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Attacks On Mainland A Possibility: Howard

October 14, 2002

This is the transcript of John Howard's interview with Alan Jones on Sydney radio 2GB.

JONES:

The Prime Minister's on the line. Prime Minister, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning, Alan.

JONES:

They're tough times, aren't they?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah, it's a very sad day for Australia, a very sad day indeed. There are many Australians still unaccounted for and we must prepare ourselves for a large number of deaths in the official toll, just how many I can't say. We are in the process of bringing the seriously and critically injured people back to Australia and that's going on at present, it will probably take another day or two to complete. But the final death toll and injury toll will also be several days at least before that is known. It's quite chaotic in Bali. No community of course is ready for something like this when it happens, but the medical services are not as plentiful as the circumstances would require and that's of course one of the reasons why we're bringing critically and seriously injured people back to Australia. And I do want to thank the Department of Foreign Affairs, and the Defence Department, and the RAAF, and all the other people who did respond so very quickly. It's one of the positives, one of the very few positives things you can say about this outrage, and that is that the crisis response units did react very well and within a short time of the blast, arrangements had been made for the C-130s to go, and as a result the first of the people were in Darwin last night, and some have arrived in Perth and they will come in various convoys, air convoys during the day.

JONES:

Yes, they've been brilliant Prime Minister. We've had reports this morning, people have left leave, they've gone from all parts of the country to lend their support. PM, as you know, you're talking at the moment to hundreds of thousands of Australians, many of them are wondering what is the best way, is the only way for them to know the fate of relatives or friends to use the numbers? Or will there be lists made available? Is there a website or somewhere where they can...?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, at this stage using the numbers is the best way. The names of people will not be published officially until next of kin have been notified, that is the usual thing. Sadly, identification....

JONES:

Is going to be difficult.

PRIME MINISTER:

Very difficult in some cases because of the fact that the bodies have been so badly destroyed. That's a hard thing to say, but it has to be said to explain why more information isn't available. There is really no quicker way than to try and reach that telephone number, I'd repeat...

JONES:

I'll just repeat that PM that it's 1800 002 214, 1800 002 214, 1800 002 214, the Foreign Affairs number is 1300 555 135, 1300 555 135, 1300 555 135.

PRIME MINISTER:

And I'd repeat the request already made that just one family member or one representative of the group need to ring because the lines have been understandably clogged. They took something like 8,000 calls within a short period of time yesterday. Now, this is all perfectly understandable, we'd all do exactly the same in a similar situation. But having a situation where people can get through is very important.

JONES:

Yes. PM, who's done this?

PRIME MINISTER:

The evidence suggest it's a terrorist attack. I can't say at this stage which group. The suspicion must fall on terrorists groups in Indonesia, some of whom have loose links with Al Qaeda, some have closer links - Jemaah Islamiah if one of those groups. I'm not saying it is that group, I don't have that evidence. But there is little doubt from what I've been told by our security people and also what the security people in Indonesia have told their Government, that it was a terrorist attack and it is just a terrible reminder that terrorism can hit anywhere and hit anybody at anytime without warning, and of course always without justification.

JONES:

Prime Minister, you did warn hotheaded responses, I guess one of those responses may well be some fingerpointing at Indonesia. The President Megawati Sukarnoputri is in a virtually impossible position, isn't she? She takes very firm action against the militant groups in a very predominantly Islamic country and she's in trouble, she takes no action that's she's in trouble. What kind of international assistance will be made available to President Sukarnoputri?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we are prepared to help; the Americans are prepared to help, the British have offered assistance. We will give any help that can usefully assist Indonesia in dealing with a terrorist problem and we have offered that. The Americans have been pressing the Indonesians for months, and have offered assistance, and there are many things that we can do - we can provide police and intelligence assistance. But it does require a willingness on the part of the Indonesian authorities to have people sit with them and work with them in dealing with this problem. And I respect and understand Indonesian sensitivities and Indonesian sovereignty fully, that goes without saying. But I also speak on behalf of a country who's not only a neighbour, but whose sons and daughters have died in this outrage, and it's therefore very important that we work together, and that all of us in this region understand the urgency of this issue and that people understand that this is not a problem confined to America, or the Middle East, or Europe, it's right on our doorstep and it has claimed the lives of our young and it's something that we have to deal with. It won't go away and we have to deal with it and have to steel ourselves to take the measures that are necessary. But we've obviously got to do that in a calm and sober fashion and that's what I was saying last night.

