If the Prime Minister thinks he has a green light on anti-terrorism, he’s wrong, writes Peter Hartcher in the Sydney Morning Herald.
JOHN Howard did not utter the words “I have been vindicated”, but it was the subtext of his press conference yesterday. And, with news of the arrest of 16 suspected terrorists, he has been vindicated on two important points.
When he revealed last Wednesday the existence of a specific threat, and said that he needed to rush one small, uncontroversial amendment to the criminal code through the Parliament to help the police, he was accused of committing two wrongs.
First, that he was giving a megaphone tip-off to the terrorist plotters, perhaps compromising any police investigation. Second, that he was making the announcement to keep public attention on the subject of his choosing – national security – rather than ceding the national airwaves to the subject of Labor’s choice: industrial relations.
Yesterday the Victorian Police Commissioner, Christine Nixon, exonerated Howard on the first charge. The investigation had not been compromised by the Prime Minister’s announcement, she said.
And Howard was excused on the second charge when state police officials said that the urgent Howard amendment to the criminal code had been useful. Some of the suspects would be charged under the amended section of the code.Dramatic proof that laws are adequate and the rest is just atmospherics – Peter Hartcher
Peter Hartcher is the Herald’s political editor.
Michelle Gratan also commented in The Age:
It’s been a hairy few days for Howard. He might not have cared too much about being accused of political cynicism, although the “he can’t be trusted” line from critics was a reminder he carries baggage after “children overboard” and no WMD (not that this hurt him at the election).
He would have been more concerned at leaks claiming that police were critical, fearing the publicity could jeopardise their operation.….
By yesterday, Howard’s dramatic action had been vindicated, when the overnight police swoop yielded a huge catch.
Obviously the terror suspects must have known they were being targeted. But alerting them had no material effect.
The minor players continue to flirt with conspiracies. Democrats leader Lyn Allison speculated “I suppose it’s not beyond the possibility that (Howard) would say to the state police commissioner, ‘Is there not a raid that could be taking place at this time to justify it?’ ” – although she said to suggest that might be a bit unfair.
(ÜberKiwi: Actually I said that to my wife before the swoop – what’s the bet they’ll go and raid someone to justify the callback. Question is, can the government influence the Australian police to raid suspects when they suspects have no target and no date to attack ?)
Labor could only be relieved it hadn’t made more of its scepticism about Howard’s motives. It was a close call. On Monday, frontbencher Anthony Albanese accused the Government of “playing politics with our national security”, after Ruddock’s Sunday suggestion there might not be arrests.