THE STILTED press conference given by Prime Minister Tony Abbott after a briefing from Australia’s intelligence agencies yesterday should be viewed with the utmost seriousness; the chance of a terrorist attack over Christmas may be remote, but the heightened activity among suspicious groups Abbott alluded to is no idle stunt. Coming in the wake of last week’s Sydney siege, a little vigilance is a small price to pay for an otherwise festive Christmas.
If there is one thing among many that the siege in Martin Place in Sydney last week showed, it’s that you can plan until you’re blue in the face: sometimes, things just happen.
In the same vein, I would hasten to add that the very best kind of terrorist attack is the one that doesn’t happen at all; quietly thwarted by those charged with keeping our country safe, there are plenty of known instances of Australia’s intelligence agencies foiling the handiwork of evil people in our midst who would wreak death and carnage on innocents.
It is also safe to assert that there are also plenty of such plots that are foiled without the public ever knowing of them.
The slightly surreal, generalised nature of the media conference given yesterday by Prime Minister Tony Abbott — reiterating Australia’s terror threat level as “high,” and detailing in vague terms a warning he had been briefed about of increased “chatter” between suspected terrorist groups under surveillance — elicited an immediate and predictable response, with social media briefly exploding with sarcastic comments that Abbott’s message was some kind of smokescreen: a ruse, a distraction, or simply a tactic to frighten people.
Just as quickly, the partisan barbs ceased.
The odd, stilted manner in which the Prime Minister spoke is understandable; the consensus that quickly emerged from observers and analysts alike was that far from any stunt, Abbott and his National Security Committee of Cabinet had been told something: and the competing imperatives of maintaining official secrecy, and appraising the public with adequate information to ensure the heightened need for caution was conveyed, meant this was not one of Abbott’s most fluent performances.
There seems to be some confusion about the nature of the threat yesterday’s briefing related to; some commentators (and their sources) have spoken of the potential for copycat attacks similar to the one that occurred in Sydney last week, whilst others have been resolute that so-called “lone ranger” attacks were not the concern of the brief, and that it instead pertained to threats posed by groups on a wider scale.
Either way, we are not talking about something that would be in any way desirable were it to come to pass.
I am very mindful that it is Christmas Eve; like millions of Australians, I’m spending today out and about, collecting the array of fine ingredients that I will tomorrow transform into a festive feast for family and friends that might otherwise befit a king. I’m self-trained to chef level, and cooking on this type of scale gives me a lot of pleasure: but it also necessitates my passage through a succession of popular and crowded public places.
And later, a trip to the local bottle shop for a bottle of nice red wine will precede my return to this column to talk about at least one more of the (unseasonal number of) political issues on foot at present: it’s been a busy time in politics and I suspect there won’t be a lot of down-time for those of us with our fingers on the pulse of what is going on over the Christmas period.
Mine is just one story among 24 million others in this country, and I relate it simply to illustrate how we, as Australians, would ordinarily go about our business at this time of year: and go about it we should, but with careful attention paid to anything or anyone that doesn’t really seem quite right.
Nobody wants to frighten Australians. Yet nobody wants to ignore or whitewash the risks to them, either.
Sydney’s Daily Telegraph best sums up the situation — and the modest demand it places on ordinary men and women — in its Editorial this morning, noting that whilst this will (understandably) be a tense Christmas, it can also be a completely safe one.
I hope and believe this is the case.
But I do urge readers, their families and their friends, as they go about their business today and over the next little while, to pay attention to anything untoward, to be alert, and to report anything that could be construed as sinister.
As last week’s events in Sydney showed, the public places we all go to for our own innocuous personal reasons are exactly the kind of places in which things can just happen.
If one atrocity could be thwarted by the vigilance and quick thinking of the Australian public, the work of our security services would be made that little bit easier — and that little bit more effective as well.
I will be back later today; barring anything unforeseen during the day there are at least two issues we should be talking further about in this column, and one of them will come in for some closer scrutiny before Christmas is upon us. In truth, I suspect there won’t be a shortage of material to canvass over the silly season, so stick with us during the break.