During a speech in Adelaide on Monday, the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police (AFP), Mick Keelty, said, “... climate change is going to be the security issue of the 21st century”.
In an apocalyptic view of the future, Commissioner Keelty outlined the worst case scenario of a catastrophic decline in the availability of fresh water, rising sea-levels, crops failing, rampant disease leading to mass-migration and social unrest.
It was a brave speech to make so close to the election and it will be interesting to watch the political reaction. Especially as Vice President Al Gore all but endorsed Kevin Rudd's bid to become Prime Minister because of his promise to sign up to the Kyoto Protocol. Will the Coalition support Keelty, stay silent or go on the attack?
The whole problem of climate change should not be seen as a left/right political issue. In the US, Al Gore (Democrat) is happy to share a platform with Arnold Schwarzenegger (Republican). The issue should be about the science, the consequences and what we can do to mitigate any potential disasters.
In 2004 the Commissioner, when asked a question about the Madrid bombings said, "The reality is, if this turns out to be Islamic extremists responsible for the bombing in Spain, it's more likely to be linked to the position that Spain and other allies took on issues such as Iraq."
Following this statement and especially the reference to Iraq Keelty was “rebuked” to put it mildly by senior establishment figures and the Chief of the Defence Force, General Peter Cosgrove, even publicly disagreed with the Commissioner's comments.
This bizarre reaction was followed by mostly supportive comments of Keelty's remarks by correspondents to newspapers, describing his views something like, "a statement of the bleeding obvious".
So, should the Commissioner of the AFP be making such comments and is he right?
The Commissioner of any police force is charged with setting his or her strategy for the future.
As well as the short-term view, the best leaders look forward to what is likely to happen in the long-term so that their successors are better able to deal with potential problems. This is what Keelty is doing.
He has identified an issue which, if predictions are correct, will have a profound effect on policing in this country and abroad. A lesser Commissioner would only look at issues that might impact on his/her tenure of office.
Terrorism is the other big security issue of this century.
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