Archive for Daryl Williams Attorney-General for Australia 1996 - 2003

26 February 2003

Address to 'International Studies' & 'Australian Foreign Policy' students

Murdoch University
South Street, Murdoch, Perth, WA

10.30am, Wednesday 26 February 2003

Introduction

In recent history, two major events have made a significant and lasting impact on the world and the course of international politics.

The demise of communism signalled a significant shift in international political, economic and social relations.  And with it came the end of the Cold War and the forging of important new relations.

The terrorist attacks of September 11 2001, marked a similarly significant shift in the global environment.  September 11 marked a new and deeply disturbing phase of international terrorism, forcing democratic nations to engage in a reassessment of their foreign policy and national security strategies.

Terrorist ideology

In political terms, terrorism is a direct challenge to the liberal and democratic traditions and institutions of the free world.  We are fighting an enemy that will not be appeased by compromise or concession.  This enemy's aim is to destroy Western freedom and democracy.  Terrorists are willing to kill innocent people because they do not agree with our values and our way of life.  And they are often willing to lose their own lives in the process.

Clearly, the war against terrorism is not a traditional war that can be fought by traditional means.  It is not a war that we sought or wanted.  It is a war that was forced on us.  But we can not let terrorism prevail over justice.
And we can not ignore the threat or pretend that it does not exist.

Australia's commitment against terrorism in the new security environment

Australian agencies constantly monitor potential terrorist activity.  We have already seen threats to Australian interests at home and abroad.

If Australians were ever in danger of becoming complacent about the global threat of terrorism, that was dispelled by the Bali bombings last October.  These horrific attacks brought the reality of terrorism right to our doorstep.  We know that the bombers deliberately targeted Westerners.  And many of the dead and injured were Australians.

Within Australia, ASIO's published reports tell us there are supporters of overseas terrorist organisations here.  A Perth man is facing charges of allegedly planning to blow up an embassy in Australia.

Since September 11 2001, Osama bin Laden has mentioned Australia three times in broadcasts on Middle East television, including a reference to our troops in East Timor as part of a 'crusader force'.  Our High Commission in Singapore has been the target of a foiled terrorist plot by Jemaah Islamiyah.  And a terrorist threat saw our Dili embassy temporarily close around the anniversary of September 11 last year, with other Australian embassies in the region placed on high alert.

There has been some discussion of where Australia ranks as a target for JI and Al Qaida.  But where we fall on a notional list of targets is not the point.  The point is that Australia and Australians are at risk and that is a risk which must be acknowledged and responded to.

It would be dangerously naïve to look the other way and pretend that the threat of terrorism does not exist or that somehow, Australia is immune to this global threat.  We can not assume that terrorism will never reach our shores.  We have seen around the world that terrorists do not spare those countries that fail to challenge them, Kenya and Tanzania for example.

That is why the Australian Government has chosen address this issue head on - to make it a priority and take steps to improve our security and counter terrorism arrangements at home and to work with other nations to achieve the same goal abroad.  We have a responsibility to do whatever is necessary to protect our country and our community from terrorism.

International Cooperation

No single government and no single country can hope to fight terrorism by acting alone.  Terrorism is a global phenomenon.  It transcends national borders.  It is vital that the international community has common strategies that are strong, practical and effective.

Our commitment to a peaceful and prosperous world and our willingness to work with other countries to achieve practical outcomes holds Australia in good stead on the world stage.  As a result of this, we are in a sound position to work with other countries to fight terrorism at the international level, and particularly in our own region.

International cooperation between governments is essential.  And this cooperation needs to be reinforced by closer and more productive working relations at the legislative, law enforcement and intelligence levels.

Afghanistan

The most obvious international response to terrorism has been the military action in Afghanistan.  The campaign in Afghanistan showed that an international coalition can achieve success against terrorist strongholds.

