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Doorstop Interview Sen Hill At Parliament House

MINISTER FOR DEFENCE
LEADER OF THE GOVERNMENT IN THE SENATE
SENATOR THE HON. ROBERT HILL

Thursday, 17 October 2002 MIN 575/02

TRANSCRIPT
Doorstop interview
Following presentation of medals to civilian peace monitors
Senate Alcove
Parliament House, Canberra
11:25am, Monday 17 October 2002

Senator Robert Hill:

Who wants to ask me something?

Journalist:

Is it still your view that the ADF is increasingly likely to be deployed at greater distances from Australia and is it still your view that it makes less sense now to consider Australian security as a series of concentric circles moving outwards from our coast?

Senator Robert Hill:

I think that Bali is another illustration that we are facing global issues. We went to Afghanistan. We have forces in Afghanistan because that's where - basically the al Qaeda headquarters and where they most of their major training establishments and we still have forces there addressing that issue. But we also said out of that experience that we'd learnt of the extension of the networks in to South East Asia and we've learnt more about the relationship between the various terrorist organisations within South East Asia. And I think this just simply emphasis the global perspective of the threat of terror and the reality of terror in which is the world that we're living in at the moment.

Journalist:

Does Bali make it more likely that there'll be no fourth deployment of SAS to Afghanistan? That they'll come home at the end of this mission?

Senator Robert Hill:

No we've said that they'll come home as soon as the task is completed and we would obviously like to see them home sooner than later.

We will make a decision on the following rotation usually about half way through the previous rotation which means that next month I would expect we'll make a decision on whether we do a fourth rotation or not.

It would mean that, it would mean a rotation in the literal sense in that it would be sending special forces back for a second time. And we have been expecting a lot of our special forces in recent times and not surprisingly I think they deserve a good break but we'll be assessing that in the next few weeks.

Journalist:

Do you think that we have learnt enough about the extension of terrorist networks into South East Asia? From the comments that are particularly being made by the US Ambassador in Jakarta, they took more seriously than we did the threat of a terrorist attack against a soft target by an al Qaeda linked grouped than we did?

Senator Robert Hill:

I don't think that that's correct. I don't think they took that possibility more seriously than us and we basically share intelligence on the region and what I've been saying in the past, and it's still the case, that there is a lot that we don't know. There is a lot more we know about these organisations in South East Asia then we knew twelve months ago.

But we suspect we've only really scratched the surface of what there is to know.

Journalist:

If there was no difference, why did the US continue to release stronger warnings to Westerners in Indonesia than we did?

Senator Robert Hill:

Well our threat assessment for Indonesia was high and the DFAT Officials translate that into travel warnings as they see to be appropriate. And the travel warning for Indonesia was basically be careful and it made specific reference to the possibility of bombings and the like.

Now you can interpret the American one as slightly different if you like but to me they were both basically be careful warnings. Neither had a defer travel warning. So obviously both the US and our people assess the risk as the same.

Journalist:

Minister, don't you think if.....

Senator Robert Hill:

That would be the next level really of warning which is the one that we have at the moment to defer travel to Indonesia.

Journalist:

Don't you think though that if people had seen a warning that said there is potential for explosive attacks in Bali and particularly in tourist areas and that they shouldn't gather in public places like bars and restaurants that some people might have decided not to go?

Senator Robert Hill:

Well how do I know the answer to that? I've said to you that the DFAT people who, you know that is their expertise, put out the travel warning that they believe was appropriate to the background of the intelligence that is available. And that travel warning was to remind them that bombings are taking place in the region and that they need to be careful.

Journalist:

Are you fully satisfied with the government's assessment of the intelligence that we were receiving about the likely threat in Indonesia?

Senator Robert Hill:

Likely threat in Indonesia? The assessments are made by specialists. DIO does its assessment. ONA does its assessment. This is their expertise.

They take the raw intelligence material which is voluminous and make a judgement upon it. And I've got no reason to question their professional capability.

Journalist:

How much do we rely on intelligence from Indonesia gathered by Australian intelligence officers and how much do we rely on intelligence gathered by the United States?

Senator Robert Hill:

We gather, in the case of this region, we provide a greater share of the intelligence than in relation to some other regions. That's not surprisingly. That's not surprising.

But basically we source from a whole range of different sources and with our friends and allies we collaborate. So there was mass of intelligence but unfortunately nothing that told us that there was going to be this terrorist attack in Bali.

Journalist:

Are you confident DIO could have a full and frank exchange of intelligence with Indonesian intelligence services as is apparently being mooted by Mr Downer now? If there's going to be intelligence links between Australia and Indonesia, would you be happy with full and frank disclosure between the Australian and Indonesian services?

Senator Robert Hill:

We have been significantly expanding our exchange over the course of the last twelve months. And this was once of the decisions that came out of the memorandum to combat terrorism was to, as much as we could reasonable do so, share intelligence. And when I went to Indonesia and talked to the Defence Minister and the Foreign Minister and so forth I emphasised at that time that the sharing of intelligence was going to be important.

