Federal politics has in effect ground to a halt while authorities await the outcome of the siege in Sydney’s Martin Place and the wider ramifications of what might be, but it is not yet confirmed as, a terrorist incident. In a brief speech this afternoon Prime Minister Tony Abbott said:
“We don’t yet know the motivation of the perpetrator. We don’t know whether this is politically motivated, although obviously there are some indications that it could be.”
The National Security Committee of Cabinet, which includes the Treasurer and, as needed, the Minister for Finance, was briefed this morning. The planned 12.30 release of the Mid Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook by Treasurer Joe Hockey and Mathias Cormann has been delayed, but MYEFO is expected to be released sometime today.
The Prime Minister released a statement calling the events underway in Sydney “a deeply concerning incident” but refrained from speculating any further about the siege. Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss acted to quash at least one of the falsehoods being spread by both social media and some media outlets when he confirmed airspace over Sydney had not been closed, but merely that flights over the CBD had been rerouted given the presence of helicopters over the CBD.
At deadline, the only established facts are that at least one hostage taker is in a Martin Place cafe with, reportedly, at least a dozen hostages; an Islamic flag (but not one used by Islamic State) has been held in the window by one of the hostages. The Sydney Opera House has also reportedly been evacuated “as a precaution”, a number of Sydney CBD buildings have been evacuated or locked down, and much of the CBD road network has been shut down while the siege continues. At 11.50, NSW Police advised that they were attempting to make contact with the people inside the cafe.
Beyond that, everything has been speculation, of which there has been plenty on both social media and in the mainstream media, including the possible connection to an arrest by counter-terrorism police units this morning and suggestions of a wider conspiracy.