Be Alert: Christmas Terror Warning Is No Stunt

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.

 

Siege Recommendation: NSW ALP Leader Robertson A Dead Man Walking

REVELATIONS NSW opposition leader John Robertson signed a letter on behalf of Sydney siege perpetrator Man Haron Monis signals the end of his tenure as ALP leader; the latest instalment in a political career punctuated by gaffes and serious judgement errors, it dictates that it is no longer tenable for Robertson to even fulfil the function of a sacrificial lamb offered up for slaughter at an imminent state election Labor is certain to lose.

Whether it likes it or not, NSW Labor is going to be led into the coming state election by a fresh face, with current leader John Robertson now too thoroughly discredited to even serve as a sacrificial lamb to the (certain) slaughter at the hands of a resurgent Coalition government and its popular new Premier, Mike Baird.

The revelation he signed a letter back in 2011 on behalf of a constituent — who, it just happens, was the same man who holed up in the Lindt Cafe in Martin Place last week with 17 hostages, killing two of them before being shot dead by Police — at best confirms perennial questions that have swirled around the soundness of his judgement, and at worst, show him unfit to be elected as Premier of New South Wales, to serve in a community leadership role in any capacity or, indeed, to be entrusted with any public responsibility at all.

I caution, at the outset, that any temptation to jingoism in this case should be avoided at all costs; after all, the wounds — physical and emotional — of what happened in Sydney last week remain brutally raw. There is no way when he signed the letter three years ago that Robertson could have known he was signing off on a reference for an eventual terrorist.

Yet even so, it should have been entirely possible for Robertson — or his staff — to establish that “Man Haron Monis” was the same Man Haron Monis who had been charged over the sending of offensive letters to the relatives of dead soldiers’ relatives two years earlier; that case had been the focus of intense public scrutiny.

And it is also reasonable to expect that Mr Robertson — or his staff — would or should have also known of the charges Man Haron Monis faced over the brutal sexual assault of a young woman shortly after his arrival in Australia; it needs to be remembered that whilst the general public may remain unaware of such matters before the Courts, the offices of elected representatives are uniquely placed to obtain such information discreetly, to use it expeditiously, and as leader of the NSW ALP it is inexcusable that Robertson failed to do so.

The pretext for the letter Robertson signed might seem to some reasonable enough: a letter on behalf of a constituent to the Department of Family and Community Services seeking permission for him to see his children, who lived with his estranged wife (over whose murder, incidentally, Monis was facing charges as an accessory when he began his siege last week), on Fathers’ Day.

But even then — as Robertson acknowledged to the media today, when this story broke — his office was aware that Monis was the subject of an AVO at that time, and this alone should have been enough for astute personnel in the competent discharge of their responsibilities to at least check into the background of their constituent before simply signing reference letters on his behalf.

As we now know, this did not happen.

This event compounds a long line of gaffes by Robertson — only ever elected to lead NSW Labor on account of its heavily depleted ranks following the 2011 state election massacre — and it signals the point at which he is simply too much of a liability for the party to be able to afford to carry him with it into another election campaign.

Even if the result of that election is that Labor is certain to lose.

Readers will remember, of course, that Robertson was already a dead man walking over revelations last year that he had self-adjudicated over a $3 million bribe he was offered that it “wasn’t serious” enough to officially report it — and in the present environment of zero tolerance of official corruption, this snafu was impossible to justify.

He won a reprieve firstly after Labor harnessed apathy toward do-nothing Premier Barry O’Farrell and anger over a first-term MP quitting to win the by-election in Miranda with a swing approaching 30%; he was subsequently earmarked for replacement again, until former Premier Nathan Rees was forced to announce his retirement after it was revealed he had engaged in an affair with a constituent, and that the constituent matter he was dealing with at the time of the illicit affair also intersected with his responsibilities as a shadow minister.

It seemed the accident-prone Robertson might make it to the March state election, especially prior to O’Farrell’s involuntary departure over an undeclared gift of a bottle of wine: in some polls, Robbo had Labor within shouting distance of the government, even leading in one shock (rogue) Newspoll late last year.

Ever since O’Farrell was replaced by a better candidate, of course, the Coalition’s re-election prospects have been assured; Baird will not win the 65% of the two-party vote O’Farrell did, riding the wave of public disgust over Labor corruption and incompetence into the Premier’s office as he did four years ago.

