The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP
The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP

E and OE

13 December 2005


Doorstop - Indonesia Travel Advice, ABC Asia Pacific Television Service Contract, David Hicks, Cronulla disturbances

ALEXANDER DOWNER: I just want to say that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, with my authorisation, has re-issued our travel advisory for Indonesia. We do want to remind people that there is the potential for terrorist attacks over the Christmas period. In 2000, so five years ago, there were around ten attacks on churches at Christmas time. So if people are going to Indonesia over Christmas, just want to remind them that despite the recent arrests of and killings of terrorists in Indonesia there are still terrorist risks there and there are terrorist risks around Christmas time. And just to be very cautious, keep away from public places and make sure that they've read the travel advisories.

Second thing is the Federal Cabinet yesterday agreed to renew the contract for the ABC Asia Pacific television service. This is a $20 million a year contract to provide an Australian television service into the Asia Pacific region. It's very important for Australia that we project the best face of Australia around the region, we explain to people what Australia is like, and the ABC Asia Pacific service has done a good job over the last five years and I know they'll continue to perform very strongly over the next five year contracts. So we're pleased to announce that.

QUESTION: On the travel advisory is there any specific intelligence to prompt this or is this a general warning?

DOWNER: There have been some indications of possible terrorist attacks around Christmas time but they are fairly general. But we do think that people should be cautious because it's not only on the basis of history but on the basis of some current information that we remain concerned about possible terrorist attacks at Christmas. So people if they're thinking of going to Indonesia for their Christmas holidays they should reconsider their plans and they should read the travel advisory.

QUESTION: Can I just clarify, is the advisory changed, has it been heightened?

DOWNER: The level of advisory hasn't changed. What we do is if we wish to make some changes in the detail of a travel advisory we re-issue the travel advisory and obviously, do what I'm doing now, we publicise it. But we haven't upgraded the level of warning.

QUESTION: Is there a concern that people, as time continues to pass after each attack, become lax and perhaps think ‘Bali OK well there's been an attack there perhaps it will be safe this time'?

DOWNER: Look, I think the only advice we ever give people is to make sure they read the travel advisories and then they've got to make their own judgments on the basis of the travel advisories. We're not putting ourselves as a government in the position of planning everybody's holiday for them obviously. They've got to make those plans themselves and they've got to weigh up the risks and the dangers and the opportunities that are presented by different destinations. But the thing is they should read the travel advisories.

Now, we actually have had a very significant increase in use of travel advisories by the public over the last two or three years, three years, so we do run an advertising campaign, a smart traveller advertising campaign on television from time to time and we've been running that recently. But this Indonesian issue just does remind people of the importance of looking at the travel advisories, understanding what the risks are and then making their own judgments.

QUESTION: Can I just ask you about David Hicks and this question of his British citizenship, have you heard about what the decision may be?

DOWNER: I don't know, it's a decision to be made by a British court and obviously British courts, like Australian courts actually, don't give us forewarning of their decisions. But look, this is really a matter between Mr Hicks and his lawyers and the British court and the British Government, it's not a matter for us, I mean we don't have any jurisdiction over Britain and if a British court decides that David Hicks is a British citizen well that's a matter for then the British Government to deal with. We don't really offer any opinion about that.

QUESTION: Where would that leave Australia?

DOWNER: It would leave Australia exactly where it is. I mean what will it mean for us? It doesn't mean anything for us. I mean we are not detaining David Hicks, he's been detained by the Americans. We have made it clear to the Americans that he should be properly treated and he should face charges in court.

He has been charged with three offences, one of those offences is conspiracy to commit war crimes and another is attempted murder. They are extremely serious offences so we would expect him to face those charges in the Military Commission which is the system they have in the United States.

We don't establish the courts in different jurisdictions around the world, we only establish courts here in Australia, we're not responsible for courts and other aspects of the legal process in other jurisdictions and so if you're an Australian and you get caught up overseas and charges are brought against you you have to face those charges in the courts of the jurisdiction where you are detained.

Now that's what's happened to David Hicks, he's no different from any other Australian. We provided Consular assistance to him.