Australia made a significant contribution to that operation.  We provided a Special Forces Task Group.  Air-to-air refuellers were based in Kyrgystan.  Ships were sent to the Persian Gulf.  And FA18 fighters were deployed to Diego Garcia.

Despite our best efforts Osama bin Laden has not been captured.  But his operations have been severely disrupted.  He is on the move, in constant hiding, and the Taliban regime that supported him in Afghanistan has been replaced.  His ability to orchestrate attacks in these circumstances has been diminished.

Australia as a Terrorist Target

However, we cannot afford to be complacent about the remaining threat of terrorist attack.  In Australia, we have been on a heightened threat level since September 11 2001.  This extended period of heightened alert for acts of terrorism is unprecedented in Australia's history.  In addition, the Government issued a security alert on November 19 last year, on the basis of credible information of a possible terrorist attack in Australia.  That alert remains in place based on security and intelligence advice currently available to us.

There have been suggestions that Australia's involvement with the United States in the stance against Iraq has somehow led to an increase in the threat of terrorism to Australia.  The fact is that the threat of terrorism to Australia existed before our support for the United States and the United Kingdom.  The objectives of terrorist groups are to destroy the Western way of life and democracy as we know it.

Australia, with its proud tradition of democracy, has always been a target for these groups.  And Osama bin Laden's interest in Australia started as a result of our role in East Timor, well before Australia joined with the US-led efforts to disarm Saddam Hussein.

As the Director-General of ASIO recently noted while bin Laden's opportunistic tendencies may mean the timing of terrorist attacks might be influenced by events in the Middle East:  "But of one thing we can be certain: a peaceful solution to the current situation will be irrelevant to bin Laden's intent and purpose. Al Qaida will seek to follow through on whatever it may be planning at present; and its targets of first choice will remain innocent civilians".

The British Prime Minister Tony Blair said recently, unless the twin evils of terrorism and the spread of dangerous weapons are dealt with, at some moment in the future, they could well come together with terrifying consequences for the world.  This can not be allowed to happen.

The ability of the international community to control weapons of mass destruction becomes a far more acute issue of national security in an environment of heightened terrorist risk.  The possession of weapons of mass destruction by a country such as Iraq, combined with the terrorist threat, is a frightening prospect.

We have already seen Iraq, led by Saddam Hussein, carry out an unprovoked attack on a peaceful neighbour, Kuwait.  We have also seen Iraq use weapons of mass destruction against elements of its own population.  This betrayal of his own people indicates the character of the Iraqi leader and his likely lack of concern for other citizens around the world.

In this respect, Australia supports fully the new draft Security Council Resolution on Iraq which was tabled by the US, UK and Spain on 24 February.  We will be urging Security Council members to consider the draft carefully.

The Security Council must act quickly to ensure compliance with its previous resolutions concerning Iraq.  A failure by the Security Council to do so would undermine its own authority and credibility.  It may also encourage others like North Korea to develop and maintain weapons of mass destruction.

By sitting back and doing nothing, we are not going to stop these people attacking Western democracies, including Australia.  Being active is not only the right thing to do, it's the only sure way of ensuring that we are doing everything we can to protect international peace and security - and ultimately the security of our own community.

Regional cooperation

There have also been a number of ill-founded suggestions that the Government is focussed on Iraq to the detriment of counter-terrorism efforts in the region.  This is simply nonsense.

Over many years, Australia has demonstrated a willingness to take an active role in the affairs of the region.

In the past year, we have worked closely with a number of countries from around the region to increase cooperation on combating transnational crime and terrorism.

We have signed memoranda of understanding with Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand on cooperation to combat terrorism and to forge closer diplomatic and security relationships.  Another MoU is close to being finalised with the Philippines and others are being negotiated with other countries.

The MoUs aim to foster cooperation on a range of issues related to combating terrorism, including intelligence sharing, law enforcement cooperation, training and education and official to official contact.  Close cooperation also continues in the intelligence area.

