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Commentators have wrong take on Sydney siege

By Brendan O'Reilly - posted Tuesday, 23 December 2014


Now that the dust has settled on the Martin Place siege, a number of commentators have added their tuppence worth but in my view much of what has been said is well off the mark.

Bruce Haigh argues that the siege might never have happened, if hostage-taker Man Haron Monishad received counselling for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). The argument postulates that untreated PTSD was the underlying reason for the killer's actions. (Many of our returned servicemen, however, suffer PTSD but they don't run around shooting people or taking hostages.)

The loss of life, Haigh argues, was in large degree the fault of the Government (the Howard Government in particular) for ending the practice of routine stress counselling for asylum seekers, and that (in any case) police and prison authorities should have subsequently provided such services. Showing great faith in the power of counselling, it is concluded that the whole matter represents "a significant failure in the duty of care on the part of Australian authorities".

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Senator David Leyonhjelm takes a different line, arguing that the loss of life would have been prevented or reduced, if civilians were permitted to carry guns. His advocacy for much liberalised gun laws was much criticised in the media and by politicians.

Leyonhjelm's critics have failed to recognise that he was probably correct in the first part of his argument (that lives could well have been saved had the civilians involved in the Martin Place hostage situation been carrying firearms). The main flaw in Leyonhjelm's logic is that he fails to recognise that very liberal gun laws will (in addition to enabling "good guys" to defend themselves with firearms) inevitably lead to more guns falling into the hands of "bad guys" so that public safety is more likely to suffer than improve.

The diversion provided by Leyonhjelm's remarks, however, obfuscates a far more important issue, which is whether hostage-taker, Man Haron Monis, should have been "taken out" by the police much earlier than he was. (Leyonhjelmhimself conveniently ignores this matter.)

It was a police sniper in the Channel 7 building ­opposite, who was reported to have said: "Window two, hostage down." It is also clear from TV footage that the sniper had many clear opportunities (especially when the gunman passed near windows during daylight hours the day before) to shoot the gunman (but had chosen or been ordered not to).

With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that the lives could have been saved had a police sniper shot the gunman earlier in the siege. The police, of course, we acting in an environment of uncertainty and limited information. They were clearly hoping (naively?) that the gunman would be talked into giving himself up, and there was also the risk of collateral injury to hostages. It was not an easy call for the police but overseas evidence suggests that most situations involving armed Islamic extremists holding hostages do not end peacefully. I think the police made a major error of judgement.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott and NSW Premier Mike Baird have ordered an inquiry into every aspect of Martin Place gunman Monis's dealings with state and federal administrations, including immigration, justice, welfare and gun control authorities. In my view key amongst these investigations is whether Monis should have been allowed into the country in the first place.

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It has also come to light that Iranian police had requested Monis's extradition14 years ago but Australian authorities would not hand him over. His alleged offences included a number of violent and fraud-related matters before he fled Iran "in disguise" in 1996. On the face of it, he was being sought for ordinary criminal activities rather than political offences.

While particular aspects of the Monis case are a matter for investigation, the whole experience suggests that the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of "compassion" and away from realism and national interest. Australia needs to be more careful about who it lets in, take a stronger line dealing with immigrants offending against our State and its values and interests, and be more realistic about the threat posed by armed extremists.

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About the Author

Brendan O’Reilly is a retired commonwealth public servant with a background in economics and accounting. He is currently pursuing private business interests.

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