PM Transcripts

Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 12493

Press Conference in Response to Terror Attack in Bali, Sydney

Photo of Howard, John

Howard, John

Period of Service: 11/03/1996 to 03/12/2007

More information about Howard, John on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 13/10/2002

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 12493

Subject(s): Bali tragedy; terrorism; medical assistance

E&OE……………………………………………………………………………………

PRIME MINISTER:

Ladies and Gentlemen, I know that I speak for all Australians, and I mean all Australians, in expressing a sense of outrage, sadness and horror at what has occurred overnight in Bali. This wicked and cowardly attack, clearly on the evidence available to us, an act of terrorism and have no justification and would be widely condemned not only by Australians but by people all around the world.

My very first thoughts, however are with those Australians at present waiting and hoping to hear from loved ones who are so far unaccounted for. Our thoughts will be especially with them at this time of unbelievable stress and anxiety and we can only hope that the prayers and the hopes of as many of them as possible are answered over the coming hours.

The latest information I have is that there are confirmed dead of 169 with hundreds injured. I don’t at this stage, nor do the Australian authorities in Jakarta or Denpasar know the exact extent of Australian casualties. There are many Australians unaccounted for, many. We must therefore prepare ourselves as a nation for the possibility of a significant number of Australians deaths amongst the fatalities.

The indiscriminate, brutal and despicable way in which lives have been taken away on this occasion by an act of barbarity will, I know, deeply shock all Australians and accepting that shock I also express my condolences to the people of Indonesia who I know have lost many of their citizens in this outrage. Many of the Australians in this nightclub were doing something that thousands of young Australians do at this time of the year, they mark the end of a season of sport with some fun in another place. They were carrying on that innocent and understandably exuberant pastime is something that we take for granted as Australians. Sadly and tragically terrorism has touched that innocent pursuit and touched it in a brutal and very barbaric and quite unforgivable fashion.

The view that this is a terrorist attack is not my view alone. It is the current assessment of both the Australian and the Indonesian authorities. A short while ago I spoke on the telephone to President Megawati of Indonesia. I expressed to her my condolences at the loss of life suffered by Indonesia and she conveyed her sorrow and shock at the likely loss of Australian lives.

Both of us agreed that this incident was a brutal reminder that the world has in fact to face the challenge of terrorism. The warnings of the last year or more that terrorism can touch anybody, anywhere, at any time have been borne out by this terrible event. And I can only say again that the war against terrorism must go on with unrelenting vigour and with an unconditional commitment because terrorism strikes indiscriminantly, it strikes at civilian targets, it strikes without justification, it strikes without pity and it strikes in a way that I know outrages the civilised world.

I want to immediately record my thanks to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Department of Defence and the Australian Defence Force for the speedy way in which the crisis response went into action this morning.

A C130 with a medical team of seven doctors, including experienced surgeons and nurses is already on its way and will be in Denpasar at 8.00 pm this evening. It has a capacity to bring back to Australia litter patients of some thirty and if necessary further aircraft will be despatched to bring people back to Australia for treatment and I’ve indicated to the Department of Foreign Affairs that all of the resources of the Air Force will be available for this task. We are determined to provide the best possible medical assistance for Australians, we’ll bring them back, we’ll offer medical treatment for others who have been injured in this outrage. I offer that medical assistance and I also offered police assistance to President Megawati when I spoke to her this afternoon. But we had, in admittably very sad circumstances, a very constructive and positive discussion about the need to work together as closely as possible in the wake of this attack.

I also want to thank Qantas for immediately despatching additional aircraft. I’ve spoken to the Chairman of Qantas, Margaret Jackson, a short time ago and she indicated that the airline stood ready to provide all additional assistance that may be needed.

I want to issue a very strong piece of advice to Australians not to travel to Bali until further notice. In the wake of what has occurred it is clearly not a safe place and I would counsel people in unmistakably clear terms not to take the risk. We have issued a number of travel warnings about Bali and about Indonesia generally in recent times but in the wake of this terrible event they certainly have an added point.

I’ve spoken to the Leader of the Opposition and offered him briefings from the Department of Foreign Affairs and other agencies as appropriate and equated him with any additional knowledge I have of the circumstances. We both agree this is a huge national tragedy for Australia and for Australians and it is something that the Australian community should as far as possible confront and respond to together.

