The family of Britt Lapthorne are currently going through a hell that very few of us – thankfully – have to endure. Their anger and agony at losing their daughter in unclear circumstances in a distant country is understandable.

What’s not understandable or acceptable – particularly from politicians who might see Ms Lapthorne’s death as an opportunity to score political points under the guise of “accountability” – is the view that somehow the Australian Federal Police was negligent in its responsibilities in relation to events in Croatia. The confected outrage of George Brandis and Steve Fielding over Mick Keelty’s refusal to condemn Croatian authorities at Senate Estimates reflects the doubtless heartfelt determination of the Lapthorne family, as they told the Herald-Sun, to not allow the AFP “to sacrifice my daughter’s life for the sake of relations.” There’s no evidence anyone asked them to do any such thing.

There’s a creeping extraterritoriality in all this, the sort of nationalism that first displayed itself in relation to Gallipoli. At some point in the last decade, as a youth pilgrimage to Turkey fuelled by a Farnsey-and-Chisel soundtrack and plenty of beer became an integral part of Anzac Day, we appropriated Gallipoli as a part of Australian territory.

This was despite the fact that it was the spot where Australians, as part of a European conflict, participated in an attack on a third country with whom we had no quarrel of any kind. And despite the fact that the site contains thousands of Turkish dead – brave soldiers who fell defying an invasion of their homeland. To their immense credit, the Turks have welcomed us and worked hard to ensure the site appropriately honours the fallen of both sides.

But that’s beside the point for many in the Australian media – it’s all about the Anzac legend.

According to DFAT, there were 45 missing Australians abroad as of last week. 45 families who are going through the same emotions that the Lapthornes went through before their worst fears were confirmed. In each case, Australians have no business interfering with how foreign law enforcement or government authorities go about their business. The AFP, mindful of this, acted entirely appropriately in sending a liaison officer to Dubrovnik, but never sought to participate in the investigation. The idea that a Senate committee is entitled to demand that Mick Keelty – who admittedly knows a thing or two about incompetence – give a serve to his Croatian counterparts is ludicrous and counter-productive.

How would Australians react if the foreign media reckoned our police forces were hopeless and insisted on foreign detectives undertaking investigations into missing tourists? There are scores of foreign families who have lost relatives in Australia, and you can bet plenty of them weren’t happy with the resulting investigations – with or without reason.

Still, we’re not too strong at consistency in Australia, particularly when we’re feeling nationalistic.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey