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Joint Press Conference with Q & A session for the Inaugural Philippines-Australia Ministerial Meeting (PAMM): Sydney: 12 August 2005

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Joint press conference Q & A for the Inaugural Philippines-Australia Ministerial Meeting (PAMM), Sydney, 12 August 2005


Alexander Downer, Minister For Foreign Affairs Mark Vaile, Deputy Prime Minister And Minister For Trade He Alberto Romulo, Philippine Secretary For Foreign Affairs He Peter Favila, Philippine Secretary For Trade And Industry

PETER FAVILA: I will be glad to join my co-ministers in answering any questions from the floor.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Now if there are any questions, we have got a few minutes, not many, but if you have any questions, we’re happy to try and answer them.

QUESTION: Could I ask a question to Alberto Romulo if I may?



QUESTION: You talked about counter-terrorism cooperation. There have been some Australian Federal Police who have been spending a lot of time in the Philippines cooperating with your authority dealing with terrorists and disrupting camps. Is that something you would like to see more of? Is that something that’s covered in this memorandum or statement?


Definitely. We have had this ongoing relationship and precisely the meeting that we have here. The candid and constructive exchange that we have is precisely how we have to strengthen this relationship.

We have this relationship with Australia and all our other neighbours. So that in terms of border security, in terms of maritime security, in terms of intelligence, in terms of capability and capacity building. All of these are important because you know in this age of non-state actors; we cannot be bound by the old rules. The more so, that we should deepen and strengthen our relationship. That is one form that we are doing it.

QUESTION: What is the state of terrorism in Indonesia?

DOWNER: The Philippines.

QUESTION: The Philippines, my apologies. There has been a lot of reports about terrorist camps in the Southern Philippines. Have they been all disrupted or do they still...

ROMULO: Well the terrorists, wherever they are, are on the run. You know, when you talk of terrorist camps or that sort of thing, you can have it in any room, in any village, in any city with cyberspace. You don’t really need any camps and all of that. We experience that all over the region. But beyond the region as you have seen in what has happened in Europe and in Africa and in Russia. So the more so that we should really join hands together.

Intelligence is very important. Once we have intelligence, aggressive action is very important. But also as we said, we have to work very closely with the community, the respective community. The development of the community. We have added another dimension which Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines and that’s interfaith dialogue.

QUESTION: Minister Romulo, I wonder if I could ask you - to what extent are the difficulties being faced by your President at the moment, the political difficulties, hampering your ambitions in the regional sense in these things? Is there any affect in the political difficulties faced by the President towards regional aspirations by the Philippines?

ROMULO: Well let me say these so-called political difficulties are difficulties of any democracy. When you read the papers it is not true only in the Philippines, it is true everywhere. So I do not think there is any country which has a special exemption from these political difficulties. In fact, as I said, I am willing to challenge Minister Downer, who expresses freer and more open and more candid? You know, and I’m willing to put my bet on that.

But to answer your question, as far as our relationship with our neighbours are concerned we maintain a strong, good and constructive relationship with them. In the matter of security and in the matter of counter-terrorism we are strong because we are not only one, but we are together in the region. That’s what gives us the strength.

DOWNER: I don’t want you to get the impression that the definition of a free press is a feral press attacking the government!

QUESTION: Mr Downer, can I ask you a quick one. Can we expect to see more Australian police officers and intelligence officers working in the Philippines and stationed there on a virtual semi-permanent basis?

DOWNER: Well that’s something we are going to spend more time talking with Filipino officials about. What we’re doing out of this meeting is setting up an inter-agency consultative process. We do already have some Australian Federal Police in the Philippines working with their Filipino counterparts in one way or another. I think to be honest with you, we mutually agree that where it’s possible to enhance that cooperation, it’s a good thing.

So we’ll be talking about other things we can do under the auspices of our Memorandum of Understanding on Counter-Terrorism to build that relationship. I think it’s been working pretty well so far. We’ve been happy with the way our Federal Police and other agencies have been working with their Filipino counterparts. But sure, we can do more and we are happy to do more.

QUESTION: Minister Downer, an unrelated question if you’ll take one. If the Al-Qaeda militant that’s been recently shown on video turns out to be an Australian, what would happen to him if he was captured by other US or Australian forces.

DOWNER: Well you’ve got to remember that we as yet do not know for sure who this person is and I think the Prime Minister has again made that point this morning. So that work is still an ongoing work in progress. But let me make this point. Any Australian who joins Al-Qaeda or other related terrorist organisations is taking up arms against our country and taking up arms against the Australian people as well as our allies. We do not tolerate people who take up arms against us or our allies. If those people are caught, then they are people who in effect are combatants on a battlefield.

Now if they were wearing uniforms and fighting in a conventional army, then they would have some rights under the Geneva Convention. One of those rights would be that they’d be taken as a prisoner of war and it would be contrary to the Geneva Convention for those people in normal circumstances to be tried in a court of law. In this case they wouldn’t be combatants in the conventional sense. That is these people are not soldiers of an army, these people are unlawful combatants. They have taken up arms against us, against the Australian people, against our allies. They have gone to war with us, but they have not worn the uniform of another army, they belong to a terrorist organisation.

