My brush with fame/death NOT (/yet)

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This morning to the Supreme Court before the registrar.

I had to wait to the end of the list. That’s a tedious story.

As I left, a bit after 10 am, I was directed away from my usual exit. Phillip St was blocked off and crowds were streaming southwards; police were telling people where to go. A loitering courier told me there was a hostage situation at the Lindt Café, which is on the corner of Phillip St and Martin Place. (Previously it was a much more groovy bistro.) I may have been there once. I can’t remember why. I was not tempted to return.

News of the situation spread fast. President Obama, we were told, had been briefed. The Prime Minister of Canada (a fellow conga-suckholer) tweeted his sympathy.

For all anyone knew, even allowing for the Islamist flag pressed to the café window, we could have been dealing with just another angry father protesting at the loss of his custody case. (“Wrong end of town” said one colleague to me when I suggested this.) Even now we don’t officially know who this person is or what they want. – Somebody knows, I guess, by now, but it is not considered good practice to disclose this.

Because the street address of my office (“chambers”) and the Lindt café are both “Martin Place” I received messages of concern from my sister, in WA, and D, in Shanghai. I tried to put them at their ease with a message which could never have been sent on a hostage-taker’s instructions. I answered as my sister’s son was wont to answer any number of (so I thought) “open” questions about life, school, holidays, Christmas presents, birthday presents etc. I told them I was “Foin.”

Meanwhile live news kept us informed.

Never have I seen so much on-screen commentary based on so little information. A barrister told them (and it was earnestly repeated) that the hostage taker could have done better business if he’d been there yesterday, on Sunday, when the barrister was on the way to work, or even that very morning, a bit before 9, when the early morning rush was on. He produced the receipt, pictured above, from when he ducked down for a coffee (after 9) before a conference.

That receipt gives the other reason I could have given to D and my sister to assuage their fears. I don’t go to Lindt because I think it is over-priced and over-rated. Not to mention: chocolate is chocolate; coffee is coffee; but Mocha?

The city has been in “lockdown.” Junior staff at my “chambers” were allowed to go home. Cars must have been prevented from entering the city. Retail shops shut – and not just in Martin Place or anywhere particularly near the siege site. Television news crews were belatedly moved on from line-of-sight real-time broadcasting.

The city became eerily uninhabited, save for people gawking from the further parts of Martin Place.

If it wasn’t necessary to move them on, how can such a “lockdown” have really been necessary?

The building management for my own building, which by no stretch of the imagination can be threatened by any physical threat to the hostage site, announced that there would be no access AT ALL to the building after 6pm and that access tomorrow (should the situation continue) will be seriously curtailed. It is still not clear to me how that is consistent with our lease – but let that pass for now.

When I was a young solicitor I did some work for a partner who had latched onto a lucrative line of business. He acted for a credit provider which was in liquidation. The credit provider had committed many breaches of the then credit legislation which it was obliged to fess up to and which potentially voided the loan contracts. The partner dutifully audited (well, he didn’t do that himself: that was the work of minions) the credit contracts and detected the many breaches of the credit legislation which had to be disclosed to the relevant courts/authorities. The more irregularities which could be found, the more work there was for him (and us) in mournfully disclosing them and endeavouring to set them to rights.

It was a great gig. But it had a kind of (legal) drama-queen moral-hazard element.

The “war on terror” has something similar. Threats are good business for those appointed to guard us against them.

I’m conscious that, as I write, there is an unknown number of people (15? 20?) stuck in a coffee shop with a potentially murderous angry person (AP).

That needs to be taken seriously. The site needs to be secure and accessible to emergency services and a dialogue with the hostage taker entered into into.

Those are all difficult things.

But I also think it is important to have a proportionate response. That’s because it’s not just about this AP, but about every AP and every bunch of people who, without having anything to do with either the AP or the AP’s grievance (other than a love of overpriced chocolate mixed with coffee or whatever or, more generally, their membership of a society which has voted for the powers that be), may find themselves in the next AP’s anger’s way.

Afterword

It’s now the morning after and the AP and two hostages have been shot dead in the final storming of the café at about 2am.

Now it is revealed that the AP was Man Haron Monis. It’s clear that the police were aware of his identity well before the end of the siege.

It’s worth pointing out that Monis first came to public attention when he was convicted of sending offensive material over the post when he sent letters to families of Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan describing their children as war criminals. He appealed to the High Court and indeed it was a 3-3 decision which meant that the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal case upholding the charges stood. That’s the sort of thing that is likely to lead to a grudge against the system.

The best description I have seen of Monis is that by his former lawyer. He is quoted as saying “”His ideology is just so strong and so powerful that it clouds his vision for common sense and objectiveness,” (maybe Monis was still alive when he said this), and “”This is a one-off random individual,” he said. “It’s not a concerted terrorism event or act. It’s a damaged-goods individual who’s done something outrageous.”

Police must have known this.

This morning “lockdown” continues in my building; the Supreme Court (“on the advice of the authorities”) is not sitting before 12 noon. Who knows what advice the Supreme Court received? Even if the siege had been still going on, it should have been possible to enter the court from the non Phillip Street side and continue work as usual. It’s not as if in the circumstances there was any serious likelihood of concerted terrorist action.

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