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Indonesian Presidential Palace, Jakarta: doorstop interview.

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16 October 2002

VENUE: Indonesian Presidential Palaca, Jakarta

Doorstop Interview: The Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer the Minister for Justice and Customs Sen Chris Ellison

Mr Downer: Ladies and gentleman can I just say that Senator Ellison, the Australian Minister for Justice and I have had a very constructive and positive series of meetings this morning, in particular with President Megawati Soekarnoputri. We have expressed our condolences to the people of Indonesia and particularly, the people of Bali, for the terrible tragedy that occurred on the night of 12 October. I have told the President that Australia will continue to be generous in the assistance it provides to the people of Bali to help them overcome the trauma and the impact of the crisis. In particular, Australia will continue to provide medical support to the hospitals in Bali and to the doctors and nurses there. If there are any Indonesians who need special treatment that they are not able to get in the hospital in Bali, we will be happy to provide such treatment for them in Australia. I think this must be seen as a team effort, Australia and Indonesia together, in responding to the horrific crisis. In February of this year, the Prime Minister and President Megawati signed a memorandum of understanding on counter-terrorism and the President and I have been able to reflect on this today. We have agreed that Australia and Indonesia under the auspices of that memorandum of understanding will establish a joint investigation and intelligence team to work through the issues flowing from the tragedy in Bali. We appreciate very much the spirit of cooperation that has been so forthcoming from the President and from her Ministers who we both met with during the course of the day. There is no doubt that this incident has been a great shock to the Indonesians, as well as to Australians. We share the shock, we share the sorrow, we share the burden of ensuring that between us and with the support of other countries as well, we are able to hunt down and bring to justice those people that are responsible for this terrible tragedy. I do appreciate the President's determination to take a strong stand against terrorism in Indonesia. We have been concerned about terrorist organisations operating in Indonesia and there is no doubt that the President and other Ministers are committed to ensuring that Indonesia is as free of terrorism as is humanly possible. So all in all, both Senator Ellison and I have been delighted with a series of meetings we have had here today, particularly with the President. We have made real progress in agreeing on a joint investigation and intelligence team to work through the issues coming from the terrible events of 12 October and we appreciate the cooperation of the Indonesians. I'll ask Senator Ellison to say a few words.

Mr Ellison: I fully endorse the comments by my colleague, Alexander Downer, in relation to offering our condolences to the Indonesian people for the loss of life which occurred in Bali. Can I say that this joint investigative and intelligence team is extremely important in bringing to justice those responsible for that barbaric act in Bali. We already have Australian Federal Police working on the ground with Indonesian Police. They have an excellent working relationship and this formalises how that investigation will be conducted. We have indicated to the Indonesian Government that we will offer every resource available from Australia in relation to the investigation of this matter and we are totally committed to bringing those guilty of this act to justice.

Mr Downer: Just two or three questions only and then we better...

Journalist: this morning after your meeting ...(inaudible)... That JI does not exist in Indonesia. Are you sure that ...(inaudible)?

Mr Downer: We have been very satisfied with the position that the President and other Ministers have articulated in relation to taking a strong stand against terrorism. As you know the Indonesian Government has been drafting anti-terrorism legislation and this anti-terrorism legislation has gone through now, i think I am right in saying, six drafts. There has been some controversy with Parliament in the drafting process. But we understand the Indonesian Government now is moving towards, as a short term measure, to introducing a regulation consistent with this anti-terrorism legislation and then for the regulation to be turned into a legislation when the Parliament is able to do that. This, I think, will be a very important step forward. We are all aware there are sensitive political issues in Indonesia in relation to a number of organisations, we appreciate that. But at the same time whatever names you give to organisations, the important thing is that all of our governments, Australia, Indonesia, other governments in the region: Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines - we all take a very strong stand on the issue of terrorism and if the Indonesian government does move ahead with this decree or this regulation, as a short term measure for giving the government greater powers in dealing with suspected terrorists, then that will be an important step forward.

Journalist: Mr Downer, why weren't Indonesians medically evacuated out of Bali along with other foreigners to Australia on Sunday and Monday?

Mr Downer: well, Indonesians were in Indonesia.

Journalist: So were other foreigners and they were evacuated for free during ...(inaudible). Why were they not evacuated?

Mr Downer: Well, the Indonesians didn't ask to be evacuated and what we've said is that the hospital was in Indonesia and the Indonesians obviously, and i think typically, would rather remain at home than go overseas. That's normal. That's entirely understandable. The foreigners were overseas, so i think in a case... Well i'm not getting into a long argument about it, the point is quite simple. One, foreigners were overseas at the time the incident happened. We gave particular priority to repatriating injured Australians and to relieving the pressure on the hospitals by taking other foreigners out. Secondly, we had said to the Indonesian Government that where there are circumstances where the hospital is unable to cope with Indonesians we would be able to look after them as well.

Journalist: There is a report breaking in the washington post that a former member of the Indonesian Air Force admitted to assembling the bomb.

