The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP



(Check against delivery)
to the Foreign Correspondents' Association

The Challenge of International Terrorism in the Asia-Pacific Region

Sydney, 26 November 2002

Ladies and gentlemen, it's a great pleasure to have the opportunity to talk to you yet again. I've spoken to the Foreign Correspondents Association on a number of occasions. My department advises me now - I have to be advised by the Department - that the first time was in April 1996. So I've done it quite often.

As Philip said in his introduction, I want to say a little bit to you today about the Australian Government's perspective on the issue of terrorism and then I'm happy to answer questions and you can ask questions of me on any subject you like and I can give you any answer I like, as they say.

I think all of you would understand, living in this country, that the Bali bombings have sharpened very much Australian security outlook. After all there are 75 Australians now confirmed dead in Bali; another 12 whom as we say we hold serious concerns. So we are looking at somewhere between 80 and 90 Australians who were killed. There are scores of Indonesian casualties; there were casualties from a number of countries that would be represented in this room here tonight.

Now, we talked quite a lot about the issue of terrorism in South-east Asia well before Bali. I remember being in Kuala Lumpur myself just - must have been one week before Bali - at the World Economic Forum and while I was at the World Economic Forum giving a talk on concerns we had in Australia of the activities of Jemaah Islamiah and I note that Abu Bakar Bashir, in response to my remarks in Kuala Lumpur, had some rather deep and dark things to say about me; and then, not because of that, of course, but then a matter of days later we had the Bali bombing. And I just tell you that because we had already been fairly concerned or seriously concerned about the issue of terrorism in the region well before the 12th of October.

Indeed, for us, the issue was brought into stark relief by the interception by the Singaporean authorities in December of last year, so just about a year ago, of a plot, as the Singaporeans put it, by Jemaah Islamiah to attack the Australian British and American embassies in Singapore and it was fortuitous that the Singaporean authorities managed to intercept that particular plot. But I suppose what we weren't aware of was the breadth and depth of Jemaah Islamiah and terrorist organisations in South-east Asia. I don't think until during the course of this year it could truly be said that we understood the links between a fairly long-standing organisation like Jemaah Islamiah and al-Qa'ida in the Middle East and the nature of those links and how those organisations operated.

But, during the course of this year, we, and a number of our partner countries who have been examining these issues, have become increasingly aware of the activities of, not of course just Jemaah Islamiah but including Jemaah Islamiah, other associated organisations in the region, and particularly in the case of Philippines, organisations like Abu Sayyaf and the links between those organisations and the terrorist groups in the Middle East and, again, especially al-Qa'ida.

I think the important thing for us all to understand is what the goals of these organisations really are. What is it that brings together al-Qa'ida, Jemaah Islamiah or Abu Sayyaf and one or two other groups more than one or two, four or five other groups in the region. Our answer to that is what brings them together is the commitment to what we would call a perverted interpretation of Islam, which is an interpretation of Islam that we saw manifested through the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, of course, working with al-Qa'ida.

But the vision of these terrorist organisations is the establishment throughout the Islamic world, including in the Islamic part of South-East Asia of Taliban-style regimes; of that kind of extremist, worrying, intolerant interpretation of Islam.

Now, I think one of the important points that must always be made is that for us in Australia - this is not to say that we, for a minute, believe that we are now confronted with a so-called clash of civilizations, with a confrontation between the Islamic world and the non-Islamic world. There, of course, are many non-Islamic organisations that have been involved in terrorism: ETA in Spain, the IRA in Northern Ireland, the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. These are not Islamic organisations: these are organisations which in some cases do have a religious provenance, I mean, particularly the IRA, but that that is not to reflect on those religions; it is just that there are those who have an extremist interpretation and that's what we are seeing with Islamic terrorism.

But it is very important to emphasise this point: that this extremist Islamic terrorism is an assault on civilisation, an assault by extremists on the values of tolerance and progress.

The Bali bombings were as much an attack on moderate forces in the world's most populist Muslim country, Indonesia, as the Bali bombings were an attack on westerners or Australians.