JONES:

Prime Minister, is it valid to argue that the crackdown in the United States and Europe following the September 11 attacks has made it more difficult for terrorist groups to operate there and therefore makes countries like Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia and the Philippines far more attractive to them? Do you have any intelligence that groups like Al Qaeda and its supporters, and of course this one that you just alluded to is one of them, have moved their activities to here, that the centre of gravity for terrorism has shifted say to the Asian region?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don't have any evidence suggesting that the centre of gravity has been squeezed out of those other areas and ended up in our part of the world. We do have evidence that terrorist groups have been operating and have cells in the South East Asian region. I mean Jemaah Islamiah, the group I mentioned, has in fact been in existence in Indonesia for decades.

JONES:

And their leader is wanted in Malaysia and Singapore.

PRIME MINISTER:

That is correct. It is not a new organisation. It's been there for quite a long time and concerns were expressed about terrorist groups in our part of the world in the wake of the 11th of September. So it's not something that has a reason as a direct consequence of the response of the Americans and others to the 11th of September. There is a pattern to this. There is now little doubt that the explosion on that French tanker was an act of terrorism. There have been French and German civilians killed in terrorist attacks in Tunisia and Pakistan. The common thread in much of this is an anti-Western thread in this particular instance.

JONES:

The Asian Wall Street Journal last week quoted US officials as saying that they have uncovered evidence that this Abubakar Baasyir, the cleric head of Jemaah Islamiah, had ordered the grenade attack in Jakarta on September 23 that had been confirmed as a bungled attempt to bomb the house of a US official. This is going to intensify US pressure nonetheless isn't it for a tougher response to extremist groups by the Indonesian government and of course Jemaah Islamiah lies at the top of that list. How do you sensibly go about this though? How difficult is that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it is difficult but it has to be navigated because we have a right and I have a duty to push upon and press upon the Indonesian government the need for a cooperative effort in the region. I mean I understand President Megawati's challenges. I mean it is a hugely difficult country to govern. It's very big, it's very disparate, there are strong emotions on many issues and I understand all of that and we must understand that. Even the morning after this appalling tragedy we have to understand that. But equally we have a right because we have lost people and we visit there and we are close to the country we have a right to put our view and we will be of course seeking to work as closely as possible in cooperation with others. I mean we've got to involve as many people from other parts of the world in the response to this, as many people as we possibly can.

JONES:

Yes we've got to get people on side haven't we. You rightly said last night that no religion has any tenet of all which condones this sort of behaviour.

PRIME MINISTER:

No of course not. I mean this is an outrage to decent people of the Islamic faith as it is to other decent people. It's an outrage to everybody. Only the evil and the perverted would seek to justify an attack of this kind. No matter where they come from and what god they worship of whatever, even if they don't worship a god, that is not the issue.