In addition to signing MoUs, Australia has played a significant role in many other counter-terrorism initiatives in the region.

Australia and Indonesia co-hosted a Regional Ministerial Conference on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime in February 2002.  Australia and Indonesia will again bring together Ministers from across the region in April, to consider the progress that has been made in combating these crimes and to discuss how to continue to build on the achievements in this area.

In March last year, Australia co-hosted with the United States a counter-terrorism workshop for Pacific Island countries.  In May 2002, two officers of the Attorney-General?s Department visited Indonesia to assist the Indonesian Government to develop its "Draft Law for the Elimination of Terrorism".  Funded by an AusAID program (the Legal Reform Program), the Departmental officers provided technical assistance to the National Law Reform Agency in the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, and its task force.

And in October last year, Australia participated in the Pacific Islands Law Officers Meeting in Samoa.  Delegates considered legislation developed in accordance with the Honiara and Nasonini declarations to enable Forum Island countries to comply with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373 and Financial Action Taskforce Special 8 recommendations on terrorist financing as soon as possible.

Australia's support extends far beyond financial assistance.  However, in December last year, the Foreign Minister announced that the Government will allocate up to $150,000 to help the region strengthen its defences against terrorism.

For my own part I have been very impressed by the effort our Departmental officers and our law enforcement and intelligence officers have put into building cooperate working relationships with countries in our region.  I can assure you that at all levels of Government the value of such links is not underestimated.

Bali investigation

The value of strong regional relationships is clearly demonstrated by the way the Australian Federal Police and Indonesian authorities have cooperated in the Bali investigation.  The working relationship between Australia and Indonesia on the investigation has been excellent.  This is due in no small part to the Memorandum of Understanding on terrorism that was signed by our two countries in February last year.  But it has borne fruit largely because of the concerted efforts of our law enforcement and intelligence agencies on both sides to make cooperation a reality.  That is no easy task but both Australia and Indonesia have recognised that it is not only beneficial but essential to our security that we can cooperate on counter-terrorism initiatives.

And the results speak for themselves.  To date, 17 people have been arrested in relation to the Bali bombings and it is anticipated that their trials will commence in the next few weeks.

Approximately 45 AFP members are still in Indonesia, assisting in the preparation of evidence for prosecutions.  AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty has publicly stated that the joint investigation foiled a second planned attack.

The Bali investigation is a strong example of the effectiveness of international cooperation in combating terrorism.

Terrorist Financing

After the attacks on the United States in September 2001, there was an enhanced international effort to identify and cut off the illegal funds that terrorist organisations rely on.  Progress toward this goal has been made in a number of ways.  The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution aimed at depriving terrorists of funds.  That resolution is 1373, as I mentioned earlier.  And a body called the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering has developed a number of special recommendations to combat the financing of terrorism.

The key recommendations of the Task Force are that the financing of terrorism should be made a criminal offence.  That terrorist assets should be immediately frozen and confiscated.  And that any transactions suspected to be linked to terrorism should be reported to the relevant authorities.

Australia supports these recommendations, but they will only work if they are fully adopted by all countries.  Australia is actively working with the international community to achieve that goal.

We jointly hosted with Indonesia a conference to combat terrorist financing and money laundering.  And we remain active in regional groupings such as the Pacific Islands Forum, the ASEAN Regional Forum and the APEC Forum to maintain the focus on terrorist financing issues.

Australia is also closely involved with the Asia-Pacific Group on Money Laundering.  The group works to implement international standards governing money laundering and terrorist financing.  It provides technical assistance to countries to help them to update their skills and to address gaps in their anti-money laundering and terrorist financing legal frameworks, including targeted training activities.

Critical Infrastructure Protection

Australia is also working within APEC to build international cooperation on critical infrastructure protection.  It is a phrase you will hear a lot more of.  We outlined a proposal to the 26th meeting of the APEC Telecommunications and Information Working Group meeting in August 2002, requesting APEC funding to build the capacity of computer emergency response teams.

