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Howard Government leaves the Australian people in the dark on a fundamental matter of national security.

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Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs


The confusion between Australia and the United States over the terrorist alert issued by the US Department of Homeland Security continues to cast serious doubts over the Howard Government’s ability to handle fundamental matters of national security.

We have now had six versions of the implications of this alert for Australia in just the last 48-hours:

1. On Tuesday the Washington Post claimed US officials had learned of “credible threats of possible new airline suicide hijackings by terrorists planned for the latter part of the summer”. It quoted US Department of Homeland Security spokesman Gordon Johnroe as stating: “The US intelligence community has received information related to al Qaeda’s continued interest in using commercial aviation here in the United States and abroad to further their cause”.

2. In response Tuesday night the Attorney General issued the statement: “The Australian Government is aware of recent media reports (Washington Post) that Al Qa'ida continues to look for terrorist opportunities in civil aviation. Advice to the Government from intelligence agencies is to the effect that the intelligence on which the media report is based does not justify raising relevant threat levels at this time.”

3. On Wednesday, news that the US reports that the Department of Homeland Security had released new terrorism warnings surfaced. The Department of Homeland Security reportedly stated: “At least one of these attacks could be executed by the end of the summer 2003…Al-Qaeda planners have primarily considered suicide hijackings and bombings as the most promising method to destroy aircraft in flight as well as to strike ground targets…Attack venues may include the United Kingdom, Italy, Australia or the east coast of the United States, due to the relatively high concentration of government, military and economic targets.”

4. The Attorney General’s office then made another statement in response: "The intelligence on which the US advisory was based did not refer to Australia as a possible site for an attack…We've been advised by the United States that they are going to correct the information and will be issuing a new threat advisory shortly.”

5. This morning ABC reported the next development: “But in Washington, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, Brian Roehrkasse, has told the ABC that it stands by the original memo and it is inaccurate to say a revised one will be put out. Mr Roehrkasse also says he is unaware of any contact between Australian officials and officials at his department.”

6. And then Foreign Minister Downer said: "They clearly did make a mistake, and they've rectified that mistake, or are in the process of rectifying that mistake…We had some information from the Americans that an Australian aircraft conceivably could be hijacked and used as a weapon against the east coast of the United States or somewhere in Europe…Australia was just in a list of countries that might be sources of aircraft, that's all.”

This series of events brings into question the Howard Government’s credentials on national security. On Iraq they have been loose with the truth on national security. On this matter, they seem just plain incompetent.

We all wait now for the seventh instalment in this terrorist alert saga. If and when the US Department of Homeland Security issues some type of clarifying statement, what does this entire saga say about the way such sensitive national security information has been handled by the Howard Government - a Government that constantly boasts of the central importance of its intelligence relationship with the United States?

Ends 31 July 2003

For further information contact: Alister Jordan 0417 605 823