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Back December 16th, 2014 Forward
The Sydney Siege

The siege is over, three people (including the original hostage-taker) are dead, and the dust is starting to settle. Including, one must point out, the rather colossal amount of bulldust stirred up by the whole business in the media.

When I first heard about the siege, my first thought was "well, this is convenient, isn't it?".

Why was it convenient? Well, to start with it completely buried the MYEFO statement, something the Abbott government must be sighing with relief over (for our "the dog ate my homework" government, this must have seemed like the equivalent of Teacher calling in sick!). For seconds, it gives our PM a chance to look all concerned and serious on the telly, making statements about how the besieger had "a political motivation"[1] and so on. For thirds, it gives the tabloidosphere something to really chew on for the next few months (anyone want to bet we're going to be hearing a lot about Islamic "terrists" from the shock-jocks, the talk-back tabloids, and the Murdoch media? No takers?). For fourths, it neatly justifies all that extra money the government was handing ASIO a few months back. For fifths, it also neatly justifies any amount of crackdowns on public speech critical of the government, "undesirables", public protest and so on. The sixth useful thing it does is justifies increases to police funding (especially "elite" "counter-terrorism" units).

I can't help but think of the last time we were put under an increased security regime (under the Howard government, in the years following the September 11 2001 attack in the USA). At the time, one of the things people were saying was that there was no evidence of terrorist activity in Australia, and all this extra security theatre was a waste of money. People were saying the same things earlier this year when the government effectively doubled ASIO's budget. Will they be saying it now? Probably not as loudly...

And the MYEFO is still buried deeper than a dead thing.

The man who took the hostages, Man Haron Monis, is being demonised in the press. He's already being labelled as being mentally ill[3][4]. He had a history of violence and imprisonment (according to his lawyer, he was harassed and bullied in prison) as well as a string of charges against him. He also had a history of extreme ideology, but there's a strong thread running through things that this man was acting alone. He wasn't likely to have been part of an organised terrorist cell - indeed, he's just the sort of person a serious organised terrorist movement wouldn't want within a thousand miles of their active cells. But do you want to bet we're still going to see an increase in security theatre to prevent organised terrorist activity - one which will, purely coincidentally, result in a crackdown on "undesirables" (including the mentally ill) and public speech criticising the government?

It seems this siege was the action of one deeply troubled man with a history of violence. But it was still incredibly convenient for a lot of people, and I have no doubt they're going to be exploiting it to the fullest.

[1] I'm sorry, but I wouldn't trust the PM telling me the sky was blue without looking out a window to make sure, or to tell me water was wet without turning on a tap to check - to put it at its most charitable, his perception of reality is so very different to the consensus one it seems sensible to ensure his statements are well benchmarked against checkable data[2].
[2] To be less charitable, the man is a lying liar who lies and who wouldn't recognise the truth if it bit him on the bum.
[3] I'm mentally ill myself. The majority of mentally ill people are no more likely to commit violent acts than the rest of the population. Instead, they're more likely to be victims of violence.
[4] What I'm really disliking in seeing a lot of comments about this story in a number of places is the strong link being made between mental illness and any form of socially unacceptable or merely disliked behaviours. You don't have to be mentally ill in order to be an arsehole, and gods above the people making such comments are proving this in spades!

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