Why is the “Inquest into the deaths arising from the Lindt Cafe siege”, which opened in Sydney yesterday, not also an inquest into the death Noleen Pal?

I ask this question not only because the murder of Man Haron Monis’ former wife is an event worthy of consideration in its own right, but because the events both before and after her death are a crucial element of the narrative that reached its climax in Martin Place last year. And if there were failings on the part of ASIO in determining only a few days before the siege that Monis was not a security risk, then there were arguably even worse failings on the part of the law enforcement agencies who dealt with Pal’s case. The fact that these failings are tragically commonplace surely only makes them all the more worthy of investigation. And if Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson’s deaths might have been preventable, so too might the death of Noleen Pal.

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Monis’ history of violence against women formed a significant element of the opening address yesterday. In his role as a supposed “spiritual healer”, Monis targeted and then sexually abused the emotionally vulnerable women who turned to him for assistance. As junior counsel assisting the inquiry Sophie Callan noted yesterday, had these matters gone to trial, it is highly likely that he would have been convicted and served a lengthy jail term.

Noleen Pal was one of the women who responded to Monis’ advertisement for his clairvoyancy business. She went on to marry him, and they had two sons together. But Pal returned to her parents’ home, along with her children, in an attempt to escape his controlling behaviour.

It was not to be.

In the aftermath of the siege, questions were asked about whether or not Monis ought to have received bail after being charged as an accessory to the murder of Noleen Pal. However, the failings in Pal’s case began far earlier than the day when a magistrate decided that the prosecution’s case against Monis was weak, that he no longer posed a threat; “If there was a threat it was to this one woman who was murdered [Noleen Pal]”, said Magistrate William Pierce.

“This woman who was murdered” had sought and been denied protection against the threat to her life. Nine months before she was stabbed to death and set alight, Noleen Pal had applied for an Apprehended Violence Order against him, citing his violent and threatening behaviour towards her during a meeting undertaken at his insistence. However, Monis’ lawyer argued that Pal had taken two days to report the incident to police and that she had exchanged apparently friendly text messages with him afterwards. Magistrate Susan McGowan dismissed the application, noting that Pal’s evidence had appeared “somewhat evasive”.

Monis, then, did not present a threat to Pal before she was murdered, and after her death he did not present a threat to the public because his intended victim was already dead. And now she appears only as a background character at the inquest into the event that finally brought Man Haron Monis to national attention.

Coroner Michael Barnes said that the inquest would seek answers to the question: “Was Monis a so-called lone wolf prosecuting an ISIS-inspired terrorist act or was he a deranged individual pursuing some personal, private grievance in a public manner?” The inquest’s analysis of this question will join the mountain of commentary that has already been published regarding the issue of whether the Lindt cafe siege ought to be considered a “real” act of terrorism or simply the actions of a disturbed individual acting upon private motives. But it is possible to turn that question around and ask whether we ought to consider the murder of women and children by vengeful former partners as acts of terrorism.

Bernard Keane is among those to argue compellingly that we ought to take the threat of domestic violence as seriously as the threat of terrorism. I would extend this argument by saying that we ought to regard certain types of domestic violence as acts of terrorism. As Australian of the Year Rosie Batty says, “Let’s start talking about family terrorism. Maybe then, with that context and that kind of language we will start to get a real sense of urgency.”

In describing such crimes as terrorism, I am not simply referring to the very real terror experienced by the victims and their loved ones or seeking to reprioritise an issue that has been dangerously defunded in recent state and federal budgets. I mean that some such murders are not just an act of private anger, but are intended to send an explicit message to a far broader audience.

July will bring another high-profile inquest, this time in Melbourne. Like the Lindt cafe siege, the murder of Darcey Freeman was a highly public and visible tragedy. The four-year-old girl died after her father threw her from the West Gate Bridge in an act of vengeance against his former wife — but also an act of anger against the family court system, which he believed had “ambushed him” during the custody process. Minutes before throwing his daughter to her death, he phoned a friend in England to tell her that there were “angry women everywhere he turned”.

The death of the little girl traumatised witnesses and first responders — and also terrorised many, many other women whose former partners, like Freeman, have told them that they will live to regret having humiliated them. How, then, is this not an act of terrorism?

And why are Man Haron Monis’ crimes against women prior to the moment that he entered the Lindt cafe considered a second-order issue?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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