Melbourne’s deadly Bourke Street attack has thrust terrorism and law and order back into the Victorian election, with Liberal leader Matthew Guy warning the public has had “enough of words” and promising to bring a change of attitude to crime and rush through mandatory minimum jail sentences for repeat violent offenders.
Federal Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said that Australia should “look at the way in which people are on a pathway to citizenship” in the wake of the attack and rebuked those who claim “this is not the problem people make it out to be”.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews promised a “proportionate response” to the “very real threats we face” and said he had a “steely determination” to do more, but could never make the city 100 per cent safe. He is refusing to ban cars or trams from the Melbourne CBD, despite the attack marking the third incident involving a car in the centre of Melbourne in two years including the January 2017 city car attack which killed six people.
“We are not going to fundamentally change the way the city works by, for instance, not running trams; that wouldn’t make any sense,” he said. “If you are suggesting to me that I should remove all cars from Melbourne I am not going to do that,” Mr Andrews said on Sunday when asked.
Mr Andrews labelled the tragedy an “act of evil” and backed Prime Minister Scott Morrison against criticism over his warning that “radical, violent, extremist Islam” is the greatest threat to Australia’s national security, saying he thought Mr Morrison “struck the right balance”.
“I spoke with the Prime Minister only a few moments after he made his comments and I said to him I thought he had struck the right balance,” Mr Andrews said in a media door stop after attending a Remembrance Day service at the Melbourne Shrine.
The Australian Financial Review also spoke to federal senator Derryn Hinch at the Remembrance Day service on Sunday who said that urgent action is needed.
“[Peter] Dutton overcooked it probably originally talking about gangs and things, but he is partly right,” Senator Hinch said. “The cops are still being told don’t use the word gangs, now the Bourke St thing on Friday wasn’t gangs but you have to tell it like it is, for once I think Scott Morrison is right, he said this is a big problem, so let’s do something about it.”
‘Lone wolf’ attacks
Mr Dutton said while the 30-year-old terrorist Hassan Khalif Shire Ali, who came to Australia from Somalia in the 1990s, was known to authorities for his radical views, there was no “definite link” to the Islamic State terror group. Given police and intelligence services have 400 investigations open, they rely on the community to speak up.
“Where there is not (that information), where someone makes a spur-of-the-moment decision – under the influence of drugs or alcohol – the police can’t contemplate every circumstance,” Mr Dutton told reporters in Brisbane on Sunday.
“He [Shire Ali] had his passport cancelled in 2015 and there was no evidence available to the police as I’m advised or to ASIO that any attack was imminent,” Mr Dutton said.
“I have been very very open about cancellation of visas, the numbers have ramped up because there are some people who shouldn’t go on to become Australian citizens. We have been able to stop 14, seven have got through tragically and our work now is to make sure the eighth doesn’t happen, but we need to be realistic that we have got 400-plus people under investigation by ASIO at the moment.”
Shire Ali parked a four-wheel-drive laden with gas cylinders on Melbourne’s Bourke St at about 4.20pm on Friday, ignited the vehicle into a ball of flames and stabbed three men, fatally wounding Pellegrini’s co-owner, 74-year-old grandfather Sisto Malaspina. The two other victims, a 24-year-old security guard and 58-year-old Tasmanian businessman Rodney Patterson, are in a stable condition. Shire Ali died in hospital on Friday night after being shot in the chest by police.
Reports emerged on Sunday that Shire Ali was grappling with mental health issues and substance abuse and believed he was being chased by “unseen people with spears” as he grew increasingly agitated and delusional in the weeks before the deadly knife rampage.
Mr Andrews, who remains the short-odds favourite to be re-elected in less than two weeks, pointed to changes to bail laws and the installation of more than 50 bollards in Melbourne’s CBD to show he had a “steely determination” to do more if the experts advise it.
“Following other traumatic and deadly events we set about making some significant changes to bail laws, that is done, and also made significant efforts to fortify areas that were identified by the experts as points of weakness in our city”, Mr Andrews said. “Part of this is having a determination, a steely determination, that if experts say we need to do more then we will.”
Liberal leader Mr Guy admitted people may speculate the incident could play to the Liberals’ advantage in the state election. While minimum jail terms would not have prevented this act, he said it is “important to ensure that our criminal justice system is the strongest it needs to be”.
“We have all had enough of words over the last four years that we are going to toughen the justice system with no follow through, it is now time that we have follow through that is why I will bring in mandatory minimum jail time for repeat violent offenders”, he said at an event in Caulfield after also attending the Remembrance Day service.
“What we have control over is the criminal justice system and in Victoria the criminal justice system needs to be a lot tougher, we have heard a lot of words about making it tougher but no action, it is now time for action and action is mandatory minimum jail time for repeat violent offenders and an attitude change and the attitude change is that just because Melbourne is a large city that it is going to be a less safe city.”
Mayor Sally Capp also told the Financial Review that “as a city what we are doing is referring back to the work we have started” including erecting 53 bollards in the CBD, she said.