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Security cameras and ID cards cannot stop terrorists

Khaleej Times | July 27 2005

PRIME Minister John Howard returns to Australia this week to confront Muslim community leaders and to push for security cameras to extend further into the community. He has made quick visits to Washington and London to consult with his partners in the ‘coalition of the willing’ responsible for the invasion of Iraq. Just before he left, he threw a ‘political hand grenade’, suggesting Australians be forced to carry national identity cards in the wake of the first wave of London bombings.

He suggested Australia might have to follow Britain down the path of compulsory cards, which suggests the possibility of compulsory finger printing of every Australian citizen. In Washington he called on George W Bush and they recalled that Howard was in the US capital at the time of the September 11 bombings. Howard tried not to blush as Bush described him as a man of conviction who had backbone. In another case of bizarre timing, Howard was in London having lunch with Prime Minister Tony Blair when the second round of bombings occurred.

Howard’s plan for ID cards has sparked furious debate because he had vigorously opposed the idea when it was proposed almost 20 years by the then Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke. Now Howard claims that times have changed, namely, suicide bombers are an every day occurrence. This has provoked both fervent support and strident opposition from within the ranks of Howard’s Liberal Party. The most notable objections have come from Howard’s deputy, Peter Costello, who is the federal Treasurer as well as Howard’s heir apparent.

It appears that after almost a decade as the hard-nosed Treasurer, Costello is trying to recast himself as more liberal than Howard. In London, Howard talked effusively about the benefits of the security cameras on the Tube that helped police catch the people engaged in the second wave of bombings. "The biggest single thing that I have learnt by a country mile out of my visit, particularly to Britain, is the extraordinary value of surveillance cameras," he said.

He would not say whether Australia would follow Britain’s lead and look at introducing detention without charge. "No [Australian] government is going to turn Australia into a police state in order to protect us against terrorists, we don’t need to do that. We’re not going to go to absolute extremes, we’re not going to erode fundamental freedoms," he said.

Howard’s sweeping comments on security cameras prompted commentators to remark on his closeted life, with no exposure to public transport. If he had been to a bus interchange or a train station in any Australian capital city recently he would have seen numerous cameras, unobtrusively capturing his movements. In fact, every step he takes in the federal Parliament House is monitored by an array of security cameras. The simple fact is that security cameras and ID cards do not stop terrorists. Nevertheless, Howard seems bent on continually reviewing security as a way of alarming the population and thereby consolidating support for his administration.

It is not the responsibility of Howard’s federal government to install cameras on train stations. Those transport systems are operated by the state and territory governments. Already the State Premiers and Territory Chief Ministers, who would have to implement any such measures, are bristling at the idea. Jon Stanhope, the Chief Minister of the ACT, which includes Canberra, the national capital, has criticised Howard for a ‘knee-jerk and populist’ response to the London bombing.

Howard has sparked a row on another front by calling on Australia’s Muslim leaders to do more to combat the threat of terrorism and by describing comments by a Melbourne cleric as appalling. Shaikh Mohammed Omran has labelled Osama Bin Laden a great man and said there was no emphatic proof he masterminded the September 11 attacks. Howard intends to meet Muslim community leaders this week and tell them they should show ‘proper denunciation’ of terrorism and not encourage inflammatory attacks.

He says firebrand preaching and writing are unacceptable in a tolerant Australian society. "There’s an obligation on leaders of communities, be they religious or otherwise, not to incite hatred, not to preach intolerance and that’s a responsibility that Islamic leaders in Australia carry very heavily," he said. After being singled out by Howard, Shaikh Omran defended his views as not unreasonable and said it was Howard who was being inflammatory. Therefore, there is huge amount of tension building up for the encounter between Howard and Muslim leaders when the Prime Minister returns from visiting his allies.


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