Terrorism and how we keep Australians safe from terrorists is once again in the headlines this week with recent comments from the ASIO director-general that the terrorist threat remains unacceptably high. That important reminder comes as, in this country, we are facing the imminent release of eight convicted terrorists from prison. Surely when it comes to convicted terrorists, people who want to kill and injure as many Australians as they can, community safety has to be the only priority. Any wishful thinking that terrorists will be rehabilitated and see the error of their ways must come to an end.
The short-sighted sentencing of terrorists has tragically had deadly consequences, with two attacks by convicted terrorists in the space of just a few months in the United Kingdom. The UK parliament earlier this month had to rush through legislation to end the, frankly, absurd practice of automatically releasing terrorists halfway through their sentence, as it should have done long before now.
There’s little doubt that law enforcement and security agencies have serious concerns about the release of convicted terrorists who not so long ago conspired to murder innocent Australians. It has been reported in the national media in recent weeks that some retain active contact and influence with terrorist circles, including actively working to recruit other violent criminals to their terrorist ideology whilst still in prison. This revelation demonstrates the problem with courts giving terrorists the benefit of the doubt at sentencing. There’s every chance they will walk out of jail on the date by which the court had hoped they would be rehabilitated, having spent their time in jail, but they will instead continue to hold and expound to others the same murderous ideology that landed them there in the first place.
Why do we do this to ourselves as a nation? Our security services do a fantastic job tracking down terrorists and putting them behind bars. Why do we let these people back out on the streets and tie up our security services tracking and monitoring the same terrorists that they’ve previously caught? Our justice system needs a significant reprioritisation to focus on community safety and keep dangerous criminals behind bars where they can’t harm innocent Australians. Rolling the dice that someone who wanted to kill dozens of Australians will no longer want to do so in two, four or 10 years time, when their sentence expires, is a gamble that we simply shouldn’t be taking. Terrorists certainly don’t deserve that kind of generous optimism, and the Australian public doesn’t deserve to be put at risk.
The same applies to other categories of highly dangerous convicted criminals. The appalling harm perpetrated on children by paedophiles and child rapists is just another prime example where the justice system should look to protect the innocent rather than crystal-ball gazing about an offender’s future prospects. Just like fanatical terrorists, the prospect of rehabilitating paedophiles who abuse children is unproven and not a gamble that we should be taking. Unlike terrorists, intelligence shows that child abusers are in our community and committing offences in shockingly large numbers.
For the large proportion of criminals who are not seriously dangerous, and whose crimes are of lesser magnitude, rehabilitation is quite rightly a significant priority of the justice system. But to prioritise the hope that a terrorist or child rapist will have learned the error of their ways after a few years in prison, over the public safety of having them detained and off the streets where they can create more harm to more people, is absolute madness. The courts and the parliament must put community safety first and keep these dangerous criminals off the streets and behind bars.