ALISON BROINOWSKI. Beware, armed response.

If Turnbull’s plan becomes law – and the prospects of the Opposition stopping anything to do with ‘fighting terrorism’ are remote – we can expect a terrorist attack to trigger an emergency response from the Special Operations Command, whose officers will have to be trained to shoot to kill other Australians.  

Now that we have concrete bollards in Martin Place and Swanston Street and on Capital Hill, as well as fences to stop citizens strolling or rolling over the Parliament House grass, you’d think that in exchange for the aesthetic damage inflicted on us we must be safe. After all, Australia has had only five fatal terrorist attacks since the mysterious Hilton Hotel bombing in 1978. The risks we face from lightning strikes, sharks and crocodiles, or indeed bee-stings and falling furniture, are incomparably greater.

But terrorism is serious political business and once the threat of an attack is officially listed as ‘probable’, no government is brave enough to reduce it. Politicians have to be seen to be responding robustly to the danger. After a terrorist attack on Canada’s Parliament, they fortified it, and we now fortify ours. After a truck kills scores on a boulevard in Nice or on London Bridge, the authorities barricade our CBD pedestrian spaces (but not yet the Bondi esplanade and the Manly Corso, which would seem more likely targets). The Americans and British detect a plot to use I-pads and laptops to trigger midair explosions, so we too will have to put them in the hold (but a remote command from a passenger could presumably make them work there just as well).

Other governments respond differently. Some take the legal route: after the dreadful Paris attacks in November 2015, President Hollande declared ‘We are at war’, and a state of emergency has been in place ever since; and after hundreds were killed in Marawi in 2016-17, President Duterte imposed martial law in the southern Philippines. When three killings occurred in as many months in the UK, Prime Minister May said ‘Enough is enough,’ police were deployed in large numbers, and inquiries began. But with the experience of worse IRA bombings in mind, Britons stiffened not their laws but their upper lips, and business resumed as usual in the Borough Markets. London Bridge and the Palace of Westminster remained unfortified.

After Manchester, Prime Minister Turnbull echoed Britain, asserting that Australia would not allow terrorists to change our ‘way of life,’ as if Manchester’s way of life was like Australia’s. Yet as a conservative economic commentator observed, our way of life has already changed: security checks, bollards, invigilation, and more expenditure on fighting terrorism (Judith Sloan, ‘There’s a heavy price for our changing way of life,’ Weekend Australian, 24-5 June 2017: 22). The National Security Statement (June 2017) revealed that since August 2014, Australia had invested $1.5 billion in law enforcement and security agencies to combat terrorism. An additional $321 million were to develop specialist capabilities in the AFP, above what the State and Territory governments spend, and not counting the annual defence budget of $34.6 billion, or $88.7 million a day (Peter Jennings, ASPI Defence Budget Brief 2016-7).

Now, following the Sydney siege coroner’s report, Turnbull has announced what his government has for months been contemplating, and softening us up to expect. He and Defence Minister Payne will move to allow the ADF to fire upon Australian citizens in a terrorist event (‘Military gets new powers on terror,’ SMH 17 July 2017: 1, 3) The mainstream media were not outraged, and gave it thin coverage. Nor did anyone speak up for civil liberties or the presumption of innocence, or point to the dangers of collateral damage and a police state, as they did two years earlier (Mark Kenny, ‘Expanding security state inevitable as death, taxes’, SMH 12-13 December 2015: 8). Another ASPI commentator is not concerned about the overnight loss of citizens’ protection against the government’s armed force, which took our ancestors centuries to achieve, but about whether the ADF has too little capacity to respond to terrorism in our major cities, and whether it can do so quickly enough. John Coyne (ex-AFP) admits that police officers are committed to protect life while the military are focussed on taking it, and that deploying the ADF in an Australian city ‘could potentially negatively impact on community safety.’ (‘Army no magic bullet to terror,’ SMH 18 July 2017: 17) Which in ordinary parlance means the Australian army can kill Australian citizens.

If Turnbull’s plan becomes law – and the prospects of the Opposition stopping anything about ‘fighting terrorism’ are remote – we can expect a terrorist attack to trigger an emergency response from the Special Operations Command, whose officers will have to be trained to shoot to kill other Australians. They will remember this training after they retire when, let us hope, they don’t have gun licenses. As Australia becomes increasingly militarised, it is possible that the Tactical Assault Group could be called out for an anti-war demonstration, anti-mining protest, or industrial strike, and may be told that the people it confronts are enemies of the state and therefore terrorists. It makes me think of those signs you see on American suburban lawns: ‘Beware, Armed Response.’

