Stage management of the coronial inquest into the Lindt café siege broke down in spectacular fashion this week with the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions scrambling to ban publication of embarrassing evidence.
The DPP wants to suppress evidence of why the siege gunman Man Haron Monis was on bail on serious criminal charges when he took hostages at gunpoint at the Martin Place coffee bar last December 15.
Let’s remember when Monis was bailed he was facing 40 charges of sexual and indecent assault and had already been convicted of sending offensive letters to the families of Australian soldiers who had been killed in Afghanistan.
Someone must have strenuously supported his bail application. The question is who?
No prizes for guessing it was ASIO or some variety of the secret police community. These idiots regarded Monis as an intelligence “asset” because he was a refugee from Iran and sold them a cock and bull story that he was a former intelligence officer.
After his arrival in Australia, he offered to be an ASIO agent informing on the Iranian and Shi’ite communities. Mossad and the CIA were enthusiastic and encouraged the Australians to take him on.
When the Iranian Embassy realised what was happening it contacted official channels in Canberra and warned them that Monis was a fantasist with a criminal record. “They would say that, wouldn’t they?” concluded ASIO and gave him the status of a protected informer.
For years they ran Monis: he obtained citizenship, a bank account, a regular stipend, a place to live in Western Sydney, a licence to have a gun. He changed his name, switched from being an imam to a sheikh and later from being a Shi’ite to a Sunni.
Every serious person in Sydney’s Islamic community thought he was an ASIO informer and steered clear of him. But ASIO and the NSW police persisted, squeezing him dry and sending him on madder and more dangerous missions. One was to infiltrate the Rebels bikie gang to check on possible international drug links with the Middle East. This is what sent the fantasist into a state of extreme paranoia, persecution mania and anger. When he walked into Martin Place last December to make headlines and draw attention to himself, he was a time bomb set to go off. Why didn’t ASIO stop him?
Tale of Two Letters
Last December, a few days after the Martin Place siege, then NSW Opposition Leader John Robertson revealed that his Blacktown electorate office had received a letter from Monis requesting advice.
And as a good local MP, Robertson responded with a standard signed letter.
The Murdoch press went into hyperventilation and his ALP enemies seized the opportunity to claim he “lacked judgement”. “Robbo” was forced out and replaced by the “hard left’s” Luke Foley.
At Senate hearings in Canberra this week it was revealed that federal Attorney-General George Brandis also received a letter from Monis.
“I would like to send a letter to Caliph Ibrahim*, the leader of the Islamic State, in which making some comments and asking some questions,” Monis wrote in awkward English. “Please advise me whether the communication is legal or illegal.”
Brandis told the hearing that he did not reply personally to the May 2014 letter, but his department did – a few months before the siege.
He said: “There was no reason to believe that any member of the Attorney-General’s Department staff would have known that Monis, or Haron as he signed himself, was a person of concern at that particular time.”
He must be kidding. Monis had been convicted of sending deeply offensive letters to the relatives of soldiers killed in Afghanistan. The court story had been front-page news all over the country.
His letter to Brandis asking whether he could write to the head of ISIS, who had succeeded Osama bin Laden as the Western world’s most wanted man, should have rung alarm bells in the AG’s Department, particularly as it is responsible for the massively over-funded ASIO. It didn’t. Instead, it received routinely courteous treatment. Why?
Predictably, News Ltd rags are not calling for Brandis’s resignation nor for an investigation of ASIO’s bumbling incompetence.
In “Robbo’s” case, his official electorate letter was sent in September 2011 before ISIS or al-Baghdadi were ever heard of. As Robertson explained last December: “He (Monis) was seeking a supervised visit with his children on Father’s Day. His request was forwarded in a routine manner.” He wasn’t asking to write to Bin Laden or al-Baghdadi but to see his kids on Father’s Day. And it was before he had become a convicted criminal.
While Labor’s Robertson was hounded out of his job for his “routine” response, Brandis (Liberal) is protected with the complicity of the media.
* This is the title used by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, head of ISIS, aka “the death cult”.
Bring them home
Two very dear friends died this week – journalist John Stubbs, 77, and Labor politician Les Johnson, 90.
Stubbs was an emblem of excellence in the National Press Gallery for 40 years, showing political insight, intelligence and courage.
With Nick Whitlam, he co-authored a 1974 book on the Petrov Affair and wrote a major biography of Labor leader Bill Hayden in 1989. In 1995 he received a Walkley Award for Most Outstanding Contribution to journalism.
When I arrived at the Canberra Press Gallery in the 1960s Stubbs became a firm friend and mentor. What I valued most from our friendship is that he taught me to have the courage of my convictions.
Les Johnson, MP for Hughes, was a warm-hearted companion and a serious-minded politician of the old Labor school.
Lunch with Les was always a delight because he could reminisce about politicians and politics in a way that was smart, insightful and in good humour.
There was another death this week that I would like to record – 70-year-old John Pinder – a larger than life figure who brought alternative theatre and music to audiences in halls and theatres across Australia and also on TV.
His life was chaotic and he had little sense of money or management. But out of the chaos came some brilliant theatrical moments and he launched many successful comedy, theatrical and musical careers.
It’s been a tough week.