The main aim of the project is to help developing APEC economies to protect their critical infrastructure from hackers and viruses.  As part of this project, the Attorney-General's Department is funding a seminar in Malaysia to be held this March.  The seminar will raise awareness about the need for computer emergency response teams (CERTs) in APEC.
The Department has also been awarded a grant from AusAID to provide training to CERTS in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines.

All of this activity sends a clear message to would-be terrorists that their activities are not acceptable.  And that they face a strong and committed coalition of countries determined to shut down their nefarious operations.

Domestic security

Australia is committed to continuing the fight against terrorism in the region and internationally.  That commitment is also reflected and supported by the extensive work we have done domestically to protect Australians and Australian interests against terrorist attack.

Following September 11, a review of counter-terrorist arrangements was conducted.  A further review of these arrangements was carried out after the Bali attacks.

As a result of these reviews, the Government has allocated $1.4 billion Australian dollars in extra resources to our national security and counter-terrorist agencies over a period of five years.  We have developed a comprehensive suite of counter-terrorist laws to help these agencies identify, prevent and catch those responsible for terrorist attacks.

Leaders' Summit

At a ground breaking leaders' summit in April last year, it was agreed that the Commonwealth, in close consultation with affected States and Territories, would have responsibility for determining policy and broad strategies in a national terrorist situation.  The States also agreed to refer power to the Commonwealth for specific, jointly agreed legislation to ensure national application of the Commonwealth's counter-terrorism offences.  State and Territory leaders agreed to take all necessary action to ensure that terrorists could be prosecuted under criminal law.

There was agreement to develop better processes for gathering and sharing intelligence.  Leaders also agreed that the Standing Advisory Committee on Commonwealth/State Cooperation for Protection Against Violence, known for many years as SAC-PAV, would be reconstituted as the National Counter-Terrorism Committee, with a broader mandate to cover prevention and consequence management issues.

The new mechanism agreed by Commonwealth, State and Territory leaders establishes clear operational and strategic coordination roles to ensure we respond to any national terrorist situations from the strongest possible position.

National Security Information Campaign

As you are aware, we are currently running a National Security Information Campaign.  The Campaign aims to put the terrorist threat into context and to explain to Australians what they can do to protect themselves and their families, as well as to help authorities protect the rest of the community.

A National Security Hotline has also been established as a single point of contact for national security information.  The purpose of the Hotline is to receive information from members of the community who wish to report any activity which they feel may be relevant to national security and warrant further investigation.

The Campaign, including the Hotline, encourages Australians to work together to maintain the values inherent in our society.  Its key message is that we should all be alert but not alarmed, and that Australians should continue their normal way of life.

Conclusion

The Australian community has an important role to play in protecting our way of life from the threat of terrorist violence.  As a community we can help to protect ourselves by being conscious of our changed security environment.

But it is important to remember that our fight against terrorism is not a fight against a particular race or against a particular religion.  Our fight is with those who engage in terrorism and who seek to destroy our freedom and democratic society.

Unfortunately, terrorists have made their intentions clear.  They want to destroy our society and they have launched some terrible and cowardly attacks designed to achieve that goal.  We have no option but to defend ourselves now and into the future.  And I can assure you that the Australian Government is committed to fighting terrorism in all its forms.

At home, we will continue to do whatever is necessary to keep Australians safe.  On the international front, we will work with our allies in the region and across the world to ensure terrorists have no place to hide.

I can say from my experience to date that there are no easy answers when you are dealing with a threat that doesn't play by traditional rules.  For governments the challenge is to meet that threat without impinging unnecessarily on the values and traditions that are fundamental to our own society.  It is not an easy task and sometimes requires difficult choices to be made but I think that we have the balance right.  And I can assure you we will continue to meet the challenge head on and bear the responsibility for those tough choices with the seriousness they deserve.