Abbott made his National Security statement (see text below) not to Parliament but to the Canberra HQ of the Australian Federal Police in front of inter alia police, defence and intelligence officials. His decision to put these officials in the “front seat” doubtless reflects the emphasis he is placing, rightly in my view, on the importance of combating both the violence of the terrorism and the Islamic sources from which it originates. It also probably reflects a disappointment with the review of the Martin Place siege, which concluded that the official agencies had each done their job even though they allowed the Islamist to slip through the net. The review rightly concluded that “there is a risk the system currently may lean too much towards favouring the rights of the individual as opposed to the broader interests of society as a whole”.
This probably led Abbott to decide that what is missing is an agency with responsibility for looking at the overall picture. Hence the decision to appoint a National Counter Terrorism Coordinator. I have argued for some time that we should have a Minister of Counter Terrorism.
Perhaps the most important part of Abbott’s statement is towards the end where he indicates the government will be taking various forms of action against hate preachers. Accompanying that is a call to Muslim leaders to emphasise Islam as a religion of peace and an indication by Abbott himself that “no matter what the grievance, violence against innocents must surely be a blasphemy against all religion”. In this context Abbott’s statement contradicts the absurd rejection by Obama at his summit that Islamic religion has no influence on terrorist activity.
The Obama attitude is ridiculed by the excellent article in today’s Australian by Henry Ergas (see below). He not only points to the Islamic influence in various of the violent and destructive acts which have occurred in recent times but also to its philosophical basis that results in “Muslim communities provid[ing] an environment in which extremism can grow deep, if often narrow, roots”.
Ergas’s article leads to the conclusion that the Australian government needs to publish a document outlining why we accept western values and do not accept sharia law. Ample literature has been published on this matter, including by Australian Mark Durie. He could be commissioned to produce such a document.
It is likely that there will be opposition from civil libertarians to Abbott’s both immediate and future proposals and will present them as an attempt to recover the polling he has lost. In my view it is vital that he succeeds: policy action in the right direction should not be rejected because it improves polling.