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Howard's Bali Press Conference

October 18, 2002

This is the transcript of the press conference given by the Prime Minister, John Howard, in Bali. The transcript is supplied by the Prime Minister's office. Most of the journalists' questions are described as "inaudible".

PRIME MINISTER:

I've had an opportunity this morning, along with the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, and I want to thank both of them for accompanying me to Bali to emphasise that there is a united Australian response to this atrocity, and that it is a united expression of grief on the part of the entire Australian nation and a united determination towards, as close as we can with our Indonesian friends, to bring to justice those who have perpetrated this monstrously evil deed. At this stage something in the order of 114 Australians still remain unaccounted for and there are citizens of a number of other nationalities who are in the same situation. I feel, as most Australians do, that as the process of identification proceeds the Australian death toll will rise significantly.

Let me say at the very beginning that I am painfully aware of the anguish being felt by so many relatives and close friends as the painstaking process of identification proceeds. I understand their anguish, I understand the shock and the horror of losing somebody has been compounded by the inevitable delay that is taking place in the identification of remains. I am satisfied having had very detailed discussions with the DVA people and all of the forensic experts, the Federal Police and others that there is no alternative other than to go through the process, which for a number of cases will involve obviously DNA and there will be a longer than anybody would like number of days, perhaps weeks, involved in the identification process.

I am satisfied that we have very high quality people on the ground dealing with that issue and I'm satisfied that every effort is being made. It is very difficult work and I just want to say again that I do sympathise or empathise in every way with those who are waiting. It's the cruellest of all things that you must wait for a confirmation of something you fear to be inevitable. And you naturally seek closure but that pain, that anguish will be compounded if there is a rushed process of identification which could result in mistakes being made and there would be double anguish involved in that. The company Kenyons, international mortician experts involved in other disaster work, have arrived and they are now working closely with the authorities throughout both Australia and Indonesia and they are in touch with the relatives and that will add to our capacity to deal as expeditiously and as sensitively as possible with the repatriation of remains after identification has been completed. There has also been communication established with all of the coroners of the various jurisdictions of Australia to ensure that once the identification process has been established and completed, there will be a minimum of delay in processing required concerning the return of bodies and the delivery of remains to relatives for burial or cremation.

I want at this stage to express the thanks of the Australian Government and my personal thanks to so many people who have responded magnificently to the challenge of this unprecedented atrocity committed against Australians in a place Australians loved so much. The immediate burden was carried by the Consul General Ross Tysoe. I want to place on record my thanks to him and his wife and his staff and everybody else who responded as best they could in a very difficult situation and did it very well, and the way in which within a very short period of time arrangements were made to evacuate all of the seriously injured back to Australia. And I'm very pleased to say in connection to the evacuation of medical cases that this afternoon we hope, subject to immigration clearances being completed, to take to Australia four seriously burnt or injured Balinese people for treatment in Australia. And we stand ready to do that in relation to any other citizens of this country or another country where the judgment is made by the medical authorities.

I do want, extending my thanks, to express my gratitude to all the officers of the Australian Federal Police and the officers of the various State police forces for the work that they have not only done, but continue to do. This has been a magnificent combined, united Australian effort in the best traditions of Australian mateship and rallying together in helping their fellow countrymen and women at a time of challenge and horror, and they've done it quite magnificently. That thanks is extended to the Royal Australian Airforce and the Australian Defence Force whose speedy reaction together with officers of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on Sunday and Monday, meant that within an extraordinarily short period of time all of those cases requiring urgent medical treatment in Australia, had been taken back to Australia. And that was completed in a remarkably short period of time and I express my immense gratitude to the men and women of those services.

The cooperation that is needed between Australia and Indonesia to catch the evil people who perpetrated this crime is of course essential and I'm pleased having met the Indonesian Chief of Police this morning and having seen the evident cooperation between him and Mick Keelty the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, that that cooperation will occur. This crime was committed on Indonesian soil and those who committed the crime must be pursued in accordance with Indonesian law and in pursuing the people who committed this crime, the Indonesian authorities will have the total cooperation of the Australian Federal Police and I know in turn, the Australian Federal Police will be able to draw upon the immense resources of the various State police. And I know that the level of cooperation that is always needed in places like this between the police forces of the various jurisdictions will be readily available.