Since September the 11th, last year the Australian Government has warned the region, and indeed Australia, that we are not immune from this particular phenomenon and I have explained that to you already. Anyone is fair game, be they office workers in New York, be they German tourists in Tunisia, be it a French oil tanker, be they Australian and other foreign tourists in Bali or Balinese workers in the hospitality sector.

And it's interesting to note, and sad to note, that journalism hasn't been spared from terrorism. Ten foreign correspondents have been killed in the campaign against terrorism over the last year or so.

We, as you now know, have a heightened focus in this country on the possibility of a terrorist attack taking place within Australia. I have to say to you that it's hard to get the balance right here. We don't want to give people an alarmist impression. We don't want people to refuse to leave their houses, to think that if they were to go to a shopping centre that it was almost inevitable there would be a terrorist attack. That's not what we are saying.

What we are saying to people is that we have had general and generic information about possible terrorist actions against a number of targets, including Australia. That's all we have. And when people say that the information we provide is very general, we say the reason we provide general information is because the only information we have is general.

If it were specific you could rest assured that we would pass that on. But the fact that it's general and undefined is unsettling, but I think it's important to make this point: it's our view that whilst we should be on a greater degree of alert in Australia, we musn't allow the terrorists to have a win by altering our way of life. We must maintain our own way of life. We do need to take security precautions and security precautions which in many parts of Europe, for example, are regarded as perfectly normal: have been in place for many years.

In this country we haven't really had that higher sense of security or concern and we have now to adopt that slightly higher response to the information that we have available to us.

We obviously, being where we are in the world, focus very much on the regional response to terrorism, not just the global response. Countries of our region, after all, face real challenges in developing the capacity to confront and defeat terrorism. Our sovereign states have to win this campaign against terrorism. It is very important to understand that sometimes I use the phrase "campaign against terrorism' rather than "war on terrorism" because if you use the word "war" it rather implies to win it is with battalions or tanks or military aircraft and the like, and seen in Afghanistan these kinds of military forces have a role, but in the main the campaign against terrorism is going to be won by sovereign states, including the sovereign states of our region taking specific action to cut off the capacity of terrorists to operate.

Countries in the region - that includes us, not excludes us, it includes us - need to make sure we have an effective legislative framework in place in order to address these problems. It's true to say that before the week after the Bali bombing, Indonesia had very little legislative capacity to address the problem of terrorism. The two decrees signed by the President six days, I think, after the Bali bombing gave the President and, therefore, the administration a much greater capacity to investigate and deal with possible terrorist organisations in Indonesia; and we appreciate the strong action being taken by the Indonesian Government.

It's also important that countries review and endeavour to ensure that their police forces, their intelligence agencies, their immigration and customs agencies are up to the job of monitoring very effectively movement in and out of their countries, populations and groups within their countries - not in an intrusive way that undermines civil liberties but recognising there has to be a balance found between civil liberties and law and order, to ensure that they have the appropriate capacity to counter terrorism internally.

I often make a lot of the issue of dealing with the financing of terrorism and the financing of organisations associated with terrorism. A good deal of work has been done on that: UN conventions drawn up and signed, and various organisations put on the United Nations Security Council list and therefore proscribed in most countries around the world, their assets frozen where their assets can be found. All those things are being done but it's probably true to say that financial flows are still taking place to terrorist organisations: sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly; sometimes money paid to charitable organisations deliberately abused and diverted into terrorist activities because you found that over the years, with the number of terrorist organisations. And we just need to be assiduous in continuing to strengthen our capacity to try to deal with the financing of terrorism.

Here in this country, we have strengthened our counter-terrorism legislation and, as you know, we make no apologies at all for the recent action by ASIO and the Australian Federal Police to act quickly and decisively on any intelligence we have on Jemaah Islamiah or other terrorist connections of people here in Australia. We have an obligation first and foremost to the Australian people to make sure that we leave no stone unturned, in making sure we at least investigate information that we have available to us. But, obviously, again, it is important to get an appropriate balance between providing for the great Australian tradition of civil liberties - and I don't think there is any country on earth that has a better record than Australia on civil liberties over the last century. On the one hand making sure we are able to keep our country secure; on the other - and I think the vast majority of people in Australia understand that difficult balance.