JONES:

Given that this is an exclusively western club that was attacked, it was an attack as you said earlier on the West, it is an indirect attack on Australia. What do your briefings, and I know you've suspended all government business to address this issue in the Cabinet today, but can you tell us what your briefings are telling you about the likelihood of a direct attack on Australia because there were reports that the United States had warned us about the likelihood of that at the weekend?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well my briefings confirm what I have been saying for a year and that is that we can't assume that there won't be some kind of terrorist attack on the Australian mainland. We have to realise that. It was said last year I think probably and understandably given our peaceful history, and many of us thought oh well that's true in theory but in practice of course it won't happen to us. Now that is not something that we can confidently assume and we weren't able to confidently assume it a year ago and we can't now. Now I'm not saying that it's about to happen, I'm not saying that we've had anything more specific than what has already been identified by the Attorney General and we will go on being as frank and open as communicative with the public as we can consistent with protecting intelligence sources. But I have to say to all of your listeners, to our fellow Australians, that we are living in different world. It's nasty, it's unwelcome, it's more dangerous. For many of our Australians today it's grief stricken because they've lost family members. But we have to confront it. It won't go away by pretending it's not there and it won't go away by imagining that we can detach ourselves from the rest of the globe. You can't detach yourself from the rest of the globe.

JONES:

Well thank you for your time Prime Minister and on behalf of those people listening to you and many other Australians good luck in your endeavours and the heightened responsibility that your leadership brings to you personally.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks Alan.


This is the transcript of John Howard's interview with John Laws on Sydney radio 2UE.

LAWS:

On the line we have the Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard. Prime Minister, good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning, John.

LAWS:

It's not a good morning, is it?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, it's a very sad morning for all of us. The saddest morning I can recall in years.

LAWS:

I watched you yesterday when you made your speech. It was a very very touching speech and obviously this incident has affected you very deeply as the leader of our country?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it has. I was yesterday and I remain moved and upset by what's been done to Australians in such a wicked and indiscriminate and evil fashion. It is just so wrong that people who are doing nothing other than letting off a bit of steam in a holiday resort, in many cases after a long football season, that these evil, despicable people should destroy the lives of some, and maim others, and burn them, and oh it's just awful.

LAWS:

It's so cowardly.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it is cowardly and it's indiscriminate. You've got to remember that there are many Balinese people have died as well and other westerners. It's indifferent to religious belief, it does have an anti-western flavour, there's not much doubt about that. And I'm in no doubt that this is part of a pattern of terrorist attacks in different parts of the world and I think we have to realise that. That French tanker was clearly a terrorist attack.

LAWS:

Obviously.

PRIME MINISTER:

The attack on the Americans in Kuwait, the others, all of things are part of the pattern. The good thing, if there can be anything good about the last 48 hours, is that the crisis services in Australia really reacted very well. And I expect within the next 24 hours to 36 hours, all of the serious and critically injured Australians would have been brought to Australia. And that really is a remarkable effort by the Airforce, and the Defence people, and the Department of Foreign Affairs, and I do want to record my thanks to all of those groups that have worked so very hard. But we don't know the full death toll yet. The latest formal advice I have is 13 Australians so far identified amongst the dead, one Australian has died in transit from Denpasar...

LAWS:

Isn't that tragic?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, it's terrible.

LAWS:

It's just awful. I mean, dying on the aeroplane...

PRIME MINISTER:

And we've got... there were 113 Australians hospitalised prior to their evacuation. There are still 220 Australians unaccounted for, but we shouldn't automatically assume that all of those are potential fatalities. But I just, at the moment, I don't know. We do believe that the death toll, the final death toll, might emerge in the next couple of days, that's the best I can say. I can only say to people who are still waiting to hear, you can only begin to imagine what they're going through.

LAWS:

Terrible, just terrible. There's very little doubt that Australia was a target in this attack.

PRIME MINISTER:

I think it's certain that western... it was an attack on a western symbol. I mean, a nightclub is a symbol what some radicals would see as western conduct. Bear also in mind that Bali is a predominantly a Hindu country, a Hindu province...

LAWS:

That's right.

PRIME MINISTER:

...Indonesia, therefore there is...there could sadly be a significance in that. I think it's...there is a clear anti-western pattern to this as to whether there was an additional anti-Australian dimension to it is impossible to say. Certainly, we have suffered very very severely and that is recognised and just what the final numbers will be, as I say, I don't know. But there is clearly an anti-western pattern to this and potential an anti-Australian one. I mean, there are reasons why some groups in Indonesia have been hostile to Australia. I mean, a lot of them still remain hostile to what we did in relation to East Timor.

