Missing the forest for the trees (or what the Coroner found)

Today the State Coroner of New South Wales handed down his findings and recommendations into the Lindt Café terrorist attack.

The version released to the public consists of 472 carefully written pages. As the Coroner made clear when handing down his report, it was not about assigning blame but is rather focussed on addressing problems to prevent them from occurring again in the future.

That’s understandable. But, as a result, don’t expect any blunt assessment of the failures.

And there needs to be a blunt assessment. Australians are not so concerned with careers and the niceties of the legal system. Rather, they want to have confidence in the ability of the various state and Commonwealth agencies to protect them.

The Lindt Café terrorist attack should never have occurred. It only did so because of three system-wide failures in immigration, intelligence and the administration of justice. I’ll get to those tomorrow.

Today let’s focus on the Coroner’s findings.

They are important but don’t really help much. They deal with issues that occur after an attack, rather than recommending what should be done to stop them happening at all.

In other words, this report does not examine the big picture. Hence the failure to make any useful findings that will address systemic failures in immigration, intelligence or the administration of justice.

So what are the key findings?

It was a terrorist attack

Firstly, in news that will surprise no one, it was found that the terrorist attack was actually a terrorist attack. Well it might surprise Mike Carlton and his mates. He tweeted this out on the day of the ‘incident’:

Police should have acted sooner

Secondly, and unsurprisingly, it was also found that police should have stormed the café after hostages stampeded out in the wee hours of the morning. They had formed the view that death was imminent and took their chances running. Man Haron Monis responded by firing at the last escapee. It was the first shot of the night and the clock had just ticked over to 2:03 am.

That is when police should have gone in. However, they did not.

Monis then ordered café manager, Tori Johnson, to his knees. They were to be the last ten minutes of his life. Monis also fired another shot, prompting another petrified hostage to risk it all and flee.

Following the shot Tori Johnson flinched, fell forward and then resumed his kneeling position. Finally, after 600 excruciating seconds, Monis executed him.

It was at this point that police belatedly intervened. Unfortunately, Katrina Dawson was killed by a ricocheting police bullet.

The Coroner was careful not to lay blame on any officer or in relation to police equipment, instead recommending the police investigate advances in weaponry and develop more coordinated strategies with Defence.

The Coroner also recommended that the police develop new policies that will allow them to identify ‘triggers’ for action well in advance of the execution of hostages. He was being nice. Reading between the lines it is a critical swipe at the policies in place at the time and police leadership.

For these reasons it is highly likely that Army Special Forces will take ownership of the response to similar attacks in future.

Like the Coroner, I do not criticise those police who stormed the café. They did so bravely and under the belief that they may well be running towards a bomb. Furthermore, as the report makes clear, these officers were ready and waiting to go in. In fact, they had been expecting to receive the order to do so from the moment they heard that first shot.

But the order never came. It was an obvious failure.

The psychiatrist was a complete goose and out of his depth

Thirdly, the Coroner was also scathing of the advice provided to police by a consultant psychiatrist.

Incredibly, he advised police that Monis’ behaviour was not consistent Islamic State methodology. During the inquest it was found that he had no idea that the Islamic State had called for ‘lone wolf’ attacks and that he had no qualifications or experience to be providing advice about what the Islamic State might do.

It seems clear that the psychiatrist’s advice clouded perceptions of Monis and led to the view that he was unlikely to become violent. It was another obvious failure.

However, while the focus on these issues is important, it really fails to see the forest for the trees. Changes in these and other areas recommended by the Coroner will do very little to prevent another attack.

That’s because police never should have been waiting outside the Lindt Café. Systemic failures outside their control were what allowed Monis in.

The immigration system let him in. The intelligence system should have identified that he was a serious threat. And the justice system let him loose – even after he was charged with murder.

I’ll address these tomorrow.

But all Australians should know that none of the reports, inquiries or investigations have done anything to address these problems.

That’s why they continue today, almost two and half years after this attack…

Author: Bernard Gaynor

Bernard Gaynor is a married father of seven children. He has a background in military intelligence, Arabic language and culture and is an outspoken advocate of conservative and family values.

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