But it now appears certain that Baird will not only win handsomely, but handsomely enough to set the government up for a third term after 2019 if it simply does what it was elected to do in the first place, and provides sound governance for its next four-year term.

Robertson’s problem is that there have been too many instances of highly questionable judgement emanating from his office since he became leader, and in the allusion to the corruption and incompetence and sleaze that characterised 16 years of tepid Labor government in New South Wales, this latest furore is the one that will hurt him.

I include, for the interest of readers, a couple of the articles for today’s Daily Telegraph in Sydney here and here.

Anger over what transpired last week aside, there is simply too much evidence that Robertson is unfit to be entrusted with the responsibility of public servitude in the wake of the emergence of his letter in support of Monis.

Labor, to its credit, is said to be canvassing a leadership change that —  incredibly, given the date — could occur, quite literally, tomorrow.

It clearly is fed up with the foibles of its leader, and acutely aware that whilst their party is not going to win the election next year, it is increasingly unlikely to win any additional seats either if it goes to that election with Robertson at the helm.

Ordinarily, of course, a leadership change five minutes before an election is a recipe for disaster. So poor has Robertson’s standing grown after the past week’s events, however, any change of leader can only improve his party’s prospects.

Whichever way you cut it and however the Labor leadership moves play out — in short, whether Robertson quits in favour of former minister Michael Daley or whether Daley has to throw down the gauntlet in a leadership challenge to blast him out — the NSW Labor leader is finished, and if he doesn’t realise as much then he is probably the only person in NSW who doesn’t.

John Robertson is now a dead man walking. The sooner his colleagues put him out of his misery, the better.

 

Sydney Siege: Muslim Leaders Right On Gunman’s Corpse

CALLS BY MUSLIM LEADERS to dump the body of Sydney siege perpetrator Man Haron Monis in the sea — or to “chuck him in the bloody shithouse” — are appropriate; leaders in Australia’s Muslim community are right to distance themselves from the gunman, and if actioned, their call has the dual advantages of playing well with the public and of ensuring this criminal can never be made a talisman for terror.

A very quick post from me this morning — again, to share some media coverage and briefly comment — although after today I have a couple of weeks off, and over the break we will obviously pick up our conversation in a little more depth.

But a very populist-sounding call by leaders of Australia’s Muslim community to dump the body of siege leader Man Haron Monis is right on the mark, notwithstanding any complexities that otherwise underpin it.

Both Murdoch and the Fairfax press are reporting this morning that Islamic leaders are distancing themselves from the killed siege orchestrator, stating that “no Muslim funeral home will accept him” and that his body should be chucked “in the bloody shithouse.”

I have no quarrel with this kind of sentiment, and I am not about to quibble for a moment about any concerns around “respect for the dead” or other such wasted sentiment when it comes to such an evil specimen as Man Haron Monis.

After all, this was no model of human virtue in life — as we touched upon earlier in the week — who, by his actions, deserves nothing but scorn and contempt in death.

The notion of burial at sea is nothing new, and has in the past been used, at least in part, to ensure any “martyrdom” of slain radical figures is minimised; the precedent of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is a case in point.

And with radicalised renegade Islamic factions growing — and the threat of this manifesting as terror attacks in Australia growing, as the past week’s events have shown — the last thing this country needs is for any fixed burial plot to be made into some kind of shrine or talisman for would-be emulators to make “pilgrimages” to, or utilise in similarly distasteful acts of objectification and worship.

The ramifications of the siege in Sydney will take some time to fully become clear, although it seems a no-brainer to point out that any show of decency or respect — from any quarter of the Muslim community — is likely to provoke outrage among the wider Australian public.

As it should.

Certainly, the calls to dump the body of this monster at sea (or in “the bloody shithouse,” wherever that is in this particular instance) could be construed as in part a populist response on the part of the Islamic community, which obviously and understandably wishes to dissociate itself from this beast, that should play well with the community at large.

It is, however, also right.

This is one idea from Australia’s Muslims that should be vigorously and enthusiastically enacted.

 

Sydney Siege: If Safe To Do So, Just Shoot The Bastard

AUSTRALIANS — and our friends across the world, especially those who have experienced the outrage of a terror incident — are entitled to feel violated this morning, as the country wakes to a second day of the Sydney siege; the professionalism of response personnel is laudable, yet the welfare of hostages must be weighed against the stability or otherwise of their captor. If the opportunity to do so presents, Police should just shoot the bastard.

