MIXED SIGNALS ON TERRORISM

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CANBERRA, Australia (Townsville Bulletin) - Australians cannot be blamed if they are feeling a little confused, given the mixed messages that have been flowing out of Canberra.

Prime Minister John Howard says he agonized over whether to warn Australians of a terrorist threat against the nation.

Angry accusations that Australians were kept in the dark over warnings of a bombing in Bali -- the Government emphatically denies there had been warnings -- would have helped to sway him.

But following the guarded and very vague warning about threats to Australia that did result, Mr Howard now tells the media not to get facts wrong or to exaggerate, yet does not elaborate when questioned about the source of the latest warning or to give details of specific targets or dates. Just trust us, he is saying.

ASIO in recent weeks has pursued people suspected of being linked to terrorist organisations, but then Defence Minister Robert Hill floated the idea of the Australian Defence Force resuming ties with Kopassus, the Indonesian army’s special forces which have been accused of involvement in the ambush in August of a bus near the huge Freeport gold mine in Papua that killed two Americans and an Indonesian, were suspected of backing militia violence in East Timor and last week were accused of having links to a terrorist group.

The Government has decided to run a series of advertisements between now and Christmas on how to spot a terrorist and what to do in the event of an attack, but the Prime Minister does not want the threat of terrorism to ruin Australians’ holiday season or way of life.

He cannot have it both ways.

We tend to agree with his sentiment though, but as has been pointed out in this newspaper in recent days, disruption to our way of life is exactly what terrorists want -- and they are winning simply because the Government, despite its best intentions, is cultivating a climate of fear and distrust.

With the exception of a tiny minority of idiots and malicious types who may ignore threats of severe penalties to seize on the campaign to play pranks or dob in people they do not like, most Australians are intelligent people who are perfectly capable of comprehending the risks in the world today and in forming opinions about what the extent of Australia's involvement in the war on terror should be.

They appreciate that a stand has to be made at some point, but also would question Australian involvement in an all-out assault on Iraq, for example, if it was not a UN-led campaign. Mr Howard has been right to warn Australians about a threat, but he has to be more specific. More information please, Prime Minister. Terrorist ads by Christmas

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