Dr Alison Broinowski was an Australian diplomat and is Vice President of Honest History and of Australians for War Powers Reform. 


Dr Alison Broinowski AM is Vice-President of Australians for War Powers Reform. She joined the Australian Foreign Service in 1963, lived in Japan for a total of six years, and for shorter periods in Burma, Iran, the Philippines, Jordan, South Korea, the United States of America and Mexico, working alternately as an author and Australian diplomat.

Since leaving the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, she has received a PhD in Asian Studies from ANU, and has continued to lecture, write, and broadcast in Australia and abroad on Asian affairs and cultural and political issues.

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3 Responses to ALISON BROINOWSKI. Beware, armed response.

  1. Avatar Mike Gilligan says:

    Hello Alison – I appreciate your views on this, and agree that it is a seismic redirection of what we require of our military – the pernicious effects of which will unfold.

    Another worry of that scale is that our immigration thinking and policy is now enfolded into a martial, mechanistic culture, intent on enforcement. There was some comment on this when Abbot started the rot but it’s since been overlooked.

    Turnbull’s triteness is utterly disappointing . The line that other ‘admirable’ nations have done this sort of thing so why shouldn’t we ( eg UK has a Home Office) is cringeworthy. Yet again politicians have no capacity to discern this country’s needs from those of the large and powerful. The old powers of course have no interest in immigration – their wish is to strangle it largely. Hence they invest in martialised border enforcement.

    That is anathema to Australia’s needs. Instead of keeping people out, Australian governments say we want many more to come. Large inflows have to be intellectually driven, an exercise of complexity built on a policy bank of many decades requiring smart, deliberative people,and structures to enable them. That is a big deal for us, but for few others. Yet our immigration policy asset has to survive and be heard in this operational cacophony, intent on keeping people out of Australia, or dealing with this overblown terrorism thing ( entirely of our own making and fixable politically).

    I don’t possess the background to paint the real pain in this immigration policy stuffup. Perhaps you or your colleagues might know somebody with the experience to tease the problem out.

    It is too much to hope that the ALP might distinguish itself here.
    Best wishes
    Mike Gilligan

  2. Greg Bailey Greg Bailey says:

    Alison makes some excellent points, and I could add that it is likely more people die each year in Australia from falling off ladders than from terrorism, so should we instruct our armed forces to confiscate all ladders?

    I think the symbolism of the PM communicating the news that the army can be brought in to help/direct police in dealing with possible terrorist incidents, the creation of a new overarching security administration, and, finally, the picture of the him standing in front of some masked special service soldiers needs to be focussed upon. The first and third of these suggest an increasing ‘militarisation’ of Australian politics and point, not even obliquely, towards a more authoritarian mode of governance, hence a more regulated society. Perhaps this may be an exaggeration, but I think Australians would easily accept this before its real dangers became very obvious. We have been conditioned to this by the now large number of ‘reality’ televisions shows dealing with police investigating minor criminals (never white collar criminals) and customs-agents dealing with suspicious entries into Australia or Great Britain. This conditioning has been strengthened by the constant tendency of commercial media to focus on violent crime–often trivial–in their news reporting, to the detriment of covering large-scale problems such as climate change that are more abstract.

    The ALP has not come out and repudiated these developments, and one has to wonder if the PM’s role in all of this reflects his true political beliefs, rather than an ongoing opportunism about retaining power as the mainstream media want us to believe. In sum, these developments should have been put through parliament and debated in the proper manner, rather than being imposed in what appears to be political fiat.

  3. fox studios australia…might one suggest that rather than Manly Corso or indeed Bondi esplanade the aforementioned might be put into the mix – factories galore, SCG, SFS, Entertainment Centre 12,500 residences within metre – no real security and a plethora of hazardous, toxic chemicals and materials,used and stockpiled on site – including of course an extremely active explosive/pyrotechnic factory metres from the nearest home – and then there is the ‘sewer system’ criss crossing the site into the aforementioned venues and ALL ‘untreated industrial liquid waste’ is put down them – even surprising Sydney Water – who were forced to give FSA a ‘disposal licence’ as in the beginning only water could be put down the sewers; and then someone tested the reticulation ponds in Centennial Ponds finding high levels of toxic run off traced back to FSA…and FSA then demanded that they be given a licence to chuck everything and it’s dog down the sewers…and all hydraulic boxes had pins removed, so no-one is any the wiser as to what is back gassing into homes…

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