In particular, what we were thinking of was the movement of people from Indonesia to Australia and they obviously have an interest in what we were learning about what was happening in Indonesia. So that exchange and the confidence in each other in terms of the intelligence agencies has been growing during the course of the year and I think this horrible event will only emphasis how important it is that it continue.

Journalist:

Can Defence put more resources into intelligence targeted on Indonesia?

Senator Robert Hill:

Well they can but we put in a great deal at the moment and of course that's been significantly increased in the last twelve months. So it's not - there's no - it's endless really. It depends what you think is the appropriate level. There's nothing to suggest that if we had of had double or triple the resources we would have had a better outcome in this instance.

Journalist:

Minister, the Americans got their information about the heightened alert in Indonesia from a man called Omar al Faruq who was arrested in June.

Did we sent any intelligence officers to interview him?

Senator Robert Hill:

Faruq? I don't think, I'd need to check it. I don't think we interviewed him but we certainly received the product of the interviews of others of him.

Journalist:

So we knew of these interviews which the Americans document?

Senator Robert Hill:

No. Well I'm just saying that the Americans share intelligence with us and particularly anything that might affect us or our region we would expect to get from our allies.

Journalist:

Well it's a significant point because without him there wouldn't even have been even a heightened alert for the Americans? So we ...

Senator Robert Hill:

Well I think that there's - we'll I don't know that that's quite right.

There's a whole range of different sources and whether one particular interview led to that I'm not sure. But there's a lot of material that is obviously shared between us and the Americans and as I said largely the agencies seem to reach the same conclusion.

Journalist:

America has nominated al Faruq as being their most significant in detailed source of information on the terrorist threat in Indonesia. Are you aware of American complaints that they have had difficulty getting Megawati to take the assessments of that interrogation seriously? Particularly after the whole thing was leaked to Time Magazine?

Senator Robert Hill:

We and particularly the Americans have been asking more of the Indonesian government. I think there's no secret about that. Again if I go back to my visit to Indonesia - I said it at the time there and that was reported on and I said it publicly afterwards. Having said that there has also been increased cooperation during the course of the year so it's got to put in that perspective and we also recognise the particular difficulties that the Indonesian government faces in this regard. So it is a serious - obviously - we said at the time it's serious. We now know it's serious.

Journalist:

Did you see the CIA assessment that did list the Bali amongst other possible tourist locations as being a possible site for an attack? Have you seen that previously or since this has blown up?

Senator Robert Hill:

Highly unlikely that I would get CIA assessments but I don't know that I can talk about specific intelligence.

Journalist:

Well what are you aware of the report which the Prime Minister spoke about in Question Time yesterday that did mention Bali along with other locations?

Senator Robert Hill:

I'm aware of that material. Yes.

Journalist:

When did you become aware of it Minister?

Senator Robert Hill:

Aware of what?

Journalist:

When did you become aware of material that specifically mentioned Bali?

Were you only made aware of that subsequent to the incident or were you aware of it before?

Senator Robert Hill:

I don't think I was aware of it before.

Journalist:

Is that not ...

Senator Robert Hill:

There is a mass of material that comes through my office. I don't think that did.

Journalist:

But our intelligence people were aware of it.

Senator Robert Hill:

Well I don't think ... yep.

Journalist:

Is that correct is it? That our intelligence analysts were aware of it but that you weren't necessarily.

Senator Robert Hill:

That's correct. See I don't normally get source intelligence. The masses and masses of source intelligence which is, flows into the agencies every day and basically what they do is analyse it. We get daily reports.

Journalist:

Where did the mention of a tourist resort like Bali where thousands and thousand of Australians go, don't you think that that should have triggered something and that it should have gone up as high as you?

Senator Robert Hill:

Well I don't think the source material should. If there was an assessment of changed risk, yes that should. But obviously our specialists believed that the risk assessment for Indonesia that's been high should remain as high.

Journalist:

And didn't think ...

Senator Robert Hill:

And that the DFAT people that do the travel advisory obviously believed that their, assessed that their travel advisory was appropriate and that is to take care.

Journalist:

Your aware of the [inaudible] Senator Robert Hill:

Well I'm aware of some of his material.

Journalist:

What did you think - how did you see the information he ...

Senator Robert Hill:

Because I see the assessments by our agencies and to the extent that it, that they refer to his material I'm aware. But I haven't read the, obviously read the interviews that have been taken with him.

Journalist:

Subsequent to the al Faruq material are you aware of further credible intelligence as defined by the US Ambassador in Jakarta of credible threats to soft targets such as tourist sites in Indonesia, aware of further intelligence mentioning tourist sites?

Senator Robert Hill:

Well there was the example that the Prime Minister gave yesterday. I'm not - I don't recall any other no. But we knew there was a high threat listing for Indonesia. We've been saying all year that the terrorist networks have spread into our region and people should take care.