LAWS:

Certainly. I was mentioning that earlier...

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm not saying that's the reason. I mean, I'm...John, there's no point in my...other than being completely open with people, there are some things about this I know and I will tell the Australian public everything I know about, which I can, the subject of protecting security sources, but there are other things about it that I don't know and I'm still in the process of finding out. I do believe it was a terrorist act. I do believe it's part of the pattern. It drives home to us that everybody is at risk from terrorism. Anybody in Australia who prior to yesterday entertained the view that it can't happen here, I hope they will reassess that because it can and it's happened to our own on our doorstep in a absolutely unforgivable fashion.

LAWS:

Do you think our obvious, and I believe necessary, support of the United States has something to do with the attitude of some of these extreme groups against Australia?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I'm quite certain that terrorist organisations are hostile to Australia and to all democratic societies. I would counsel those people who might be running that argument to have a look at what has happened to French and German civilians that have been killed. I mean, there were a group of 15 to 20 German tourists killed in Tunisia. The German Chancellor ran very strong the critical line of the Americans in the last German election in relation to Iraq, that didn't and that attitude didn't buy any immunity for his citizens. I mean, the murder of them I think occurred before the election, but the reality is the French and German Governments have taken a neutral position in relation to some of these issues, but it hasn't spared their citizens.

LAWS:

But it hasn't.

PRIME MINISTER:

And there was a car bomb outside the Philippine Consulate in Indonesia. The Philippines has been in no way involved diplomatically or publicly. Now, the point of all of that is to say that terrorism with an anti-western flavour strikes indiscriminately at people and countries irrespective of the stance they take on particular issues because it is the practice of democracy, and the ideals of freedom, and the character of our societies that they despise, rather than our stance on particular issues.

LAWS:

So Prime Minister, what's next? Where do you go from here?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I'm having a meeting of our National Security Committee in a few moments and we will assess everything we know about what's happened in Bali, what we can do. There is a very heavy onus now on the Indonesian government to pursue these people. We're willing to help. The Americans are willing to help. I had a half an hour conversation with President Bush this morning. He rang me about eight o'clock and he not only of course expressed his sorrow and concern about what had happened but he offered any American intelligence and other assistance that could be utilised and I know that he will be putting a very strong view to the Indonesian government about its responsibilities. I had a similar call from Tony Blair last night. The British and the Americans already have some security people in Indonesia and are anxious and willing to help as is the New Zealand government. Helen Clark spoke to me last night as well. There will have been I believe some New Zealand and British citizens and at least one American citizen who died in the nightclub. So they are directly affected. We will meet this morning as the National Security Committee, we'll have a motion before Parliament, to be spoken to by myself and the Leader of the Opposition and the leader of the National Party. Then I'll be proposing that Parliament adjourn until tomorrow. It will take quite a while for the full impact of this to be absorbed and assimilated by the Australian people, we will respond strongly but we'll respond sensibly, but gee we're going to respond with a deep sense of anger and outrage....

LAWS:

Yes understandably.

PRIME MINISTER:

....what had been done to our people in this way.

LAWS:

Yes it's the cowardly way in which this sort of thing is done, and indiscriminate.

PRIME MINISTER:

Indiscriminate. I mean these people were just innocent civilians having fun and as there were innocent people in the World Trade Centre going about their normal lives. They weren't out there trying to pick a fight with anybody.

LAWS:

No they weren't.

PRIME MINISTER:

They were just trying to have a bit of fun and it is just unforgivable and evil in the fullest extent of those expressions.

LAWS:

Okay. Prime Minister, thank you very much for your time. We'll look forward to hearing further reports from you and from your office during the morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks John.

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