17 Sep

There is something quite odd about this latest decision to raise Australia’s terrorist alert level to ‘high’. I can’t see what it is supposed to achieve? Is there credible evidence that a terrorist threat is likely? If so, why let the perpetrators know that? Why tell them you are aware of their intentions?
This is what makes yesterday’s announcement by the Prime Minister, look suspiciously like a well-engineered stunt. Making the announcement in the company of the Director General of ASIO, David Irvine and the Australian Federal Police Commissioner, Andrew Colvin, Tony Abbott seemed, to me, to be playing politics.
Call me a cynic but that’s how I see it. My suspicion is that the government is testing the reaction of the public and will gauge that reaction through polls they will take this weekend as well as those commissioned by various media outlets. A positive movement in the polls immediately after such an announcement will tell them what strategies best suit their chances in the lead up to the next election.
The Prime Minister says there is no specific intelligence that tells us an imminent terrorist attack is likely, so what is the purpose of the announcement? “What we do have is intelligence that there are people with the intent and the capability to mount attacks,” he said. So what is new about that? We have always known that. You only have to go back and have a look at some of the news broadcasts of 2001 and 2002 to see that.
Immediately after 9/11 there were reports of suspicious characters of “Middle Eastern appearance” everywhere. There were scenarios that nominated which buildings were considered targets and media driven fear campaigns that implied boat people were the most likely group from which a terrorist might enter Australia.
A judgement by ASIO that the terror threat has increased here is understandable in the light of who they know has left Australia to fight in Syria and Iraq and who has returned. But in what way does advertising that judgement in the manner that they have, benefit ordinary Australians who go to football matches, go to shopping centres, airports, concerts and the like? Do we decide not to go? Do we hide under the bed? Of course not. We continue to go about our normal lives doing what we do. So why tell us?
Upgrading security at major sporting events such as the AFL Grand Final and similar events is a ‘no brainer’ in a post 9/11 world. But this has been evident at previous Grand Finals, the Australian Open Tennis Championship, and the Melbourne Cup and, I am sure, at other major interstate events.
So why would you suddenly and very dramatically advertise it now?
One of the dangers with alerts like this is that, in some cases, some in our community may become excessively alert; they may allow their zeal to exceed their good judgement. They might see things which under normal circumstances they would ignore, but which now could trigger over-active imaginations leading to a reaction that could impact upon innocent people. That would make this warning counter-productive.
‘Lone Wolves’, so described by David Irvine, who have remained under the radar are not going to be bothered by an increase in public alertness. They would, most likely, use that warning to reassess the way in which they plan their attacks.
That is why I think this latest exercise by the Prime Minister smacks of political skulduggery. Our existing security organisations engaged in fighting terrorism are highly trained, well equipped and properly briefed. They have had over a decade to train and prepare. They are the ones who will maintain a vigilant presence and foil a terrorist plot, not you or I. They don’t need a nervous public overreacting, spreading fear and uncertainty, peering curiously at Muslim women dressed in the hijab; people who are simply going about their normal business.
That is why I think this looks fishy. It reminds me of the movie, “Something Wicked This Way Comes”, but I think it has less to do with a likely terrorist attack and more with a cleverly crafted plan by a political party and its leader to strike fear into the heart of the Australian community.