The thoughts of all of us are of course constantly with those who have lost so much, and that is people they love and in many cases await the final confirmation of what, as I said, they assume to be inevitable. We have endeavoured in different ways to provide as much support and comfort and counselling of I hope of some spiritual support and generally to help people cope with this immense tragedy. We have indicated that the Australian Government will pay the entire costs of repatriating remains to Australia. We will pay the cost of any airfares of close relatives needing to come or wanting to come to Bali. In addition to that, we will pay for seven days accommodation for those close relatives. And in addition in relation to any people who have stayed on, we will also pay for seven days accommodation in relation to people who stay. And we will also pay the airfares within Australia of any relatives who are wanting to visit injured or hospitalised relatives in a remote part of Australia. And can I say for completeness of the offer in that respect and the willingness in that respect if over and above that there are any cases of need, they can be assured that they will be dealt with on a case by case basis in a very sympathetic and sensitive fashion. And people requiring assistance in relation to that offer should be in touch with Centrelink in Australia and with the relevant consular authorities here in Bali.

Ladies and gentleman this is a horrific and challenging and traumatic time for our country. There is a deep sense not only of shock and disbelief, but a very deep sense of anger and I desire on the path of the Australian community to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice. The response must be strong, but it must measured and directed. We achieve nothing if we don't work in a meticulous, measured, disciplined, determined fashion and that requires a high level of cooperation with the Indonesian authorities, as well as a steely determination on the part of the Australians involved in the investigation.

And I want just finally to say, in relation to the Australians who have worked so hard, I understand how difficult and sensitive and stressful the work is for the police officers; those working in the process of identification; the nurses and the doctors both here and in Australia who have had to cope with horrific injuries that even the training of many of them have not perhaps, in a psychological sense, adequately prepared them for. So, it has been a combined and strong response by Australians because as Australians they have a legitimate sense of anger and outrage that this should have been done to our own in such circumstances of innocent, fun and pleasure.

And very finally, can I express my gratitude again to the lovely people of Bali for the way in which they have responded and helped, the compassion they have displayed, the evident anguish they feel. This monstrous thing has hurt them deeply. Their lives have been lost, their economy has been put in suspense, at least the damage potentially economically will be huge. And I can only say to them that we won't forget them, we'll remember always the compassion that they extended on the 12th of October and the days that followed. And as I've indicated in the Australian Parliament, I will at an appropriate time in the near future announce on behalf of the Australian Government a permanent measure of support for the social infrastructure of Bali which will serve as a practical, as well as an enduring memorial to the people of Bali who've died in this atrocity and also as a mark of our love and esteem for them. Are there any questions?

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

I've had some discussions with General Barr and also with the Australian Federal Police. It is not good for the Prime Minister, or indeed any other senior political figure, to comment on operational matters - that is a matter for the police. I do not intend to comment on operational matters, I'm not a policeman. And I think we will get the process, we'll keep the process inside the tramlines. If I leave comment on police matters to policemen, all I can say is this - that people are working around the clock and I have every confidence in the Australian Federal Police and the officers of the State police forces who are working together.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I think in a robust democracy questions should always be answered - that's part of our process, that's what we stand for. In relation to warnings I repeat, and this has been borne out by the comments made on behalf of the American State Department and by the British and New Zealand Governments, that none of the intelligence material amounted to a warning of that bombing, none.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard, what does it take...?

PRIME MINISTER:

And your second...?

