Australians woke to the news yesterday morning that there had been an attempted hijacking of a Malaysian Airlines flight minutes after it was departing Melbourne Airport bound for Kuala Lumpur. The offender was a 25-year-old mentally unstable Sri Lankan national here in Australia on student visa who tried to storm the cockpit while claiming he had a bomb in his hands before being restrained by heroic passengers.
The same can’t be said for authorities who, following the incident after the plane was diverted back to Melbourne, took 90 minutes to storm the plane and remove the offender. Passengers were described as being extremely agitated during the agonising wait. The Victorian Police Commissioner Graham Ashton has defended the delay claiming, “Once we were satisfied we were dealing with one offender and device that was looking increasingly unlikely to be an explosive device, the decision was made to get the passengers off, and that was done’’.
The offender had only just been released from psychiatric care at the Monash Medical Centre and so it not being treated as a terrorist incident. The fact that a mentally unstable person had been recently released into community, committed a traumatic crime and authorities had bungled their response to it has a disturbing similarity to another horrific incident earlier in Victoria this year, though in that case the offender’s actions were deadly.
This was of course the Bourke Street car attack in Melbourne’s CBD in January this year which killed 6 people including a baby and a young girl, and injured 36 people. The perpetrator Dimitrious Gargasoulas had previously been remanded in custody, but had recently been granted bail for a serious traffic offence. This was despite the fact he was known to police for history of drug use, family violence and mental health problems. Police were also criticised for allowing the car to enter Melbourne’s CBD despite following it around inner Melbourne for several hours, yet failed to intercept it. Gargasoulas’ defence further demonstrated his warped state of mind declaring himself the Islamic “saviour” and blaming the ‘’illuminati’’.
These two incidents together fit a disturbing pattern where mentally ill people, who should be in institutions in order to protect the public, have been allowed free reign to commit heinous acts. It would suggest we have got our approach to mental health in Victoria seriously wrong and dare I say we are following the politically correct policy not being seen to be mean or cruel to people with mental illnesses. Look at the consequences of such a soft approach. Two major incidents in less than a year.
It will be interesting to note whether Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews takes any action to reform mental health in Victoria to ensure public safety. But given his inaction in Victoria’s crime epidemic and instead is more focused on Victorians having thought crimes, don’t hold your breath. You can probably expect the usual line that we need to be more understanding of people with mental illnesses.
Our authorities also need to rethink the hesitant approach they are taking with major security and terrorist incidents. This is just not my opinion sitting behind a keyboard. We have just had the Coroner’s findings into the deadly Lindt Café siege in 2014 which criticised the NSW Police for not entering the café sooner after the first shots were fired. The NSW Police Commission also said in hindsight they should have stormed the café sooner.
Whether a violent and deadly act is because of Islamic terrorism or mental health, our governments need to stop adhering to politically correct policies and end indecisive police reactions to such incidents. The safety of innocent people is at stake, in this latest incident we were lucky no one was harmed, and that the passengers on the flight did what should be the authorities’ job. But we cannot afford a next time, not another Bourke Street tragedy or a Lindt café siege.