Griffiths / Cracks and crumbles raise questions

“Millions of fridge magnets later and vast expansions of police and intelligence service powers, no-one had actually bothered to retain the capability to run a terror-related siege in central Sydney,” writes Lowbrow columnist JOHN GRIFFITHS

AS the inquest rumbles on into the Martin Place siege, the NSW police facade of competence cracks and crumbles and raises important questions for how we run our society.

John Griffiths.

John Griffiths.

With individuals largely blameless (just doing their best in a difficult situation) systemic failures over many years and political administrations shine through.

How did the incident response come to be working out of a room in a league club, with a single phone line, relying on bar staff to take down message and pass them on?

The answer is that years before a snazzy command vehicle had been purchased and rolled out for a media event. But there was only one of them, it had been crashed and never repaired before being sold off without replacement.

Millions of fridge magnets later and vast expansions of police and intelligence service powers, no-one had actually bothered to retain the capability to run a terror-related siege in central Sydney.

Furthermore, the British team reviewing the Martin Place response found the negotiators to have been hopelessly under-trained for the task at hand.

“One senior negotiator had never worked in a hostage situation before and had no counter-terrorism training. The chief negotiator was working on four other siege situations during the Lindt cafe negotiations,” according to “The Sydney Morning Herald”.

Buying a solitary command vehicle and taking it for a joyride loaded up with TV cameras is a great media strategy but it’s no substitute for real capability building.

Doing training exercises, particularly doing them on a regular basis does not make for compelling media.

Everyone who’s ever done a desk exercise knows that they can be deathly dull and, in terms of optics for the cameras, they look like nothing much except people talking on the phone.

Just because something isn’t much to look at doesn’t mean it’s not valuable.

A hostage siege in Martin Place is a terrible time to be figuring out who’s supposed to do what.

We the public, and particularly the media, need to be asking much harder questions from our leaders when they try and impress us with whizzy toys.

If a command vehicle is a good idea (and it almost certainly is) then how many does Sydney (for example) need? On the basis that at any given time one might be in the shop for maintenance and repairs are, in fact, two needed?

If we’re preparing for a terror siege, should we be able to respond to more than one at the same time? So five command vehicles, perhaps?

Who is going to fill these vehicles? Multiple teams are going to be needed. At any given time members of those teams are going to be on leave or in training. After eight hours in the field people start making terrible decisions, we’re going to need more teams to relieve them.

Rather than turning on the spotlights for the politicians waving in the one command vehicle we all need to be asking where the complete capability is, and what we’re paying for it.

John Griffiths is the online editor of citynews.com.au

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