JOURNALIST:

There has been [inaudible]?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I'm not...you will not expect me to go into the detail of that. I can only repeat that there was good proper and reason, and what we are essentially saying that in present circumstances people should not come to Indonesia unless they regard it as absolutely essential; and they must do so in the knowledge that we regard the situation as a lot more dangerous than it was. We're saying to people who are here on a short-term visit they should go back as soon as possible. And until further notice, that will be the situation.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

The last thing, Jennifer, I want to do this morning is be other than totally sensitive and responsive to any expressions of concern that have been made by the families. Last night after the service, I spent a lot of time with families along with Mr Anderson and Mr Crean. And after this press conference I will attend the, along with Mr Anderson and Mr Crean, the morning briefing and I will stay for so long as people has questions to ask of me and views to put to me. I am satisfied from what I've been told, and may I also say from things that are thus far have been said to me by families, that the support they have received has been very very good indeed. I have to say that a significant number of the people I spoke to last night, without prompting, expressed their thanks to me for what the consular staff had done and the measure of support that they have received. I can only speak as I find it, as I hear, and as I am told.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm sorry, I didn't hear that. I'm a little bit deaf.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

I will stand corrected by the experts, but my understanding is that they were purely governed by judgements made by medical authorities here.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm not going to give a specific commentary on decisions taken by the Indonesian Government in relation to individuals, I don't think that is helpful. But I will say, without equivocation, that we have put the view again, urgently and strongly, to the Indonesian Government since last Saturday that a much tougher approach to terrorism must be taken. This is a view that we have put to the Indonesian Government over a long period of time and I'm very pleased with the responses since Saturday and the responses of the Indonesian Government more generally on that particular issue. But it is a matter of record that both the Australian Government and the United States Government has put very strong views about terrorism. And I think we have to, as a world community, understand that terrorism is not confined to a particular locality. It is in our part of the world, it is inter-connected. Many of the patterns are the same and nobody's immune from it, nobody.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't accept that. I reject it and I believe the view that if you speak softly of evil and say nothing critical of it that you will buy yourself immunity from the roots of terror is disproved by the lessons of history. I assume from your accent that you're an American citizen.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

I beg your pardon?

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah. Let me say that when Al Qaeda attacked the American Embassy in Nairobi, 90 Americans died and 253 Kenyans died. Kenya had not been a loud supporter of the United States' position. I'm not criticising Kenya but I'm simply making the point that people who think that terrorism and terrorists have some kind of hierarchy of approval according to what is said, that is just not borne out by history. And if you think that you can buy yourself permanent protection from the roots of terror by not criticising or attacking evil then I invite people who hold that view to look at the lessons of history.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

I couldn't adequately explain to you the awful feeling of compassion I felt towards the people, the anger I felt that not only young but predominantly young Australians who've always felt that they could travel freely and widely and for as long as possible, to have that birthright assaulted in such a vicious and cruel fashion fashion does anger me greatly because it's part of what we are and it's part of what I hope we will always be. And I did feel that it was a very sad moment in the history of our country that we have been touched in such a way. But nothing that I felt could go anywhere near matching the depths of feeling of loss and despair than those who've been affected. I mean, it's their thoughts and their feelings that are more important than mine. I might try, however inadequately, to articulate feelings on behalf of nineteen-and-a-half million people but I have not suffered a personal loss the way they have. And I think our thoughts should be very much on how they feel.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, horrific. I just wonder how anybody survived. And the people who did this wanted to inflict the maximum amount of injury, chaos, terror and devastation as possible. To explode devices like that, in an area like that, at a time like that, in an environment like that shows a very depraved and cruel view of humanity.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't accept that. I think your scale...your measure of guilt and culpability in relation to this is different from mine.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Not to be what?

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Complacent, yeah.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Australia is not likely to be attacked in the conventional sense. There's no likelihood of that. But I spoke to him last Monday morning. President Bush offered me any help I thought Australia needed to respond to the terrorist problem in our region. You couldn't have a more blanket offer than that.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, sir, I understand that and I would say to you publicly and then separately I'd be very happy to talk to you after the press conference to listen to anything more you want to say.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, sir, I understand that and I will talk to you personally at the relatives and friends gathering after this news conference.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes sir, I will be very happy to talk to you about it and if there's anything additional I can do can I just generally say that...difficult and I know it is, we have to follow a process of being absolutely certain because if we make errors in identification of remains we will only compound the tragedy and the trauma.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