There's been some controversy, I know and you all know, in South-East Asia about these raids. It is borne more out of the way they've been reported in particular countries for one reason or another, and the sort of political momentum that that reporting has given to the issue than the substance of the case. I mean, I acknowledge that countries in our region have been taking quite decisive action against terrorist organisations and terrorists. For example, I just use Malaysia as one example that immediately comes to mind. Malaysia has arrested and detained 51 Muslims since September the 11th of last year because of concerns in Malaysia of the connections those people have with terrorists, terrorism and terrorist organisations and, you know, we wouldn't comment on the minutiae of the Internal Security Act, or whatever it may be, but simply make the point that we understand why the Malaysian Government sees it necessary to arrest Muslims, people who are Muslims - not all Muslims, it is a very big percentage of the population - but people who are Muslims in those circumstances.

And obviously, in this country, we have not been arresting but have been investigating people who may, on the basis of our information, have links with Jemaah Islamiah, an organisation listed by the United Nations and we appreciate the co-sponsoring of that listing by countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and so on, countries in the region, and which, as a result of that listing, is a proscribed organisation here in Australia.

We think co-operation within though this part of the world within the region, as we often say, is particularly important at this time. I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Indonesians for the quality of the investigation in Indonesia, into the bombing in Bali and also to say that there has been extraordinary co-operation between the Indonesian police and Indonesian authorities and the Australian Federal Police, and we very much appreciate, from President Megawati downwards, the level of commitment that has been demonstrated in Indonesia to doing the right thing.

Now, this co-operation was made possible because back in - no doubt it wasn't a front-page story at the time - but back in February of this year, we signed, with Indonesia, a memorandum of understanding on counterterrorism and all that we've done since October the 12th with Indonesia has been under the auspices of that memorandum of understanding.

We've also signed memoranda of understanding on counter-terrorism with Malaysia and Thailand and we are in the process of negotiating a life agreement with the Philippines. Those negotiations seem to be proceeding very smoothly.

We are working with countries in the region to enhance our respective capacities in areas like law enforcement, intelligence and border control. We co-hosted a Pacific Islands regional counter-terrorism Workshop not very long ago but before October the 12th and we're going to co-host - and this was arranged quite some time ago - we're going to co-host a regional conference on terrorism financing and money laundering with Indonesia next month and it's an officials-level regional conference. It was going to be jointly opened by me and the Indonesian Foreign Minister but he's had to move the date of it back a week and I'll be in the South Pacific addressing the question of the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu that week. I thought if I could get another minister to fill in for me that would be a good way of proceeding and so Chris Ellison our Minister for Justice is going to jointly open this conference with Hessian Piragua, the Indonesia Foreign Minister.

It's a good example of the level of co-operation that is taking place between us. I know there's been some static in the Indonesian media and extravagant statements made here and there by members of the Indonesian Parliament but one lets most of that sort of static pass through. We have an expression here that those of you who are British might particularly focus on this expression, that you know when there's a bad ball you let it fly through to the keeper. That means anyone here who is English you don't play out the bad ball because then you get out. So we just let it go. That won't mean much to the rest of you.

So my point here is that working together as a region is a very important component of how we're going to deal with this whole issue of terrorism, working together for us, working together with East Asia, with South-East Asia, with the South-West Pacific and let me finally say with North Asia.

I was in Japan recently about two weeks ago. I met, while I was in Japan with Prime Minister Koizumi, and with the defense and foreign ministers, a Chief Cabinet Secretary and other officials, and in all of my talks, not surprisingly, we spent a good deal of time discussing terrorism, though a lot of the discussion was also about North Korea and weapons of mass destruction, and we agreed in Japan that countries like Australia and Japan should look to see how we can enhance our efforts to assist countries to - developing countries in the region - deal with this whole question of terrorism. And with the Chinese when I was in Shanghai my discussions with them, on the same trip, my discussions with them focused significantly on the issue of terrorism; the challenge that China faces out in the west with terrorist organisations; a commonality of views that we have and how to deal with that problem.

