Tragedy just made us much stronger

THE Bali attack in October 2002 rocked Australia to its very core. It was an act of murderous terrorism, claiming the most lives in a single incident outside Australia, except in wartime. It was a naked demonstration of Islamic extremism.

Those responsible for the attack showed little remorse. It was an exercise in blind fanaticism which we will always find difficult to understand. Yet understand its motivations we must, if we are to maintain successful vigilance against terrorism.

More than 200 people, including 88 Australians died in the attack. The terrorists wanted to show their hatred of the Western way of life. Fellow Indonesians, as well as Westerners died or were horribly injured.

They would have cared nothing for the relationship between Indonesia and Australia. If they had given it any thought they would have hoped that their deeds would create a greater gulf between the two countries.

As most of the perpetrators died at the hands of an Indonesian firing squad, they will never know that their attack has had the opposite effect.

If there can be a legacy of a tragedy such as Bali other than the pain and grief of those who lost loved ones, then it can truly be said that out of this dreadful deed Australia and Indonesia grew closer together. I am sure that Mukhlas, Samudra and Amrozi - three of the Bali murderers - would not have wanted that. To them Australia epitomised Western evil.


The co-operation between the Indonesian and Australian police was immediate. It was fortunate that Mick Keelty, then commissioner of the Australian Federal Police, and General Pastika, the man charged with the Indonesian investigation, had become friends years earlier at a police management course in Canberra. Almost within minutes of the attack, Keelty had been in touch with his opposite number, General Da'i Bachtiar, to begin planning the operation which would track down and bring to justice those responsible for the atrocity. Three days after the attack the foreign minister, Alexander Downer, travelled to Jakarta with the police commissioner and senior intelligence officers. There he saw Susilo Bambamg Yudhoyono, then co-ordinating minister covering security issues, later president of Indonesia and a true friend of Australia. That meeting began a process of intense co-operation between police, security agencies and other authorities of the two countries. Their immediate brief was to catch those responsible for the attack. This they did and out of that effort grew unprecedented levels of collaboration between Indonesian intelligence, the intelligence services of Australia as well as the CIA and MI6.

This evil attack would bring a closer relationship between Australia and Indonesia, taking it to a level of intimacy not previously experienced. There would emerge the inter-faith dialogue, which brought together representatives of Christian denominations, the Jewish faith, Buddhism and, of course, Islam, united by a common abhorrence of terrorism and based on the peaceful nostrums of all of those religions.

Two days later, I went to Bali with John Anderson, the deputy prime minister and Simon Crean, the leader of the opposition. This visit was above any semblance of party politics. I spent a great deal of time with the relatives and friends of those 88 Australians who had died. They were a group of grieving Australians, bewildered by what had happened, each in their own way trying to come to terms with their devastating losses, and drawing support and comfort from being together in such tragic circumstances.

Many would come to display great stoicism as they waited days longer than they might have hoped as the slow and painstaking process of identifying victims, horribly burned or mutilated, was completed. They desperately wanted to take their loved ones home, but they quietly accepted the need for proper identification processes.

Before I left Bali, I called at the AFP Operations Centre, already in full swing. Under the control of Graham Ashton, now deputy commissioner of the Victoria Police, who had been the AFP Liaison Officer in Jakarta and spoke fluent Bahasa (Indonesian). It comprised about a dozen Australian police officers who had been joined by two officers from Scotland Yard; 34 British citizens had died in the attack.

Ten years on, we remember with sadness the great loss of so many Australians; we thank the Indonesian authorities for their co-operation in bringing to justice those responsible, and we renew our commitment to fight terrorism in all its forms and finally, and importantly, we should calmly note that so far from this terrible act driving a wedge between Australia and Indonesia, it had the opposite effect. The perpetrators had wanted to sow greater hatred. In that they failed.