Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann
Minister for Finance
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
The terrible events in Brussels earlier this week have again brought home to us the seriousness of the conflict our world is currently engaged in with a group of misguided extremists.
It is a conflict we must win.
Our hearts go out to the people of Brussels and Belgium as they did to the people of Paris and Istanbul before. We mourn their loss and share their defiance and determination not to let terrorists intimidate us away from leading our normal lives the way we want to. Many of us have family and friends in Europe. Indeed, I have family in Belgium and many friends who live in Brussels.
To see the devastation in the departure hall of Zaventem airport, an airport from which I have departed many times, and to realise that the attack on the Maelbeek metro station in the heart of the Brussels CBD was just a few hundred metres away from where I used to live some 22 years ago, also gave this attack an additional personal dimension. So receiving this news on Tuesday night was particularly confronting for me.
Thankfully, I was able to confirm very quickly that my family was OK. A school excursion to Brussels for one of my nephews was cancelled, but otherwise everything was literally as normal, with my family living at a safe distance from Brussels in a small rural town near the Belgian-German border. Many friends in Brussels checked themselves in as "safe" on Facebook, which was reassuring.
Like so many of the morning commuters, who were so tragically disrupted by those senseless, appalling events that morning, I used to walk these streets in Brussels every day. I used to get on to that subway near the European institutions on a regular basis.
None of those morning commuters had done anything wrong. They went about their day-to-day lives as any of us would in the reasonable expectation of getting back home to their loved ones after another long day at the office.
It is hard for us to understand how fellow human beings can do these things to each other. It is confronting for us to see how an extremist, violent and destructive ideology is able to capture some of our young people into its clutches.
As Australians, we share many of the same values with the people of Europe. The attacks in Brussels this week, like other attacks before, were attacks on those shared values.
Our commitment to individual freedom, tolerance, democracy, to living with each other in peace and harmony in a rules-based system, are key foundation stones of our civilisation. They are values and principles which we hold dear. They are the basis from which we all have the opportunity to pursue happiness and success and from which we want our children and grandchildren to be able to build happy and successful lives for many many decades to come. They are the values and principles which have stood the test of time and which we must continue to defend.
While it is always a shock when a terror attack takes place, we can't say that this attack came completely as a surprise. Indeed, in the wake of the attacks in Paris last year, which were manifestly linked to a group of residents in a suburb of Brussels, Belgium has been on a very high terror alert for some time. There was sadly a sense of inevitability that a terror attack would occur in or around Brussels at some point.
Yes, the events in Belgium and Europe raise many specific issues for Europe - issues I have no doubt relevant governments in Europe will consider and address as appropriate for their circumstances over the coming months and years.
But here in Australia we need to remain mindful that there is a broader challenge to our shared values, which all of us across the world who share those values need to continue to address together.
That is why Australia continues to engage strongly as part of an international coalition of like-minded countries from around the world in the fight against terrorism. As an international community committed to freedom, peace and democracy we cannot rest until we have got on top of this current challenge.
While by its very nature terrorist attacks are hard to predict and to prevent, in Australia our circumstances are different from those in Europe.
While we are not completely immune from the same risks, we do have a level of protection not available to Europe courtesy of our comparative geographic isolation.
We also have very strong and effective border protection and counterterrorism arrangements in place and, most importantly, Australia is one of the most successful and harmonious multicultural communities in the world.
As Australians, as we go about our daily lives here and abroad, we must of course remain vigilant and exercise caution, but it is so important that we keep doing what we do best, enjoy our freedom and everything that our great country has on offer.
This is an opinion piece published in The Weekend West on 26 March 2016.
Karen Wu - 0428 350 139