Australia’s New Strategy Against Terrorism In Crowded Spaces

The Federal Government recently announced Australia’s first national strategy for protecting crowded places from terrorism. The announcement looks to respond to the devastating terror attack in Barcelona by addressing concerns the use of vehicles as weapons among crowds.

Currently, Australia’s National Terrorism Threat Level is “probable.” According to the policy outline, “this reflects the advice of the ASIO that individuals and groups continue to possess the intent and capability to conduct a terrorist attack in Australia.” The document states that from now it will be the primary responsibility of owners and operators that are a part of crowded to take steps to protect people that work, use or visit their site.

The strategy has four key elements: building stronger partnerships, enabling better information sharing and guidance, implementing effective protective effective security and increasing resilience. Another section of the strategy outlines four steps in which businesses can engage in: deterrence through the use of methods such as fences or electronic controls for access, detection through heightened security such as CCTV cameras, delay by constructing impediments such as bollards which can already be seen in use at Martin Place in Sydney and responding by ensuring that security forces are contacted to handle the situation.

The Organization for World Peace spoke to the Director of the National Security Program & Head of the Counter-terrorism Policy Centre at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Dr. Isaac Kfir, about why the onus is being placed upon the owners and operators of the city.  Dr. Kfir notes that there are two ways of looking at it. The first is to acknowledge that if the Government was to take responsibility “…there would be a tremendous amount of regulations and there would have to be an element of increased taxation…[and] it may extend the responsibility of the government, and that adds to social, judicial and protective costs.” The second way of analyzing the situation is to realize that the strategy is a “request” rather than an “order” and this “…encourages businesses to be more proactive and engage in the protection of the clientele that they have.”  Dr. Kfir further notes that businesses should realize and “…engage with the environment that they operate in.”

Dr. Kfir also expressed concern over the language of the policy and how “It’s problematic because it lacks specificity.” Dr. Kfir further explains that using the strategy generates the idea that there is a clear goal with specific steps to reach it. What the Government has released, however, “…is not so much a strategy as an attempt at a dialogue or an attempt to show what the government would like businesses to engage in, in order to ensure the safety of the public.” Although there is a lack of specificity the Government has made sure to name organisations, such as ASIO, that businesses can seek advice from on how to proceed.

While the initial reaction may be of surprise or even outrage that the Government is placing such a large responsibility on business and owner-operators in the city, further thought gives realization that society needs to adapt to the situation that we are in. It cannot be denied that there has been an increase in terror attacks and as such Australia should be prepared for any such event.

Annemarie Lewis