Journalist:

How high was the - or how strong was the warning regarding Bali that the document detailed by the Prime Minister yesterday?

Senator Robert Hill:

Well I don't think it's appropriate for me to go into that detail. It's - I think the material I understand has been provided to the Opposition and if there's anything more that is to be said publicly on it then I think that should come from the Prime Minister.

Journalist:

[Inaudible] ... people like Rohan Gunaratna have been, people have been sceptical about claims that al Qaeda has sent people to Australia to attack targets here. Now after the Bali bombing people are reassessing some of these statements wild as they seem. What's your take on the situation within Australia now? Are you worried that some groups might have crossed over and [inaudible]?

Senator Robert Hill:

Again the expert assessment, the advice is that there is no direct threat against Australians in Australia. There's no direct threat to Australia but yes of course it worries me. I didn't see any direct threat to Bali either and yet we've had this horrible, horrible attack there.

We know that some Australians have received al Qaeda training. Some of them, their whereabouts is unknown and there may be others that we don't know of. And there are others - and that's just using an example of Al Qa'eda. There are other fanatical groups too. Part of this sort of loose international network of terrorist organisations.

That's why we've increased security on strategic assets, the most likely targets. That's why we've doubled our counter terrorism capability.

That's why we've put in place a capability to address chemical, biological and radiological attacks. It's why we've increased protection in airports and on aircraft. There is in this global environment at the moment no one is excepted and we share the values of those - of the United States and the US mainland was attacked. It is possible that there could be a terrorist attack in Australia.

Journalist:

Are you saying you believe that there are al Qaeda trained people at large in Australia at the moment? Are you saying their whereabouts are unknown?

Senator Robert Hill:

The ones that I've known of are believed to be overseas. But I think any domestic security issues or questions of that type should really go to the Attorney.

Journalist:

Do you believe that the document which was revealed by the Prime Minister yesterday that mentions Bali is the same document that was raised in the Washington Post two days ago? They sound quiet similar or do you believe that there may be have been a second report mentioning Bali that we didn't get?

Senator Robert Hill:

Well the US itself put out statements on that yesterday. I don't know the answer to that. See I don't know what the document was or if there was a document to which the Post was referring.

Journalist:

But the document referred to by the Prime Minister was the US source is that right?

Senator Robert Hill:

If he said it was it was. You trying to trick me are you?

Journalist:

No I thought it was a very direct question.

Journalist:

I have a boring Financial Review question before we go back to terrorism.

The shipbuilding repair plan. There's ten billion dollars there. Our market likes this. How far away is the, you know the way ahead statement do you reckon?

Senator Robert Hill:

Well I'm clear in my own mind on the way ahead. I've now completed a process of engaging the various industry players. I have to say the list is somewhat endless. Now State governments are wanting to engage me on it as well. I think I've been contacted by Mr Bracks. But I'm satisfied of the right way ahead and now that's a matter of writing it up and taking it to Cabinet.

Journalist:

Cabinet does have to make another decision on it does it?

Senator Robert Hill:

Yes.

Journalist:

Minister what about Premier Carr's proposal to use soldiers [inaudible].

Do you see an expanded role for the Defence Force in Australia along those lines? [Inaudible] pipe dream?

Senator Robert Hill:

Well I don't think it's a pipe dream. It's really what is the most effective security. What's the most appropriate in the circumstances and what are these soldiers to protect.

If we go to CHOGM, we saw CHOGM as a real risk, as a real target and we gave specific responsibility to our military. And we utilised that capability in terms of air combat aircraft over the site, in terms of sending up our counter terrorism force. Putting in place again a response to a chemical, biological, radiological attack.

So in specific instances like that we have seen in the past that it's appropriate. But around our strategic assets we do have in some instances Defence people providing protection. But, Mr Carr I think was talking about sort of major tourist sites and like and they are endless in Australia.

Journalist:

So no?

Senator Robert Hill:

We make a judgement I think. As you know the Prime Minister has ordered a review of the whole security environment, domestic security environment in light of the Bali experience and no doubt he'll be, he'll take on board what Mr Carr's advice. But the Government hasn't made any decision to utilise Defence Forces beyond what we've done in the past.

Journalist:

Have you sent the strategic review back for further re-working in the light of the Bali blast or have you run out of red ink?

Senator Robert Hill:

It needs to be updated. It's being updated at the moment in light of the Bali attack and I expect to lodge the document next week.

Journalist:

Who do you lodge it with? With Cabinet or ...

Journalist:

The Age would happily publish it for you Minister.

Senator Robert Hill:

Lodge it with the broader government process in effect and it goes out of my hands into the Cabinet process.

Journalist:

So that'll be the final draft? So when do we expect it - the public version anyway, to be released.

Senator Robert Hill:

Well that'll depend on the NSC and Cabinet program which is - there are other, I think the Prime Minister might say that there are immediate issues that NSC needs to address - but hopefully next month I'd say.

ENDS


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