, including demonstrations, acts of violence and acts of reprisal. Regrettably, the government continues to receive credible information that terrorists could be planning attacks in Indonesia and, regrettably, we continue to receive credible information that Bali remains an attractive target for terrorist activity.

In particular, given that we are at the end of the school year, members would of course be aware that numbers of young Australians may be planning, after their school exams at the end of their school year, to travel to Indonesia, and Bali in particular. I draw the attention of those young school graduates and their parents to the travel advisory, and I urge those young Australians and their parents, if they do decide to travel to Bali and Indonesia, to exercise heightened caution at this time and to avoid those places which we know have been targets for terrorist attack in the past, in particular, bars, beaches, shopping malls and the like.

It has of course been drawn to my attention and has been part of the public commentary in the context of the execution of the Bali bombers that, as a consequence of our travel advisory, numbers of young students who have pre-booked or previously planned to travel to Bali may now be contemplating a change of circumstances, a change of plan. Over the weekend I have urged the travel industry to exercise maximum flexibility if young Australians seek to change their travel arrangements so far as Bali or Indonesia are concerned. I welcome the news that Jetstar and Virgin Blue, two of the airlines which have flights to Bali, have waived their fees for travellers wishing to change the date of their travel to Bali in November. I am advised that, so far as Jetstar is concerned, the waiver of this fee applies for changes made in November to as late as September of next year. I again call on all airlines and the travel industry generally—travel agents, airlines—to exercise maximum flexibility.

Some members of the House may be aware that for the last few years, indeed since 2004, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has consulted formally with the travel industry through the Smartraveller Consultative Group. This has generally taken the form of annual consultations where the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the travel industry engage in a dialogue to ensure that the travel industry is aware of matters relating to safety so far as travel is concerned.

I can advise the House that on Friday of this week in Sydney the department will be convening a special and urgent meeting of the Smartraveller Consultative Group with the travel industry to see whether more can be done to maximise the flexibility so far as changed travel arrangements to Bali or Indonesia are concerned. I again welcome the action already taken by Jetstar and Virgin Blue.

I conclude my remarks to the House by making some comments in respect of capital punishment. Australia, through the states, abolished capital punishment, the death penalty, more than 20 years ago. The view of the Commonwealth of Australia, and I choose my words carefully to include the states, the territories and the Commonwealth, has been that the death penalty is not appropriate for Australia. Internationally, Australia supports the abolition of the death penalty as a form of punishment, and Australia and the Australian government have been active in the United Nations, urging this view upon nations who continue to use the death penalty as a sanction.

Indeed, in December 2007, one of the first acts of the current government was to co-sponsor a resolution at the General Assembly calling for a moratorium so far as capital punishment, or the death penalty, is concerned. Australia will be repeating this co-sponsorship this year. This of course followed on from when, in 2006, the then Australian government and Australia supported a similar statement presented to the General Assembly by Finland. I have noted the comments made by those opposite which reflect the bipartisan approach on this issue in terms of both of a domestic sanction and Australia’s view to the world generally.

I conclude by again urging those Australians who are contemplating travel to Indonesia, including Bali, to very carefully consider the travel advisory on the website and to bear that very carefully in mind when making their travel plans.