More than two years after the Lindt Cafe siege, the NSW coroner has handed down 45 recommendations for sweeping changes in how police should respond to future terrorism events. Unsurprisingly, in today’s climate of normalised Islamophobia, they are aimed first and foremost at Muslims. The intersection of the anti-terror narrative and a more general law and order push strengthens both, to the detriment of most of the population.
To deflect this conclusion, much has been made of the anger and suffering of the victims’ families. But this is a very selective compassion.
Before the inquest had even begun, right wing columnist Miranda Devine was crowing that more of the changes already in effect from 2015, such as enabling NSW police to be “trained by FBI instructors in ‘active shooter scenarios’ to neutralise offenders immediately” was “what the families want from the Coroner’s report, to know that their loved ones did not die in vain”.
No mention of the fact that one of the two hostages killed in the siege was killed by a ricocheting police bullet or that the wounds sustained by three of the four hostages who survived the final shoot-out came from police gunfire.
Despite the hype, the siege and the tragic deaths and injuries of the hostages are just window dressing for the real agenda, which was not really about the specifics of the siege.
So while the coroner observed that, although the snipers deployed on the night had no real opportunity to take a shot at the suspect, they were apparently hamstrung not by the lack of a clear shot but by not being sure about when they could legally try to kill him.
Similarly, although the coroner found that calling in army commandos would not have helped the hostages, nonetheless he recommended that it should be made easier for the army to be called in during a terrorist incident.
Overall, the recommendations give more power to the police (and now the army) to “respond to terrorist incidents” and further undermine civil liberties and rights to privacy (including of medical records) “with respect to radicalisation, terrorism and politically motivated violence”.
The report coins a new euphemism for Muslims, the “fixated person”, along with a call for a “Fixated Threat Assessment Centre” to be set up to work with ASIO “in the identification, assessment and management of fixated, radicalised individuals”.
The coroner also reiterated the favourite trope in the tabloid and respectable media alike at the time of the siege: the fact that Monis was on bail at the time means there should be further restrictions on that already limited right to a presumption of innocence.
The rhetoric of defending undefined “Australian values” is constantly trotted out to justify every aspect of the “war on terror”, from the imperialist wars at its heart to the attacks on civil liberties at home.
Small-l liberal commentators sometimes point out the contradiction inherent in this. Surely those values include the civil liberties now being sacrificed in their name? A fair point. But rarely mentioned is that the “fair go” has never applied to all in Australia, because the class divide and its attendant oppressions, especially racism, determine what rights and justice people actually receive or are denied.
In the immediate aftermath of the Lindt Cafe siege, I wrote: “Let’s be clear: bail rights being further reduced will mean more poor and vulnerable people being kept in increasingly cramped and inhuman conditions … It will increase the level of state violence, which already disproportionately injures Aboriginal people, for whom any time in custody is a potential death sentence … [A]ll it does is give further legitimacy to the repressive arm of the state”.
The state apparatus made the most of the siege at the time. Thousands of police, including snipers and heavily armed special units, shut down the city and were deployed in other suburbs and major cities. The recommendations from this inquest cynically extend that logic.