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Last Updated: Sunday, 20 October, 2002, 13:36 GMT 14:36 UK
The Bali terrorist bomb
John Howard, Australian Prime Minister
John Howard, Australian Prime Minister

BBC Breakfast with Frost, interview with John Howard, Australian Prime Minister, 20 October 2002

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST: We're going to join the Prime Minister of Australia, where they're calling the Bali attack, of course, their September the 11th. More than half the victims, over a hundred people, were Australian and the Prime Minister, John Howard, faced angry families, distressed families, when he visited Bali a few days ago. But today the mood in the country is primarily one of grief. John Howard joins me now from Canberra. Thank you for talking to us on this terrible day, but I mean what has the mood been today - has grief overtaken anger or are they both there in equal commodities?

JOHN HOWARD: Well the dominant feeling today is very much one of grief and sadness but there is a lot of anger as well, but the anger is directed, as it should be, at the people who murdered so many Australians and so many Britons and the people of Bali and so many other people. That's where the real anger in this country is directed and that anger will be mobilised as best we can in co-operation with others to bring to justice the people who murdered so many of my fellow countrymen and women.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of your trip to Bali, you found, at that time you found a lot of anger did you?

JOHN HOWARD: Look I found, understandably, people who were grieving and upset and devastated by the loss of close family members and friends. They were overwhelmingly upset and concerned about the delay in the identification of the remains. They couldn't, for understandable reasons, understand right at the beginning why it wasn't possible for them to take the remains of their son or their daughter home for burial, because sadly so many of the victims were badly burnt and otherwise horrifically injured, and as a result the processes of identification had to involve fingerprints, and in many cases there were none, dental records, many of the young Australians have very good teeth and therefore there are few dental records, and therefore they had to fall back on DNA, and that takes time. Now people in grief were understandably upset about that but I had to explain, as best I could, to them that we had to go through the process of formal identification; it would be even worse to have mistakes made, burials conducted and then some subsequent exhumation because of inaccurate identification. Now I felt that however, and understandably, reluctant they were to do so, they did understand that but in a situation like this I think somebody in my position should listen and hear what people are saying and carefully explain why things must be done in a certain way. But always remember what they're suffering and the agony of grief they're going through and never for a moment think that it's anything but perfectly understandable that they should do that.

DAVID FROST: And, Prime Minister, there's a lot of debate here, as you may have heard if you were hearing the programme, and there's a lot of debate in Australia about these warnings from the United States two days before and on the morning of the actual disaster, atrocity, that we did have, you did have, we did have warnings that something was about to happen and the word Bali was mentioned and so on. I think you set up a committee to look into that. What in fact is your feeling about that at the moment, in terms of warnings that perhaps went unanswered?

JOHN HOWARD: Well I can't speak about reports that may have appeared in the British press because I haven't seen the British press but there was certainly no warnings that something was about to happen and Bali was mentioned, as far as we were concerned. I mean that may be reported but as far as Australia is concerned that was not the case. As I have indicated there was a general reference which included a number of tourist areas, including Bali, there was nothing at all specific and indeed the travel advice that we'd had in place for some time actually mentioned that bombings had occurred and that more may be attempted. And when that general advice was assessed by our intelligence people, the decision was taken that no upgrade of that advice was needed. And that raw intelligence was assessed and that judgement was made. I have said that I will have all of the intelligence material investigated by the director general of intelligence and security - that doesn't connote a lack of confidence in the agencies but when something of this magnitude occurs you have an obligation to have it thoroughly examined. And I don't mind questions being asked on this issue, that's part of the accountability process in our system of government, but there's no way that we had something that could have warned of this attack - that's just not correct. And the Americans are not asserting that. In fact they have said the exact opposite.

DAVID FROST: And what, what would be your advice today to - there will be many Australians watching this programme here in Britain at the moment - if they're coming back home to Australia, are you advising them this morning definitely not to fly via Indonesia, or to go to Bali or to go to Jakarta?

JOHN HOWARD: Well definitely, I mean I have to say that you should not travel to Indonesia. Definitely not. It's a tough call to say that but after what has happened, the situation remains very difficult. We are cautioning Australians who are there now to think seriously about leaving. We would advise people not to go there, except on absolutely essential visits, and anybody who is on a short term visit or holiday, they should accelerate their return and while they are there they should avoid any gatherings, particularly gatherings in places frequented by Westerners. I couldn't be more emphatic about that, the situation there is worse than it's been for some time and obviously in the wake of this outrage, this atrocity, this murder, so many people, innocent people, I can do nothing other than ask Australians not to go near the place.

DAVID FROST: And do you think, Prime Minister, that you've got a possibility, regretful though it may be, that there could be attacks on Australians within Australia?

JOHN HOWARD: Well what I've said earlier today in Australia, in answer to that same question, is that I can't look any Australian in the eye and promise them that there won't be an attack in our country. It is less likely, obviously, than in other countries, but you can't rule it out. There was an attack in the United States, there have been over the years, from different sources, terrorist attacks in your country, and there have been attacks on people who have all sorts of different positions within the Western world on all sorts of different political issues, so we are all in the West, and indeed in many other countries, potential targets. Obviously not as bad as in some other countries, as far as Australia is concerned, but regrettably and sadly we live in a world where no person responsibly can guarantee that it won't happen here.

DAVID FROST: Prime Minister, thank you so much for joining us, particularly today. We thank you so much.

INTERVIEW ENDS



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