21 July 2009
Interview: ABC Radio National, Breakfast with Fran Kelly
Topics: Jakarta bombings, terrorism, China, Stern Hu, ASEAN Regional Forum.
FRAN KELLY: Well Foreign Minister Stephen Smith heads to Thailand tonight. He's a man on the move that's for sure. He's heading to a meeting of regional Foreign Ministers. He will be meeting there with his Indonesian counterpart as the investigations continue into the Jakarta bombings.
I spoke with Stephen Smith a short time ago.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you Fran.
FRAN KELLY: Stephen Smith, can you confirm the bodies of the three Australians killed in the Jakarta attacks are being repatriated today?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well they're being repatriated. I'm not proposing to go into the details. Really, that's a matter for the families. It's not the sort of thing that I would give publicity to, but, yes, the repatriation has started. But, frankly I regard that as being, you know, a matter for the families.
I met some family members when I was in Jakarta, and really, your heart goes out to them. It breaks your heart when you sit down and have a conversation with them.
So, I'd prefer to leave that as a private matter for them.
FRAN KELLY: Do you have any intelligence, does Australia have any intelligence that Australians were the target of the Jakarta bombings?
STEPHEN SMITH: Firstly, I don't talk about intelligence, as you'd know. But, whilst when you look at the modus operandi and some of the approaches, it may well have been the case that the particular businessmen's meeting, which occurs on a regular basis, once a month or so, whilst it looks as though that possibly or may well have been targeted, we don't know whether Australians themselves were targeted.
What we do know is that at that regular meeting Australians were invariably, if not always, in attendance, including some of our Austrade Officers, and on this terrible occasion Craig Senger.
But, in all of these matters I have always said, we're best off waiting until we see the final and exhaustive analysis by the authorities, in this case by the Indonesian authorities, and we continue to work closely with them.
What of course we do know is that westerners or foreigners were clearly targeted, given the site of the hotel and the meeting that was on there.
FRAN KELLY: Did we get any warning of Friday's attacks in Jakarta, even obliquely?
STEPHEN SMITH: When it first occurred, one of the things I asked officials was did we have, and this is where I have in general terms spoken about intelligence, did we have anything to indicate that this particular attack or these particular attacks might occur, to which the answer was no.
We then, as a result of our National Security Committee meetings, effected an exhaustive review of that and we've come to the same conclusion that there was nothing that we had or we saw which would cause us to contemplate attacks at these two hotels.
Having said that of course, for a half a dozen years, our travel advisory to Indonesia has been to consider or reconsider your need to travel. And that's been because of the risk of terrorist attack and we've, in our travel advisory, specified a dozen or so locations where westerners or foreigners might gather, including of course hotels.
FRAN KELLY: And I note that the government has re-issued those travel advisories for Jakarta and Bali. And as you say, the National Security Committee of Cabinet met several times over the weekend. Are there any warnings that more attacks are imminent?
STEPHEN SMITH: I'll just repeat what the travel advisory says, and it's been updated factually to draw attention to these tragic and terrible events, but it was also updated as I was leaving Jakarta on Sunday, coming back to Australia, to draw attention to the fact that there is a possibility that further terrorist attacks in Indonesia, including Jakarta, including Bali, may occur.
Now, I'm not proposing to go any further than that. That's clearly in the travel advisory, and we know...
FRAN KELLY: But that's not based on any particular new intelligence?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, it's based on...
FRAN KELLY: That's what I'm trying to get at.
STEPHEN SMITH: ...it's based on all of our assessments. There's a range of sources or pieces of information that we rely upon when we do the travel advice. But we know that in Indonesia itself we've seen two attacks in Bali, we've seen an attack upon our Embassy in Jakarta, we've seen the 2003 Marriott Hotel attack, and now we've see these evil attacks with tragic consequences.
So, our advice continues to be the same, which is: people should consider or re-consider their need to travel to Indonesia. And of course if they go they need to take special care, particularly at this time.
FRAN KELLY: Minister, the Indonesian authorities seem pretty convinced that these bombings were planned by Noordin Mohammed Top. Has Australia offered to assist with pursuit of Noordin Top?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well we have offered whatever assistance the Indonesian authorities need or require. That was one of the points of my visit over the weekend. Not just to offer our condolences and show our sympathy and support to the victims and their families, and also our own officials who have had to deal with over the time in Indonesia with some terrible events, but also to say we were standing, and show we were standing, shoulder-to-shoulder with the Indonesians.
