4 December 2003

The Thinning Blue Line

The Australian Defence Force will always have their crucial logistical role to play in such deployments but, with the safety of Australians and the security of Australia now inexorably linked to the long-term stability of our nascent, neighbouring states, it is Australia's police forces, primarily the AFP, who in the years ahead are likely to bear the greatest burden of this new task of nation-building. Although there is recognition of the vast experience in community policing and criminal prosecutions which state police would bring to such exercises.

Just last week, federal cabinet agreed in principle to the deployment of a further 300 police overseas - most likely a mix of federal and state personnel - this time to the high-risk environment of Papua New Guinea. With years of police corruption, brutality and ineffectiveness gradually destroying Australia's former colonial territory, the cabinet probably had little choice other than to green-light the operation but it is one fraught with danger and political difficulties.

Coming straight on the heels of the extensive demands now being placed upon Australia's police forces by the �government's counter-terrorism assault, the result is a thinning blue line of highly professional men and women who, according to Hugh White, the director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, are being asked to do far more than they should be at home and abroad.

'Over the last few years in East Timor and Bali and now in the Solomons ... we have been expecting our police to perform functions that frankly they were never trained to perform in terms of the political and operational environments they have been placed in,' White says.

Read this, as well, for the description of one Australian cop's time in East Timor as an unarmed peacekeeper.

The thinning line is green, not blue. The Howard government seems to believe it can do expansive and expensive foreign policy while continuing tax cuts forever at home for domestic political gain. The overstretch is much less because our economy is much better managed than America's but the principle is roughly the same.

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