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Howard, Anderson And Crean Visit Bali

October 17, 2002

The Prime Minister, John Howard, his deputy, John Anderson, and the Opposition Leader, Simon Crean, have all flown to Bali today to visit the scene of last weekend's atrocity and to take part in a memorial service in the evening. Prior to leaving, Howard was again questioned about the government's knowledge and use of intelligence warnings about the possibility of an attack.


This is the text of a statement released today by the Prime Minister, John Howard:

BALI ATROCITY

As announced a short while ago, I shall travel to Bali today to attend, amongst other things, a memorial service for those who died in the bomb outrage on 12 October 2002. I will be accompanied by the Deputy Prime Minister and I have also invited the Leader of the Opposition to accompany me.

During my absence, the Treasurer, Mr Costello, will act as Prime Minister.

I believe that the Australian consular staff in Bali are doing an excellent job in very challenging circumstances. To augment the personnel already there I have asked the Australian Ambassador in Jakarta Mr Ric Smith - who is shortly to assume the position of Secretary of the Department of Defence - to go to Bali as the overall co-ordinator of the Australian effort.

So many Australians deserve our thanks for what they are doing in most appalling and tragic circumstances. This applies particularly to the medical people, police, forensic experts, volunteers and consular staff engaged in the most trying of all responsibilities namely the identification of the dead.


This is the transcript of the press conference held in Canberra by the Prime Minister, John Howard:

PRIME MINISTER:

Ladies and gentlemen, I've called this brief news conference to announce that I'll be going to Bali today, I'm leaving Fairbairn airport at 12 noon. I'll be accompanied by the Deputy Prime Minister and I've also invited the Leader of the Opposition to travel with me. I believe it is appropriate for a number of reasons to go there, there is a memorial service at about sunset - Bali time - tonight. It will also give me an opportunity to assess on the ground the situation which has been the subject of comment and reporting over the past few days. Can I say on the information I have and given how difficult and inevitably stressful the whole situation is, especially for families who've lost loved ones, that in all of the circumstances the best is being done by the Australian authorities. I do want to praise the consular staff, I spoke again this morning to one of the professors of dental forensic medicine who is there and he reported that once again in all of the circumstanc! es the situation was being stabilised and there was an acceptance that a careful meticulous process about the identification of bodies had to be gone through and that will take time. I would remind you that in the case of the Childers disaster it was two weeks and there were only 16 bodies there and it will take time and I am satisfied that there is a much greater level and quite a high degree of co-operation between the Australian and Indonesian authorities so my visit should not be seen as expressing any want of confidence in what the Australian people on the ground are doing, I think they're doing a fantastic job in an incredibly challenging and difficult situation but it's important that I have the opportunity of having a look at things and it is also important that I be there at this service, by my presence I hope in a small way, express the feelings of the rest of the Australian community towards those people who have suffered and lost so much.

JOURNALIST:

Will you been meeting President Megawati while you're there Mr Howard?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I'm not planning to Dennis. The aim is to go there and attend the service, I want to talk the families if they wish afterward, spend the night there and come back tomorrow. I'm not planning to go onto Jakarta.

JOURNALIST:

Have reports out of Bali concerned you ... confidence in Australian officials, there's reporting... about Indonesian authorities...

PRIME MINISTER:

In relation to what?

JOURNALIST:

In relation to the remains of the Australians.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I have to rely on the advice of the people on the ground and I have spoken to Professor Griffiths this morning, he's the man I mentioned in Parliament yesterday and I heard Professor Hilton, a Scottish gentlemen, well a Scottish born gentlemen, who was interviewed on radio this morning and both of them are forensic experts and both of them said that the situation in all of the circumstances was as good as could be expected and that there was co-operation between the Australian people and the Indonesians. Professor Griffiths specifically informed me of that.

JOURNALIST:

...Planning changes to travel warnings more widely disseminated?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the Foreign Minister will be dealing with that matter. I'm not saying there's going to be, but you'll have to ask the Foreign Minister that, I've had my mind on other things over the last hour.