I have also had two conversations with the Premier of Western Australia Dr Gallop. Quite a number of the people in Bali and apparently the nightclub were from Western Australia and because of the proximity of Perth and the rest of Western Australia there is always a significant number of Australians from that part of our country in Bali.

Ladies and Gentlemen this is a very sad day, it’s tragic that young Australians seeking nothing other than innocent enjoyment, Australians generally - not only young - many, of all ages over the years have made Bali a holiday destination, they’ve enjoyed it and have enjoyed the hospitality of the Balinese people. I can only say again that my thoughts are very much with the families waiting to hear. It is an awful time for them and I hope that they…. may find some comfort from the fact that there fellow Australians are thinking of them, are feeling for them and are trying in our different ways to share their anxiety and to express the hope that there prayers will as far as possible and in as many cases as possible be answered.

This event is a terrible reminder that terrorism can touch anybody anywhere and at any time and any country or any people, any leader or any nation that imagines that in some way they have secured immunity from terrorism because of this or that attitude or this or that part or position in the world, or this or that accident of geography is deluding themselves. That is not the case, and this event sadly has brought that home.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister do you think that Australia is particularly being targeted?

PRIME MINISTER:

Sarah, there is a pattern and the pattern is anti-Western if you look at the incidents that have happened especially over the last year or two you see an anti-Western pattern. But whether or not there is a particular anti-Australian component in this I can’t tell, but this is place, Kuta Beach, which is frequented by a lot of Australians a lot also frequented by other westerners and if you look at the other attacks - the Germans and the French who died in foreign countries, in Pakistan, in Tunisia, you think of the several hundred Kenyans who died as a result of terrorist attacks there is a pattern and that pattern is an anti-Western one and naturally and of course historically being a western nation, Australians can and have tragically in this case been caught up with it but of course there were Australians who died in the World Trade Centre along with people from Europe and people from Asia and people from the Middle East and people of Islamic faith and of all faiths so it’s fair to say that there is an anti-Western character. Whether one can go beyond that and say that there was a particularly anti-Australian character to this, I don’t have the basis on which to make that claim.

JOURNALIST:

….could be paying the price for Australians support for the United States?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think a totally inaccurate proposition and what makes it inaccurate is the fact that citizens of other countries that have taken what could either be called a neutral stance or a completely different stance from Australia have had their citizens killed in terrorist attacks and I think particularly the Germans and the French

JOURNALIST:

… investigating a possible link between yesterday’s terror alert which albeit related to specific utilities and Bali last night…

PRIME MINISTER:

From the information I have there is no link at all between the two, none whatsoever.

JOURNALIST:

Can I ask whether or not we’ve actually had any advice from an overseas special agency warning us of something like this…?

PRIME MINISTER:

Nothing which could have specifically warned of this incident. There have been some general expressions repeatedly and we have expressed our concern in relation to them to the Indonesian Government and so have the Americans but there are a lot of terrorist groups, a number of terrorist cells in Indonesia and that is a matter of public knowledge and public record and it has been a matter of concern expressed by me. It led us in part to the signing of the memorandum of understanding on terrorism six or nine months ago when I was in Jakarta, and it’s been the source of constant representation by the United States Government to the Indonesian authorities. There is no doubt that there are terrorist cells with links to Al Qaeda in Indonesia. We know that and that is a matter of public knowledge. Now I’m not going to try and connect the dots on this occasion because it’s too early and I don’t have the evidence to do that. But all I am asserting at the moment, and all the authorities are telling me is that this appears on all the signs at this early stage to have been a terrorist attack. I mean there was a huge bomb apparently that left a very large crater.

JOURNALIST:

What sort of assuring can you give Australians within our borders that security has been correspondingly intensified following Bali…?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well as a result of this we will review everything again. I will have a meeting of the National Security Committee of Cabinet tomorrow. I’ll be seeing some senior people in Canberra tonight when I arrive there and we’ll be looking at everything again. But I can only repeat what I have said repeatedly for a year now and that is that every country is at risk, some more so than others and although Australia is at greater risk than we were I’ve said that that we’re not as at great a risk as others. But I can only say that again and again - people should get out of their minds the idea that it can’t happen here. It can, and it has happened to our own on our doorstep.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard has anyone claimed responsibility for this, or what … indicating which group it might be?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. No.

