Saul Eslake’s terror lesson

The effort Australia puts into fighting the “inflated risk” of terrorism could do more good tackling issues which harm many more Australians, economist Saul Eslake believes.

SECURITY THEATRE: Economist Saul Eslake believes airport security has gone too far in Australia and the terror threat is exaggerated.

SECURITY THEATRE: Economist Saul Eslake believes airport security has gone too far in Australia and the terror threat is exaggerated.

During a Hobart talk to the Royal Society of Tasmania,  Mr Eslake went to the numbers to suggest terrorism was a far smaller risk to Australians than many other things, and a shrinking one.

He said University of Maryland Global Terrorism Database figures showed 47 terrorist incidents led to eight deaths in Australia from 1982-99.

So far this century, he said, there had been 43 terrorist incidents in Australia resulting in five deaths (not counting terrorist deaths).

He used Australian Bureau of Statistics figures showing lung cancer killed more than 130,000 Australians from 2000-16, diabetes-related illnesses 66,000, breast cancer and prostate cancer both nearly 50,000, suicide more than 40,000 and transport accidents more than 28,000.

“ … much of what is being done, ostensibly with a view to reducing the risks posed by terrorists, in fact does very little to reduce what is, in reality, a relatively small set of risks …,” Mr Eslake said.

“The resources which have been committed to dealing with the inflated risk of terrorism are depriving us of opportunities to address other, more serious, issues adversely affecting the wellbeing and, in many cases, the lives of large numbers of Australians.”

He said terrorism was a threat, but its magnitude had been greatly exaggerated.

Mr Eslake said there had been fewer terrorist incidents in Western countries in the five years to 2016 than in any five-year period between 1970 and 2000.

He discussed why Australia persisted with “security theatre” at airports, and argued it had gone too far.

He pointed to demands from politicians to return Federal Police to the Hobart Airport, “even though the Federal Police have presumably made the judgment that the presence of their armed officers isn’t required on security grounds, in the same way that they’re not deemed necessary at, say, Wynyard or Devonport airports”.

This story Terror risk exaggerated: Saul Eslake first appeared on The Advocate.