We've offered, and they've taken up, special particular assistance in CCTV imaging to help identification, and we're also providing some special facial sketching expertise which we have, to try and help them with the identification of the perpetrators of these terrible events.
FRAN KELLY: You're listening to Breakfast. Our guest this morning is Foreign Minister Stephen Smith.
Minister, some of our commentators are questioning the link you've made between the war in Afghanistan and the terrorist bombings in Jakarta. I notice that Professor Hugh White says: "It's an illusion to think that if you fix Afghanistan we'll be safe from terrorism. Ideologically and practically, the activities of Noordin Top, the alleged mastermind behind the Jakarta bombings, have nothing to do with Afghanistan."
Do you agree?
STEPHEN SMITH: I have made a number of points about that. Firstly I have said, both in Indonesia and in the Afghanistan/Pakistan border area, we're making efforts to combat terrorism. And Australians have been on the receiving end of terrorism, not just in Bali or Jakarta, but also in London, also at the World Trade Centre, and also at Mumbai.
One thing we do know is that people associated with the Bali bombings did receive some training in Afghanistan.
But I've also made this point: there is no one location where international terrorism is restricted to. There are efforts we have to make, in and with the Indonesian authorities. There are efforts we are making, as part of a UN mandated international force, in the Afghanistan/Pakistan border area.
If we eliminate or reduce the terrorist threat in Afghanistan, that doesn't mean that the job is done. There are other parts of the world, including in South East Asia, where we need to be vigilant and make efforts as well.
But, what we do know is just as governments around the world communicate, so do international terrorists. And, they look to each other for support and for support, and we know there is evidence that they train together or try and train together.
So, the point that's being made about Afghanistan is that Afghanistan is a hotbed of terrorism. The international community recognises that. It's a threat to the international community. And that's why we're part of that effort.
At the same time, the international community recognises, and the Indonesian authorities recognise, that there are difficulties in Indonesia. And to their credit, the Indonesian authorities have over the last half dozen years, been the most successful individual country in terms of bringing terrorists to trial, in their hundreds.
FRAN KELLY: Well, Minister, Malcolm Turnbull was quoting Chairman Mao yesterday on this program, as justification for standing up to China. He says that's what China respects from other countries. Here's what he told us.
MALCOLM TURNBULL: In 1949, when Chairman Mao succeeded in his revolution and he got to the top of Tiananmen, the Gate of Heavenly Peace, his first words were: the Chinese people have stood up. That's what he said. China respects nations that stand up for their own rights and stand up for their own citizens, so Kevin Rudd's complacency for that 10 - first 10 or 11 days can only be interpreted by a proud nation, China, as a lack of interest.
FRAN KELLY: What's your reaction to that? Have we underestimated the importance of not so much megaphone diplomacy but the bare-knuckle defence of our interests and our citizens?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, a number of points. Firstly, Malcolm Turnbull's position on this has been on day one you pick up the phone and you demand Mr Hu's release and demand his release immediately. That's what he said on day one.
And there's more than one person, including me, who has said that that was essentially a rash judgement for him to make and a glib solution to a difficult and complex problem. We very strongly believe that the best way of seeking to protect and defend Mr Hu's interests is by a calm, methodical, assured approach.
I describe my conversation with Vice Minister He as being polite but firm and that, in our view, is the best way to seek to advance his interests and Mr Turnbull's approach I know is not shared by a whole range of people.
FRAN KELLY: And just finally, Minister, I know you're trying to get some more information on the charges from the Chinese. Do you think you might have that opportunity? I know you're heading off to another international meeting this evening.
Will you be joined by your Chinese foreign counterpart there, foreign ministry counterpart?
STEPHEN SMITH: That's not been confirmed. I am off tonight to Thailand where we have the ASEAN-related annual meetings: the meeting of foreign ministers for the East Asia summit, and the meeting of foreign ministers for the ASEAN regional forum. I'll be there. I'll certainly be having a further conversation with Indonesian Minister Hassan Wirajuda about the Jakarta bombings. If my Chinese counterpart is there, I hope to have the opportunity to speak to him about Stern Hu. But whilst we would prefer to have more information, Vice Minister He also made it clear there's an ongoing investigation. If and when Mr Hu, Stern Hu, is charged, then clearly that much more detailed information and the nature of the precise charges, if any, will be there.
FRAN KELLY: Foreign Minister, thank you very much for your time.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks, Fran. Thanks very much.
FRAN KELLY: Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith, speaking to us a short time ago.
Foreign Minister's office (02) 6277 7500