There are some readers who will not approve of my advocacy of a summary end to the outrage being played out in Sydney today, as the siege in the Lindt cafe in Martin Place enters its second day.

But the outrage being played out involving an unquantified number of hostages has the potential to turn far uglier than it already has, up to and including a significant and needless loss of life at the hands of what can hardly be described — based on information in the public domain — as a quality individual.

Despite the fact hostages were reportedly made to hold an Islamic State flag across the windows of the cafe at one point (and that the flag remained visible for much of the day yesterday), this is not — as first feared — an organised terror attack; rather, a so-called “lone wolf” acting independently, and said to be a “fringe Islamist.” At time of publication (1.30am, Melbourne time) the man has made no demands except to speak to Tony Abbott on commercial radio, and his motives are unknown.

And it needs to be noted that the mainstream Islamic community has co-operated fully with Australian authorities — as it should — and that there is no reason at all to believe it has any connection whatsoever to this incident.

Even so, the 49-year-old Iranian perpetrator — Man Haron Monis, also self-styled as “Sheik Haron” — is “well known” to Police; having arrived in Australia in 1996 as a refugee he apparently has a lengthy criminal record, including charges over the sexual assault and indecent assault of a woman in 2002, and is currently on bail pending other charges arising from the murder of his ex-wife last year.

In short, the guy shouldn’t even be in Australia as far as I’m concerned: he should have been sent back to wherever was so terrible he fled here to begin with. And if that wasn’t possible, he should never have been released on bail. The fact he was makes a mockery of the community’s expectations of due legal process. The siege underway in Sydney proves it.

Armed with a sawn-off shotgun and a machete, this monument to Australia’s refugee intake program is now holding perhaps 20 innocent bystanders hostage in a one-man reign of terror that has shut down a large portion of the Sydney CBD, disrupted the lives of Sydneysiders generally, and caused great outrage and angst that has resonated far beyond Sydney.

And the only positive thing I can find to say about this incident (aside from the fact none of the hostages have been killed) is that five of those held captive have managed to escape.

But the thing that really concerns me (as I wind up for the day for a few hours’ sleep) is the fact this fellow is known to be irrational, is clearly violent and unstable, and — with the siege already 16 hours old as I publish this — must be growing tired.

There is no telling what he might do if he feels he is losing control over the situation he has created as the veil of sleep begins to descend on him.

He may opt to simply lash out, which would be the worst possible development in an already fraught situation.

And as traumatised as those hostages remaining trapped in the Lindt cafe must be, their ordeal must surely grow worse — and more scarring — the longer it continues.

I don’t pretend for a moment to possess the full facts available to relevant officials and service personnel; these details are rightly known only to those directly involved in dealing with the crisis and who have tried to bring it to a peaceful conclusion.

But in making comment I simply relay an opinion I hold, and one which I have found, during the day yesterday, to be held by the vast majority of the people with whom the siege arose in conversation.

The best thing that could happen, of course, is that he could release the prisoners, hand himself over to the NSW Police, and the whole unfortunate business be quietly dealt with; and this clearly remains a possibility.

The next-best option would be for Monis to fall asleep, and for his hostages to overwhelm and restrain him.

But in the absence of either of those things coming to pass — and if Police around Martin Place can find their way into the building quietly through a roof, acquire a suitable vantage point, or obtain a clear enough sight through the glass windows with a heavy calibre weapon — I have little compunction in suggesting they simply shoot the bastard.

Any concern that such a move would merely inflame others, and inspire copycat and/or retributive events, should be weighed carefully against the ongoing impact of the siege on those trapped inside the cafe and the growing traumatisation a drawn-out and fruitless endeavour to end the event peacefully might cause them in the longer term.

In the end, the welfare of his victims (which is what they are) must be the first priority of those who seek to liberate them; and after almost a full day of the obscenity having now played out, a single fatal shot might also be the easiest, safest and fastest way to bring it to an end.

There is a suggestion in the mainstream press this morning that the siege could drag on for days. It shouldn’t, and it shouldn’t be permitted to.

If it is safe for Police to do so, they should simply shoot the bastard. It might be the least damaging of all the options to deal with this monster that are presently being canvassed.

Short of unconditional surrender by the bandit, however, there is no ideal solution to this obscenity.