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Did High Court Loss Trigger Monis Siege?

Man Haron Monis was funded by Legal Aid NSW to take a free speech case all the way to the High Court. On Friday 12 December 2014 he lost on a legal technicality. On Monday 15 December the enraged Monis started a Jihad siege at the Lindt cafe that led to tragedy. This connection has not yet been made at the Coroner’s inquiry.

Max Wallace

In his opening address to the Coroner’s inquest to the Monis affair, Counsel assisting, Jeremy Gormly SC, said that by late 2013 Man Haron Monis’ life was deteriorating. By 2014 Monis had ‘no money, he was in debt, he had no employment skills. His attempts to develop a religious following failed.’

It is important to see the Monis siege in context. Some six weeks prior, in a similar fact event, on 22 October 2014, a Canadian soldier, Corporal Nathan Cirillo, was gunned down by another lone supporter of Islamic Jihad while he was on ceremonial guard duties at the National War Memorial in Ottawa.

As in Sydney now, the mental health of Corporal Cirillo’s killer has been raised to explain this event. Writing in the Canadian journal, Humanist Perspectives, Madeline Weld argued, just in advance of the Monis siege, that ‘for someone inclined towards violence, or who feels like a loser in society, the promise of glory through jihad may be very compelling, mental health problems or not.’

With that said, what has been completely missed in the Coroner’s inquiry so far is that Monis still had one thing going for him. He had been funded by Legal Aid NSW to take a long-running,  prestigious, free speech case to the High Court.

The case concerned inflammatory letters he had written to the parents of Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan, calling the soldiers murderers. He was charged with an offence against the Posts and Telegraphs Act, using a postal service to cause offence.  The question was whether these letters were an instance of free speech.

On Friday 12 December 2014 he received bad news. His action in the High Court was lost on a technicality after the six High Court judges were split 3-3 in their judgments..

 (Monis v The Queen; Droudis v The Queen [2014] HCATrans 280 (12 December 2014).

It was after this bad news on the Friday that on Monday 15 December an armed Monis walked into the Lindt Cafe in Martin Place, Sydney.

Much has also been made of the fact that Monis was on bail awaiting trial of two serious unrelated criminal cases concerning sexual assault and accessory to the murder of his wife.

But the 2011 legal aid funding that made his High Court free speech case possible could be seen as a critical factor in this attack occurring. The prestigious case would have given him an inflated sense of his own importance. His eventual loss on a technicality could be seen to be the spark that lit the fuse.

If his hopes had not been extinguished in the High Court Friday 12 December the siege may not have occurred at all. Given his record of attention-seeking behaviour, he probably would have tried to turn what would have been, in the circumstances, a minor success, into something more profound.

A likely conclusion is - no legal aid High Court case - no Monday 15 December attack.

Whether he would have carried out an identical, or some other attack,  prior to his criminal cases, is an open question. No one could say with certainty that would have happened. I suggest that is a sobering thought.

Could this sequence of events been anticipated?

In 2009 Radio National’s religious affairs broadcaster, Rachael Kohn, published a pointed critique of Monis: ‘The trouble is that Sheikh Haron, as he calls himself, can be seen to be a bit too loony to take seriously, but this is a mistake. The self-styled mufti is no shrinking violet when it comes to promoting hatred of the West and justifying violence in the name of Allah.’

What Rachael Kohn was referring to was a 2009 video on Haron’s publicly available website.

A Muslim woman in a black burka reads from a script. She says Muslims, ‘must submit to God’s will. Yes, we are happy about the punishment of September 11. Yes, we are happy about the punishment in Bali. Yes, we are happy about the punishment of the Holocaust and any other punishment that God sends us.’

So, Monis openly displayed his approval of violence against the United States and its citizens murdered en masse; approved equally of the mass murder of the citizens of the country, Australia, that had given him refuge; openly displayed his anti-Semitism in the worst possible way.

In a 2008 video on Monis’ website, another younger woman in a black burka criticises Nationwide News, The Australian and The Daily Telegraph, for daring to suggest that Islamic Jihad involves violence. In words that now resonate with sad irony she says: ‘I assure you that Sheikh Haron does not need a gun.’

 Monis received taxpayer funding somewhere well north of $100,000, possibly as high as $300,000, to take his case through two lower courts and  then up to the High Court to make a constitutional point about free speech. Why?

The decision to run this case contrasts very badly with Monis’ public support for Islamic terrorism, not to mention later revelations concerning cuts to legal aid, causing the termination of  other complex criminal cases, leaving defendants floundering.

 (‘Cuts to legal aid hit NSW courts’, Sydney Morning Herald, 9 February 2015).

On 19 January 2015 our Association (NSW Rationalists) submitted a Freedom of Information request to Legal Aid NSW asking for the reasons for their decision to fund Monis, and his partner, Amirah Droudis.

On 18 May they replied in part that under s.25(3) of the Legal Aid Commission Act 1979 they are not required to ‘divulge to any person or court any information or document ... relating to the administration of legal aid.’

Similarly, on 27 February 2015 the state-federal inquiry on Monis requested by the Prime Minister on 17 December 2014 was released and came to a cul-de-sac concerning legal aid. It concluded ‘Appeals to the High Court are only made once advice is provided from Senior Counsel.’

What was that advice?  What were the justifications for the case vis-à-vis the many other pressing criminal matters Legal Aid NSW were funding?  Why was a blank taxpayers’ cheque written so that the free speech case of a public supporter of Islamic terrorism could be argued in the High Court? Where was the public interest in that? How much did it cost?

On 23 December 2014, eight days after Monis’ siege, the Leader of the Opposition in NSW, John Robertson, recovering some integrity, resigned after he conceded he had written a letter on Monis’ behalf concerning a family law matter.

But the reasons for the apparently myopic, foolhardy funding of the dangerous Monis in 2011 to go to the High Court remain behind a wall of legalese and silence.

The citizens who lost their lives, or were injured, and traumatised, in the Monis siege, and their families, I suggest, deserve some explanation.

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