JOURNALIST:

There are some relatives of victims and some survivors who are expressing anger that they weren't properly warned, what would you say to those people?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well what I would say to them and what I would say to anybody who's raised that issue that an honest assessment of the risk on the basis of the intelligence of a very general kind that was available was made, it was made in good faith. When you read the DFAT travel warning you see reference to bombs and you see reference to the possibility of bombs going off in the future. Now, short of people, whenever there's any intelligence, DFAT saying, well, you shouldn't travel anywhere at any time it's naturally, in retrospect, people will offer criticism but they made a bona fide assessment and they did it in good faith. And as both the Attorney General and the Foreign Minister have said, does anybody seriously imagine that if we'd had a credible warning of the bombing we wouldn't have moved heaven and earth to stop people going there.

JOURNALIST:

Did you consider going to Bali earlier after the bombing?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I thought it was appropriate that I spend a few days in Canberra. And I decided this morning that I would go to Bali. I started thinking about it last night and I didn't make up my mind until a short while ago. And I know it's caused a few people a bit of inconvenience to have to leave in just over an hour's time but that's a small piece of inconvenience given the magnitude of what is involved.

JOURNALIST:

Did you see those news reports of people virtually begging you to intervene? I saw some on the news last night.

PRIME MINISTER:

I have seen a lot of news reports. Look, can I say to all of those people, I mean, I'm heartbroken for them and I can understand how they feel, you know, we'd all react like that in a similar situation. I mean, it's an incredible burden for them and if my going there can help them then I'm more than willing to do that and I think it's important that I do.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, are you satisfied that the Department of Foreign Affairs was issuing last week the best travel advice available to Australians?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I've indicated that they made a bona fide assessment according to their judgement on the intelligence information available. When you look at the various travel advices the Australian one did talk about bombs having gone off and warned of the possibility in the future and did associate that with areas frequented by tourists. Now, it's always possible after a terrible event to say, well maybe you should have done this or should have done that. But these assessments are made in good faith and in the absence of anything that could remotely be construed as a specific warning about the bombing that did occur.

JOURNALIST:

Did you consider that given that Osama Bin Laden, allegedly Osama Bin Laden and some of his lieutenants were making comments between the 6th and 10th of October which led to a general global warning from the US on the 10th of October, you don't consider that Australia should have upgraded its own warning in light of that activity?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think the assessment that was made was a bona fide assessment made in good faith by the relevant agencies. I've said that. I can say no more or no different because that is what I believe.

JOURNALIST:

Have you given the raw intelligence to Mr Crean that you offered to?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, yes. He was shown that last night.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, you said it will take some time for the bodies to be identified to be brought back. Can you give us any assessment, will it be months?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I'm not going to do that because I just don't know and you're dealing here with very sensitive things and I don't want to unduly raise people's expectations and I don't want to unnaturally, unfairly depress them. I can only say that it will be done as soon as possible. The Professor I spoke to this morning said progress was being made and there was good cooperation, that the condition of the remains was as good as possible in the circumstances and the refrigeration was adequate. He said all of those things to me a little over an hour ago. Now, I have to, in the end, be guided by the views of experts. I am not an expert, I am not a doctor.

JOURNALIST:

Has Australian DNA equipment been sent up there or...?

PRIME MINISTER:

That is being collected. I mean, whether some of it has arrived or not, I don't know. One more question then I must go.

JOURNALIST:

Did the Professor give you any indication how long he expected the job to take?

PRIME MINISTER:

I beg your pardon?

JOURNALIST:

Did the Professor give you any indication about how long...

PRIME MINISTER:

I thought I just answered that. I'm sorry, I mean, I can't...he said it will take some time and that could mean, of course, mean some weeks, perhaps longer. I really don't know.

JOURNALIST:

What's your latest assessment of the investigations going on in Bali and on the Australian involvement, like the death toll for example?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the Australian involvement is going to be very significant as a result of the very good outcome from Mr Downer's visit to Jakarta. And I think Mr Downer and Senator Ellison have done an outstanding job in Jakarta and I congratulate them for it and thank them for it. He'll be saying more about that in the Parliament today and I think I should leave him with the detail of it. Thank you.

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