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Brussels Attacks: Lessons for Australia

In the wake of Brussels, Australians should take solace in the rejection of the politics of fear and division.

The attacks in Brussels on Tuesday have rightly shocked Australians and stoked global condemnation. But what are the consequences, if any, of this appalling act for the Australian public and government?

It is becoming increasingly acknowledged that a similar style attack in Australia is ‘probable’, according to Australia’s official terrorism threat advisory scale. But while the challenges of avoiding a similar event in Australia are by no means insignificant, they far less than the challenges confronting Europe.

Malcolm Turnbull caused mild controversy last week by seemingly critiquing Europe’s security failings. His real point, however, was a genuine one: Europe’s borders are porous, and this means that the threats born out of social exclusion, poverty and racism in certain areas of Europe are able to spread quickly across the continent with little warning.

Australia’s experience is different from that of Europe. Its obvious geographical advantages mitigate the threat of the same type of cross border terrorist attacks that occurred in Belgium on Tuesday.

But, perhaps more importantly, Australia’s experiment with multiculturalism has been far more successful, and the politics of division are being increasingly rejected by both the Australian public and political establishment.

While Europe and the United States are witnessing the rise of political figures who rely on a demagoguery fuelled by the rejection of multiculturalism, Australia is moving in the opposite direction towards a more pragmatic and centrist space when it comes to the national security debate.

Fringe political figures in Australia that attempt to exploit the fear of the Australian public in order to improve of their own electoral fortunes are exactly that – fringe.

The distaste for Tony Abbott’s style of leadership by the public – and its rejection by his own party – demonstrates that the politically pragmatic space to hold in Australia is determined by much more than a single-minded focus on a strong rhetorical approach to national security.

Australians are aware there is a genuine threat. But they are unwilling to subscribe to a politics that exploits this natural and pragmatic concern rather than rising above it. Malcolm Turnbull is aware of this – his statements about the attacks in Brussels recognised the threat, but emphasised the need to put such threats in perspective.

Turnbull also made it clear upon his accession to prime minister that he would extend overtures to the Muslim community, replacing Abbott’s widely criticised tendency to deride the Islamic community with a policy focused on inclusion and collaboration.

And, while the prospect of a large-scale terrorist attack in Australia is a truly worrying one, it is in no way an existential threat to Australia or its way of life. Any attempt by ISIS inspired actors or other extremists to cause division in the Australian community, or to inspire reactionary belligerence from the Australian government, will ultimately fail.

Yes, the Australian government needs to remain ever vigilant and prepared for such an atrocity. And it is clear that it is doing so.

But in the event of a future attack on Australian soil, it must be seen by the Australian people and the Australian government for what it really is – a desperate attempt to lash out and to maintain relevance from a despotic organisation that is increasingly losing the ground war in Syria and Iraq.

While tragedies such as those in Brussels and Paris shock, horrify and appal, Australians should take solace in the fact that the Australian way of life, and its commitment to multiculturalism and pluralism, are a stronger force than the ideologies they oppose.

So too should Australians be encouraged by the fact that its politics are increasingly reflective of these ideals, and continue to reject figures that seek to gain by opposing them.

Edward Cavanough is the Australian Foreign Policy Fellow at Young Australians in International Affairs and the policy manager at The McKell Institute.

This article can be republished with attribution under a Creative Commons Licence. Please email for more information.

Image credit: Veni (Flickr: Creative Commons)

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