Mr Downer: I have not heard this. Many things occur in the Washington Post. Some are true and some aren't true. I have not heard anything...

Journalist: Another item in the Washington Post Mr Downer referred to intercepts...

Mr Downer: Are we all part of the Washington Post?

Journalist: ... Referred to an intercept made by the Americans about a credible threat against a particular tourist site and then nominated Bali. Have you checked whether that particular information was...

Downer: I have checked with the American Ambassador this morning about this interpretation of intelligence, which is spun in the Washington Post. I don't think officers from the American Embassy would have been holidaying in Bali last weekend if officers of the Embassy have intelligence to say that they, and other westerners, were going to be attacked in Bali. No, i think the advice we had from the Americans was consistent with all we have said until now.

Journalist: Did we do enough with the MOU (...inaudible...) of what has happened?

Mr Downer: Did we do enough with the MOU?

Journalist: Yes...enough?

Mr Downer: Yes, I think we have. We now have the benefit of hindsight. We didn't know that what happened on Saturday was going to happen. Obviously if we had known that, we could have stopped it between us. We could have stopped it happening. But we didn't know about it and that, of course, is deeply unfortunate. I mean, the Indonesians, the Americans, the Australians - none of us knew that this incident was going to occur. It having occurred, I think there are some consequences that have flown from that. First of all, we did already have with the Indonesians cooperation between our police forces and intelligence agencies on the issue of anti-terrorism. We talked with each other a good deal about it and did some work together. But as a result of what has happened on Saturday, we are now stepping up this joint team. I think the team will be a substantial enhancement of our joint capabilities as articulated in the memorandum of understanding, as a very important step forward and should be helpful in ensuring that this issue is resolved.

Journalists: (inaudible)

Mr Downer: Somebody who hasn't asked a question.

Journalist: With the significant and continuing threat of terrorist attacks within Indonesia, are you reassessing consular warnings for Australians?

Mr Downer: Yes, we are reassessing everything. We are having a look at that. Seeing whether our consular warnings need somehow to be changed or upgraded. We are assessing the situation in relation to the staff and their dependants at our Embassy. We are just assessing it, not to draw any conclusions from that. We are simply going through the process of looking at all the material, seeing if there are new, fresh, different dangers from those we assessed in the past. Does the Bali bombing mean that this is going to be a pattern of behaviour by terrorist groups? What success are we all, as an international community supporting the Indonesians, going to have in stopping any further actions that might take place in bringing to justice and intercepting operations and so on. We need to assess all of these things, it is too early to say much about that.

Journalist: ...(inaudible...)

Mr Downer: I can't hear you.

Mr Downer: Should Australians still go to Bali? Well, are they interested in going? Obviously many Australians have cancelled their trips to Bali, as you can understand in the circumstances. Some are still going to Bali. Our advice to Australians is to defer all travel to Bali for the time being.

Journalist: ...(inaudible)... Several countries - Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines as well as Australia - have all said that JI should be declared a terrorist organisation. Based on your meetings this morning, do you think the Indonesian Government is finally prepared to do that?

Mr Downer: I won't say too much publicly about that, but i think in the next week or so, the Indonesian Government will have more to say about that issue, but that's a matter for the Indonesian Government. I have certainly discussed this issue with the Indonesian Government. Our concerns about Jema'ah Islamiyah operating through South East Asia, it's a view that has been expressed by the Malaysians and Singaporeans and the Phillipinos as you rightly say, and the Americans. I don't want to say too much about this, but the Indonesians are obviously examining this issue very closely.

Journalist: ...(inaudible)...

Mr Downer: Cooperation, i think, is very constructive. It is important that our two countries work together. We are not coming here to Indonesia and lecturing Indonesia, they are not lecturing us. We have a framework already of cooperation in the memorandum of understanding on counter-terrorism and we have reached agreement to establish this joint team. I think the joint team is a very important step forward. The joint team will obviously work with other countries that have made offers of help as well. Countries like Britain, American, Sweden i think, so you know, we are all putting in place the right sort of framework to address this problem. The last thing i say about Indonesia is that this shocking act of terror in Bali, was a bomb attack against foreigners. It was clearly designed to kill foreigners. Ultimately, this is a direct attack against Indonesia and against Indonesians, the stability of Indonesian, against the Indonesian economy and i think this is a point very strongly understood by the Indonesian government. This is a point the Indonesian government has made to me and it is a very significant point. We are in dealing with this problem, Australia and Indonesia, and South East Asia generally - we are in this together and we have to successful.

Journalist: ...(inaudible)...

Mr Ellison: This will be a joint effort, co-chaired by both Indonesia and Australia and as Alexander Downer has said there will be other countries involved, but it will be a joint team between Indonesia and Australia.

Journalist: Is Indonesia ...(inaudible)... Has Australia reach a ...

Mr Downer: We have made no decision at all to change our position in relation to existing policy in terms of cooperation with TNI. Thank you.