Finally, let me make two points. First of all, all of you will be aware that there was a tape, believed to be a genuine tape, shown on al-Jazeera recently of Osaka bin Laden, making blood curdling calls for further action against infidels and all that sort of language which I thought had died out hundreds and hundreds of years ago. Blood curdling it may be but Australia's response to the kind of threats that we get from people like Osaka bin Laden and al-Qui'da are that history shows we are not easily cowed into surrender, defeat and abandonment of the things we believe in and we, as a country, will stalwartly stand by the things we believe in and the kinds of threats we get from these extremist organisations, organisations which are blood-thirsty in their commitment to killing innocent people.

Our response to that is just to double our determination to deal with them and to finish them off as organisations to ensure that they are no longer effective and to make sure that the world can live with a degree of tolerance, which is unimaginable to Osama bin Laden and organisations like al-Quida and Jemaah Islamiah. None of us are on this earth alone. All of us have to learn that others have different views and different perspectives and to demonstrate a high degree of tolerance and understanding of those different views and different perspectives or humanity won't be able to co-exist. And if Osama bin Laden and his stalwarts in al-Qaida and their brothers in Jemaah Islamiah and Abu Sayyaf and so on could only understand that simple point they would understand that their chances of living in peace and the world's chances of living in peace would be substantially enhanced.

The last point I would make is that we are one of many countries which is concerned about the ultimate horror which is that these extremist organisations might one day get hold of weapons of mass destruction. Some people say that they could get hold of a nuclear device. I suppose that's conceivable. It's one of the reasons why nuclear non-proliferation is such an important issue. It's why our present Australian Government took to the United Nations General Assembly, and had pushed through the General Assembly at our own initiative, the comprehensive test ban treaty. So many countries have signed it; very few countries haven't signed the comprehensive test ban treaty because we, for a very long time, have been deeply concerned about the question of nuclear proliferation.

I come from the state of South Australia. My own state, around the time I was born, was subject to nuclear testing. Nuclear weapons were being detonated in my own state when I was a little child. Some who come from Japan: I mean Japan is a country - well, I won't get into the rights and wrongs of all this - but Japan is a country which was subjected to a nuclear attack and I think we kind of feel we don't want this to be repeated; and nuclear non-proliferation is a very important component of Australian foreign policy. So too is non-proliferation of chemical and biological weapons.

We have been - my predecessor, Garth Evans played a very important role in bringing into life the Chemical Weapons Convention and we, as a government and the previous Australian Government, have been very committed to the Biological Weapons Convention all because we have lived in great fear here for many, many years of the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

So when we see governments like the Iraqi government playing with these weapons, using these weapons as the Iraqi administration has done and then defying the United Nations, that actually is a matter of enormous concern to us and we think the principal issue at stake here is the elimination of weapons of mass destruction, and we regret it when others think that there are other issues at stake. That is the central issue for us. That is the issue that we focus on and that, for the United Nations, the United States and for the bulk of the international communities indeed, the central issue at stake here and we hope that - we hope, we are not sure that it will happen, but we hope through resolution 14.41 finally Iraq will abandon all of its weapons of mass destruction and the sanctions against Iraq can be lifted. The People of Iraq can see their living standards rise rather rapidly as a consequence of that and the world will breathe a sigh of relief.

We hope Saddam Hussein understands the weight that is now upon his shoulders now to behave responsibly and consistent with international law.

And like-wise in North Korea, the agreed framework had, we thought, been moderately successful in taming the nuclear ambitions of North Korea since 1994. We are concerned now with the uranium enrichment program that the Koreans have admitted to the Americans that they have. We're concerned that that is in - is a direct breach of the agreed framework and that Korea, North Korea, could indeed be developing the capacity to build further weapons of mass destruction and we think it's again important that the international community be determined to try to persuade the Koreans, North Koreans, that is not the path to follow and I hope that the measures that have already been put in place will be effective.

In conclusion, let me again repeat what a pleasure it is to come along and speak to the Foreign Correspondents Association. I've found when I've been here before you've given me a very rugged time in the question and answer sessions; all sorts of ideas whir through your heads and that's fair enough in this country. We are one of the most liberal of liberal democracies and you are absolutely welcome to say what you like. If it's defamatory then we can make money but I've I have never myself sued anyone, have threatened to a couple of times but have never actually done it but in the main we put up with the robustness of the way our political and our social system works and it's a great pleasure to have the opportunity to speak to you.

Thank you.

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