If he reckons, by switching his nationality, that's going to lead to a different outcome well that's a matter, he's presumably got legal advice to that effect and that's a matter he can pursue of course through the courts or through whatever means he likes, but from Australia's point of view if an Australian is arrested overseas and charged we expect them to face those charges in the jurisdiction responsible and the court to make its decision.

QUESTION: Will the Government take any steps to try and stop him revoking his Australian citizenship?

DOWNER: No, nothing to do with us. He can … it's nothing to do with us, we couldn't stop it even if we tried to, we couldn't influence it. I mean as I understand the situation he did apply for British citizenship and the British Government knocked it back, knocked back his application and now he's gone to court contesting that decision by the British Government and is endeavouring to overturn their decision and if that decision is overturned then it's a matter that falls back into the lap of the British Government, out of the court and into the lap of the British Government. But it doesn't have any implications for us one way or the other.

QUESTION: The Law Council of Australia says that Australia's washed its hands of him. What's your reaction to that?

DOWNER: They would make the same argument I suppose being lawyers and interested in consistency and precedent they would make the same argument in relation to all Australians who have been detained and charged in jurisdictions overseas. I mean it's a completely absurd argument that somehow an Australian who is charged overseas should instead be released and brought back to Australia.

I think we have, I think we have 228 Australians who are facing charges in courts of varying kinds overseas. The Law Council couldn't give a damn for most of them, it only cares about the one who's been charged with conspiracy to commit war crimes and attempted murder.

Excuse me if I say that I find it very hard to understand why a Law Council cares about somebody who's facing charges of that dimension but couldn't care about any other Australian overseas facing charges. We provide them all with equal Consular assistance, Consular access, we sometimes help them gain access to lawyers and so on, but I'm sorry we are not going to send in the SAS and spring all Australians who end up in courts overseas or in jail overseas facing charges for a whole series of different offences. We're not sending in the SAS to bring them back to Australia, no country's going to do that.

QUESTION: He will be the only one facing war crimes and not being treated through civil courts.

DOWNER: He deals with their jurisdiction. I mean we don't set up the jurisdictions of different countries. We only set up the jurisdiction of Australia. We are only responsible for the legal system of Australia, not of the United States. Now in the United States they have had since the Civil War a system of Military Commissions. Under that system people can and do and have faced charges and have been acquitted and convicted, whatever the case may be. That's their system, we don't have … we have our own military justice system in Australia but it's not the same as America's.

If the Law Council's argument is that everybody who faces charges overseas should face a legal system identical to Australia's, that is fanciful because every country has its own different legal system. We have the British system so it's surprise surprise very similar to Britain's and Canada's and New Zealand's those sorts of countries. But we had an Australian hanged in the Singapore jurisdiction the other day, that's a little different from the British system. Indonesia's system is very different from the British system, completely different. We have Australians in trouble there. We have two Australians on death row in Vietnam.

I don't know what the Law Council of Australia thinks about the legal system in Vietnam, I've not heard their views on that, but they seem to be obsessed with the American jurisdiction. America has its own system and if you go off and you get involved with Al-Qaeda it's not surprising you might end up in a bit of trouble.

QUESTION: Mr Downer just back onto the citizenship question. I understand that the British Government can revoke citizenship. Would that be something Australia would put pressure on the Government to do?

DOWNER: No. We wouldn't. It's a matter entirely for the British. And no doubt the British Home Office which is the Government Department responsible for these sorts of issues, for immigration issues. No doubt it will address these issues as it sees appropriate, and as the Home Secretary sees appropriate, but it's really not a matter for us, it's a matter for Britain.

QUESTION: Just on another matter. Do you worry about Australia's image in foreign countries as regarding the Cronulla disturbances?

DOWNER: I'm not broadly speaking worried about it, I think in the long term it has to be understood that in all countries or just about all countries around the world there are incidents from time to time which range from the unfortunate to the extremely regrettable and I don't think the image of a country is something that's determined as a result of one incident, I think an image of a country is something that is determined over a long period of time and Australia has a wonderful image around the world.

Having said all of that obviously we hope that in particular the police are able to restore the situation so there are no acts of lawlessness that we've seen over the recent period and it's very important that the law enforcement authorities do the right thing by the broader community.


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