JOURNALIST:

What about Australian diplomats? Will you look at trying to bring those diplomats back or….?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, as I say, we’ll assess everything but I don’t know that bringing diplomats home is automatically the right thing to do. If anything we need more people on the ground, or as many people as safely can be put on the ground to get as much information as we possibly can.

JOURNALIST:

Are they at risk though….

PRIME MINISTER:

Well everybody’s a bit at risk after something like this. I mean you might not have thought that people doing what many of these young Australians were doing were at risk. We are living in a more dangerous world and nobody can imagine that by wrapping yourself up into a little ball and rolling over in a corner that it’s going to go away because terrorism can reach out and touch people who are trying to be as unobtrusive as possible as well as reaching out and touching people who are behaving in a more overt fashion, using that language in its collective sense.

JOURNALIST:

Did Megawati any assurances now about what she will do now? Is she going to crack down on the JI group?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well obviously they have to carry out investigations and try and find out who’s responsible. She gave me a general assurance that they would pursue the perpetrators and I hope that proves to be the case and we will be pushing very very hard indeed to see that that happens. We would like to see the maximum effort on the part of the Indonesian government to deal with the terrorist problem within their own borders. I mean it has been a problem for a long time, it remains a problem and it will continue to be a problem and there needs to be a maximum effort on the part of the Indonesian government. It’s too early at this stage for me or for her to be talking about who it might be, except to say that it seems clearly to be an act of terrorism and the organisation you mention, the JI organisation has been operating since the 1950s, it has loose links with Al Qaeda. But as to precisely who was involved in this outrage I don’t know, she doesn’t know at this stage, no doubt the Indonesian authorities will offer any help they are inclined to avail themselves of to try and help find the perpetrators.

JOURNALIST:

Have you had any calls of support and offers of help from Washington so far in terms of trying to track down those who are responsible? Any offers of assistance?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I haven’t had any calls yet but I can’t….I mean we are still in the process of trying to help the people who have been left maimed and crippled and injured by this outrage. I mean my total preoccupation this morning has been in relation to the response to the Australians who’ve been killed and injured. That’s what I’m concerned about at the present time. I will obviously turn my mind to some other matters in due course.

JOURNALIST:

Bob Brown this morning that he wants the government to, rather than focus on say Iraq, concentrate on trouble spots like Indonesia and Bali, what’s your response to that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well terrorism is not geographically discreet. Terrorism is a worldwide menace and that’s been brought home to us. It’s unrealistic of anybody to believe that if you just deal with terrorism in one part of the world then it’s solved in other parts of the world, clearly our own area is of direct concern to us but not exclusive concern to us and terrorism is a worldwide threat. It needs to be responded to on a worldwide basis. It can reach people no matter where they are because of the mobility of our population. We live in the most mobile generation mankind has seen, and particularly the young, they travel more than ever before. The idea that it’s only likely to touch your citizens and your loved ones if it occurs in Australia or in the countries immediately around Australia is not a realistic assessment of modern day life.

JOURNALIST:

… elective surgery, or will priority be placed on some of the hospitals …

PRIME MINISTER:

Elective surgery?

JOURNALIST:

... the demand for the emergency services say here, in hospitals, will they be pushed aside to…

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I’m not going to presume to speak for the management of state run and private hospitals. I’m quite certain our wonderful doctors and hospital administrators and nurses and paramedics can handle the situation as they always do in a quite superb fashion.

JOURNALIST:

Will you be speaking to President Bush about this?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think the immediate responsibility I have is to preoccupy myself in helping Australians in Indonesia and Australia. My total preoccupation, my dominant preoccupation now is as best I can in a tragic situation, as inadequate though it might be for anybody in my position to try and do is to express a sense of collective concern to those Australians and mothers and fathers, and brothers and sisters, and everybody else who have got people in Bali at the moment who they can’t find. All of our thoughts ought to be with them because it’s a terrible time for them and they deserve our sympathy and our support as best as we can give it in these very difficult circumstances. Thank you.

[ends]

Transcript 12493