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The Delicate Balance Between Security And Inaction

By John Coyne

In this post-Lindt Cafe siege and Manchester attack world, our governments face some tough decisions regarding how they should proactively protect the community.

Rightfully so, we expect them to protect us. However, we don't want them impinging on our lives or our rights. And if they institute any measures, there had better be a clear and explainable link between the policy and the threat.

If our governments are successful in their work then nothing bad will happen. Unfortunately, the absence of tragedies is often used by some commentators to argue that we never needed to sacrifice our freedoms in the first place. If some tragedy befalls our communities, the subsequent analysis tends to criticise government or police for their inaction or poor decision making.

We have placed our governments, and their security and police services, in a very dangerous 'damned if you do, damned if you don't' accountability dilemma.

This week, NSW State Coroner, Magistrate Michael Barnes, released his report on the inquest into the deaths arising from the Lindt Cafe siege. Rightfully, he found that "the deaths and injuries that occurred as a result of the siege were not the fault of police".

However, he was quick to criticise the New South Wales Police for waiting 10 minutes after Man Haron Monis first fired his weapon before storming the Lindt Cafe. You have to remember though it's a police mantra that if there is a chance to resolve a situation peacefully without bloodshed, police sill always choose this option. I like this mantra and I am proud of the lives our police have saved through self-control.

I wonder if a police marksman had have shot Monis earlier in the siege what the subsequent coronial inquest might have found. Even if there were no other deaths or injuries, I suspect that the police might have been criticised for not trying to resolve the siege without bloodshed. I suspect that the NSW State Coroner would have argued that established practice was to cordon, contain and negotiate.

The Canberra Times reported that the alleged perpetrator of the Manchester attack, Salman Abedi, had come to UK authorities' attention five times in the lead up to this tragedy. It's clear people want to know why he was not arrested or deported. We only have to speak to our Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to find out how difficult this approach can be.

In January 2015, the Martin Place Siege Joint Commonwealth -- New South Wales Review recommended that the newly formed Department of Immigration and Border Protection "identify key policy and legislative changes necessary to support decision on whether to grant an initial visa, subsequent visas and citizenship".

This is no easy task as the issues of crime and terrorism should not be considered solely migration issues. Nevertheless, the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton, has moved full steam ahead with this process.

So with clear criminal and terrorist threats, and bitter experience, Dutton embarked on a campaign to meet his ministerial duties to protect Australians. This campaign has seen him cancel increasing numbers of visas on the basis of an individual's suitability and character.

In 2016, more than one-third of Dutton's decisions were overturned by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. This is of course understandable given Australia's laws are underpinned by the principle that it's better that 10 guilty persons escape than that one innocent party suffer. I am left with a distinct feeling that this is another chapter in the 'damned if you do, damned if you don't' book.

Imagine for a moment that a person whose visa cancellation was overturned commits an act of violence in Australia. Will the Australian public be willing to accept that it was better that Dutton's decisions were overturned in case one perhaps innocent person was sent home?

Australians have to accept that even when our law enforcement officers and ministers do their best, tragedies will occur -- lest we accept that innocents will be punished. And we also need to consider how many freedoms are we willing to trade for greater security.

There's no comfort in this for the Lindt Cafe victims' families grieving the loss of their loved ones. Nor for those responsible for making tough decisions about community safety, be they police or ministers.

Dr John Coyne is Head of the Border Security program at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

Originally published by: The Huffington Post on 26 May 2017