Two of Australia’s top police have been attacked – but eyewitnesses say
there were three offenders. One was a short man with bushy eyebrows,
another looked like a corpse and, oddly, the third was a man in
fishnets.
The Federal Police Commissioner, Mick Keelty, has undoubtedly faced off
some desperate characters in his time – but I reckon even he’d be
stunned by the flak he’s copped from John Howard and Philip Ruddock
since his interview with Jana Wendt on Sunday.

His remarks really should have been quite unexceptional:

JANA WENDT: Well, Commissioner, that brings me to the question that
most Australians are asking themselves. Could this happen here?

MICK KEELTY: Well, I think we’ve said all along this is an uphill
battle. This is a marathon, not a sprint. The reality is, if this turns
out to be Islamic extremists responsible for this bombing in Spain,
it’s more likely to be linked to the position that Spain and other
allies took on issues such as Iraq. And I don’t think anyone’s been
hiding the fact that we do believe that ultimately one day, whether it
be in one month’s time, one year’s time, or ten years’ time, something
will happen. And no one can guarantee it won’t. And I think there’s a
level of honesty that has to exist here in terms of what the problems
are here, not only in Australia but in our region.

Whether Keelty knew it or not, it seems the Prime Minister and the
Attorney General lack the honesty he thinks necessary to adequately
front up to the threat posed by Al Qaeda. What sort of Wonderland do
Howard and Ruddock live in if they think that our participation in the
Iraq campaign somehow leaves us immune from the enmity of terrorist
Islamic outfits? After a year of the PM insisting that our involvement
was the tough but correct decision, has it now become a free ride
without repercussions?

Yesterday, Howard gave Keelty a clip around the ear, expressing the
surprising view that Keelty had no competence to comment on threats to
Australia basically because he was a cop on the beat:

“It’s perfectly possible for me to reach a different view from somebody
on an issue without lacking confidence in that person’s overall ability
to do his job. He’s in charge of operational police matters and the
question of this analysis is not something that comes directly in that
area.”

Prime Minister, if you’re not involving Australia’s top cop in the
highest level decisions on our response to terrorism, you’re a fool.
And Attorney General, if the Federal Police Commissioner is really
capable of making assessments that are “fairly simplistic”,
“inappropriate”, and unsupported by evidence, shouldn’t you be looking
for a new one? It’s the sort of response which makes you hope that they
don’t really believe what they’re saying, otherwise there’s some
serious self-delusion going on here.

Keelty had better watch his back. This Government doesn’t take kindly
to law enforcement types undercutting its position. I’m sure Keelty
appreciated this on Sunday morning when the PM’s Chief of Staff called
him straight after the interview to give him a fierce lashing for his
views.

It’s all too reminiscent of the Government’s over-reaction to an
assessment on illicit drugs issued by the National Crime Authority back
in August 2001, where the NCA chief, Gary Crooke QC suggested that
Australia was facing an uphill battle in stopping the flow of drugs
into Australia, and that a heroin trial should be considered as a
potential strategy for capping demand. The following day Crooke was
derided as “misguided” by the Government, and (in no small irony)
“ill-informed” by Keelty himself.

In the months afterwards, the Government couldn’t have moved faster to
freeze Crooke out. And eventually the NCA was abolished to create the
Australian Crime Commission – in no small part because of the
Government’s antipathy to Crooke. The Government’s thinking was that
he’d gone soft in the war on drugs, and had to be removed. For this
Government, you’re either with them or against them – and God help you
if you’re against them.

Howard’s desperation in soft soaping the Australian electorate knew no
bounds yesterday. Nothing was spared to ensure that we don’t emulate
our Spanish counterparts in voting the Government out. I wonder what
Tom Schaeffer, the US ambassador, is reporting back to Washington when
Howard’s answer to a question about whether there were any benefits to
a coordinated “homeland security” response was this:

“No, no, why should we automatically follow the American model, the
American model incidentally does not work as well as ours, in fact many
people believe that America’s model in this area is not as good as
those of other countries. I see no need to have a homeland security
department, that is just a bureaucratic rearrangement, it won’t add
anything of value to the capacity of our intelligence agencies.”

I’m sure Bush will be taking lots of notice of that bit of advice from the Man of Steel.

The shrill response from Howard and Ruddock to Keelty’s truth telling
undoubtedly underlines some nervousness on the Government’s part that
the national security issue might yet rebound on them. This is a
Government that, come election day, doesn’t want you alarmed: alert
yes, alarmed no.

Boilermaker Bill can be contacted at [email protected]

Peter Fray

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