The same notification also talked about bombs and having gone off before and possibly going off again. And it's my understanding - perhaps I should qualify this by saying I should check it again - I don't think, for example, the American travel advice talked about bombs, although it used some different language. But you get acres of raw intelligence and intelligence services make assessments but can I just repeat the view of the United States Government position and the New Zealand Government, the British Government, the Australian Government is that none of the intelligence material represented an advance warning of this bomb.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, as far as terrorism is concerned, well we are because...I mean, self-evidently we are. Within Australia, well, I have said since the 11th of September last year that you can't rule out the possibility of a terror attack of this sort in Australia. Well, because of the nature of our society I believe it is less likely than in many other parts of the world but I cannot guarantee that it won't happen, I can't, and I haven't tried for the last year or 18 months to pretend that it couldn't happen.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

I'm sorry, you're from?

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, the reason I asked is that I have announced that...sorry...I announced a few days ago in Parliament that the Director General of Security and Intelligence would assess all of the intelligence material that was in front of the agencies. And that doesn't mean that I lack any confidence in them but I think it's, given the magnitude of what has happened I think it's necessary that occur. As I said in answer to the first question, in a democracy when something like this happens questions should be asked. I don't...as I said, it's the last thing that any government should do is to expect the question will not be asked, it's a perfectly legitimate thing to happen.

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I have to say that the situation is infinitely more dangerous now and our advice is that unless you feel very strongly that you should stay you should consider going back to Australia. I can't be any plainer than that. I mean, I know that is going to be, it will involve a difficult judgement for people to make but in the end we have to give our best assessment on the information available to us. And the situation is, in our view, more dangerous now than it has been here than at any time in the past and our advice is that people...certainly people should not come to Indonesia, people who are short-term visitors should go home as soon as possible and others should consider whether they should remain. I know that's a difficult judgement for people to make and in the meantime should exercise extreme caution. But I don't think there's any Prime Minister or President or leader in the world who can give any guarantee or make any precise prediction. I can give you a gene! ral communication on behalf of the Government but because of the terrorist potential things are very dangerous in Indonesia, particularly for westerners.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER:

Just give this gentlemen a go.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER:

No that's alright.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

Sir, I would like to be able to say to a precise time, I can't. I hope it doesn't take six weeks. If the work goes on I know it is now going on it won't take six weeks. I spoke to Dr Hilton and Professor Griffiths last night, I spent some time with them and they are the two leading Australian forensic Australian experts. I hope with the gathering of dental records and DNA, and DNA material is now being gathered by the various state polices in different parts of the country and brought here, and with that occurring we hope the process can be as fast as humanly possible. I feel for you, I wish I could name the day, I just know how I would feel in a similar situation sir. I'm sorry that its taken so long but it's unavoidable, we don't want errors made and I hope...

JOURNALIST:

But the parents know, why can't we do and see them (inaudible), take a look (inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER:

Well there is in relation to photos that the relatives meeting, we do have a suggestion in relation to that, it has been raised with me on a number of occasions since I've arrived. I've talked to the forensic people and we see a way forward on that and perhaps if you attend the gathering we will be able to talk about that. Two more questions and then we might go, no we've had you with great respect.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I haven't come here to have a debate on the legislation of another country, I've come here in the name of 19 and a half million very angry Australians.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER:

No I haven't, but you are right. To my recollection the only time that bin Laden made a particular reference to Australia was in relation to not to our association with the United States but rather in relation to the intervention in East Timor. Now I know I would speak for the great majority of the Australian community in saying that that intervention in East Timor had very strong support right across the political spectrum, it was one of those issues that bought about a rare unity between very conservative elements of Australians society and also the left of the Australian political spectrum. But I haven't heard anything since the 12th of October to provide a linkage.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don't think the immigration process is holding anything up, it was my understanding was that it was a medical judgement being made here, I mean we're dealing with the citizens of another country and we can do certain things in relation to our own that we can't do in relation to others.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER:

... criticism?

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER:

Who Mr Smith? I haven't heard any.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER:

Absolutely, the Ambassador? Well not only do I stand by him I regard him as one of the most experienced and effective diplomats that Australia has and he will shortly be taking up the position of Secretary of the Department of Defence. I think he's a first class officer in the foreign service and I think he does a magnificent job.

Thank you.

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