In those circumstances they are in a great deal of difficulty if they are detained. It’s possible for a country to detain them indefinitely. It’s quite legal for that to be done. Some countries would do that. In the case of the Americans, as you know, they’ve in some circumstances subjected people or are in the process of subjecting people to

military commissions. A kind of a process. But under international law, there is no requirement for people to be subjected in these circumstances to military commissions or to trials. They can just be detained.

The point I make is this. The one thing we don’t want if people are seized on the field of battle fighting against our people, fighting against the Australian people, is to release those people again into the field of battle so they can take up arms again against us. We don’t want to see that happen. I would only say this. Any Australian

who thinks that joining Al-Qaeda is a way for the future, is an Australian who is taking up arms against the Australian people and against our allies and will find themselves, if captured, in enormous difficulty.

QUESTION: Does that mean that the Geneva Convention wouldn’t apply?

DOWNER: Well the Geneva Convention applies to people who take up arms in an army and wear a uniform. In other words, people who adhere to the laws of war. If a person joins a terrorist organisation, although they are combatants in that they are taking up arms against, in this case, us. The Australian people and our allies. In those circumstances though, they are acting unlawfully, by not participating in an army in a formal sense.

Yet the difficulty for them is compounded by the fact that in international law, they will not be regarded as civilians. As people who are outside the ambit of combat. So the Geneva Conventions apply to people who adhere to the laws of war. That is that Geneva Conventions apply to the people who adhere to the Geneva Conventions. The Geneva Conventions are silent in circumstances where somebody is an unlawful combatant.

QUESTION: So the short answer is no.

DOWNER: Well the short answer is that there is no provision in the Geneva Conventions to deal with somebody who is an unlawful combatant. That is that international law has - the short answer is that international law hasn’t developed to the point where it has appropriate provisions to deal with people in those circumstances. They’re combatants, combatants who are detained are not to be tried in courts. That’s one of the provisions of the Geneva Conventions, at least in normal circumstances. Unless they’ve committed some egregious war crime or something. On the other hand they are not part of an army in the formal sense.

QUESTION: Mr Downer the former Australian soldier who has been named, have you been trying to track him for some years now?

DOWNER: I don’t want to say too much about him. His name is out there in the newspapers. He is one of a small number of Australians we’ve had concerns about in this respect.

That we have reason to believe that he is one of a number of Australians who has trained with Al-Qaeda. But whether this is the person, that is a matter that is being still considered by the intelligence agencies.

QUESTION: Have other countries been approached to try and trace him?

DOWNER: Well of course we work with our allies on these issues.

QUESTION: How many other suspects are there?

DOWNER: Well I don’t think I want to get into the details of how many Australians we believe - really I think this is what you mean by your question. How many Australians you believe may have undergone training with Al-Qaeda. But there are a number. There is certainly a number.

QUESTION: Mr Vaile, could you expand on the reinvestment in the Philippines to address some of this imbalance. You mentioned the mining industry. Can you elaborate on that at all. Are there any specific projects that you have in mind?


Australian companies are already involved in a couple of significant mining projects there. Where it’s been the development of a policy by the Arroyo government to create an environment that is more attractive for foreign-direct investment into the mining sector. The Philippines is very rich in resources. One of the issues to be addressed is the land tenure system obviously. Of course, with the move by the Arroyo government to try and address some of these issues and attract more FDI, the target to Australia is the vast expertise that resides in the Australian mining industry in Australia to develop the resources industry in the Philippines. Of course our industry has deployed capital and resources into other parts of south east Asia and we would like to work with them and the Philippines government to create an environment that is more attractive to that investment.

The other area, in terms of investment attraction into the Philippines is in the area of infrastructure development. The Philippines government is looking at a priority list if you like, of key infrastructure items that they want to see developed and some Australian expertise has already been deployed in the development of some very important road infrastructure there and there are areas of opportunity there. But of course to attract the capital, to attract the investment, the environment has got to be right and we are working with the Philippine government on that.

QUESTION: Mr Downer can I ask you a quick question. Would you also expand on the bilateral counter-terrorism consultations?


What we want to do is expand the bilateral relationship on counter terrorism to there being broader inter-agency consultations. That’s consultations between the whole range of our agencies that deal with counter-terrorism and their Filipino counterparts and to do that on a fairly regular basis. So we have organisations like ASIO and the AFP, our Department and others that are involved in counter-terrorism - the Attorney General’s Department - and we want to ensure that there is a broad inter-agency consultation. One of the problems with counter-terrorism activities is that you’ve got to make sure your own agencies are all cooperating with each other. Not just cooperating with other countries. To get some of these agencies from our country and from the Philippines together, it makes perfect sense.

Okay, I think that’s probably exhausted it all. Thank you.