Wollongong Police are “over the top” with their counter-terrorism measures and it’s “killing” community festivals, according to one event organiser.
But not everyone agrees.
Corrimal Chamber of Commerce chair Paul Boultwood said the Spring Into Corrimal festival (which attracts around 55,000 people in September) is on its last legs. He claims local officers are unfairly making them employ expensive security measures compared to events run in other districts.
“We’ve been going for 37 years without any incidents whatsoever ... we understand security but there’s a case of it goes over the top,” Mr Boultwood said.
“Down in the southern suburbs all they get is a cop car in the front and a cop car at the back – there’s no consistency, no-one knows what’s going on.
“It looks like [for] anything in the northern suburbs the fun police are out.”
Public events like the The Colour Run, Kiama Jazz and Blues Festival, music and sport festivals plus community celebrations like Viva La Gong and Spring Into Corrimal have become threads in the rich cultural sphere of the Illawarra.
In light of increasing terror attacks and incidents aimed to harm the public en mass, the federal government released a series of guidelines in 2017 around keeping crowds safe in public spaces.
The guidelines are Protecting Crowded Places from Terrorism Guidelines, Hostile Vehicle Guidelines for Crowded Spaces and Improvised Explosive Device Guidelines and are aimed at spaces like stadiums, shopping centres, malls and major events.
I’m more than happy to be open to negotiation for those people who think not-for-profit is not-for-safety.Supt Chris Craner
It is up to each police district – such as Wollongong, Lake Illawarra and Kiama – to implement this framework and work with event organisers on a case-by-case basis.
Organisers of major events not only have to liaise with local authorities but councils, the RMS and other agencies. In all Illawarra local government areas committees have been set up to approve plans for events and ensure they run smoothly and safely.
Spokespeople for both Shellharbour and Wollongong Council said the onus was on the event organiser to supply them with a risk assessment of the event and detail how they would counteract any foreseeable risks (such as a terror threat).
“Council places great importance on the health and safety of its community,” the Shellharbour spokeswoman said. “Council employs a dedicated community safety officer and will always refer any concerns it has to the police for appropriate direction and action.”
Wollongong’s spokeswoman had similar sentiments.
Imagine a world where you can’t have community stuff on the street because someone thinks someone is going to drive through, we’re not LondonPaul Boutlwood
But Mr Boultwood claims officers from Wollongong Police District act very differently to officers in Lake Illawarra and Kiama.
Last year and again this year, Mr Boultwood has been very vocal about the rising cost of installing water filled bollards along the 1.2 kilometre stretch along the Princes Highway for the festival. He also said having to pay truck drivers weekend penalty rates to park their vehicle to deter extremists was “killing” them.
Mr Boultwood also believed local officers have a vendetta against the Corrimal festival – and all festivals – and are trying to stamp them out altogether.
“You wont be seeing anything,” he said “I’m [speaking out] for the community – can you imagine a world where you can’t have community stuff on the street because someone thinks someone is going to drive through – we’re not London.”
Keira MP Ryan Park is also calling for consistency and wants all police districts in the region to treat every festival the same because current measures in Wollongong were “a bit over the top”.
“We appreciate we live in a more complex and challenging world, we understand it’s important, but it can’t come at the cost of some of these iconic events,” Mr Park said.
“We’re getting to a stage where we need to sit down as a region and get some common guidelines around this. Otherwise we’re going to find ourselves in a situation where local community events like Spring Into Corrimal simply won’t happen and that’s not good for anyone.”
There’s been published terror attacks [in the past] ... but there’s been a number of incidences we’ve stopped that haven’t been publicised.Supt Chris Craner
WHAT THE POLICE SAY
Commander of Lake Illawarra District Superintendent Dean Smith (who also covers Kiama) and his Wollongong counterpart Superintendent Chris Craner both said threats of terror were real.
“Threats don’t discriminate so I certainly understand and get some people’s frustration,” Supt Craner said.
“If you employ what’s employed in Sydney in Wollongong and Kiama – without intelligence and without due dilligence and without assessment – then that would be over the top.”
Both commanders said each event they assessed – whether run for profit, or not-for-profit – were on a case by case basis.
“Our assessment of all events … [are] subject to intelligence holdings, previous history of an event, the threat environment that exists locally, within NSW, Nationally and at times Internationally,” Supt Smith said.
“It is not about the location it’s about the size and scale of the event no matter where it is held.”
Supt Craner accepted some people may feel their actions were extreme but said you couldn’t put a price on people’s lives. He also said organisations running as not-for-profit did not mean they could be “not-for-safety”.
“It’s nice to be living in an ignorant world – and I say that nicely, because I wish I did – I wish I didn’t know what I know because it’s exhausting,” he said.
“There’s been published terror attacks [in the past] ... but there’s been a number of incidences we’ve stopped that haven’t been publicised in the past.”
Supt Craner wished to be able to go to events with his wife and kids and not constantly be looking at safety aspects and thinking ‘what if an active shooter came in here, where would I go, how would I help’.
“I’ll be the one left at the end of the day if an incident happens at an event like that, trying to explain in the Coroners Court what I did and didn't do,” he said.
“Some of these organisers sherk their responsibility and whinge that the cops are going over-the-top.
“I’m more than happy to be open to negotiation for those people who think not-for-profit is not-for-safety.”
WHAT OTHERS SAY
Wollongong entertainer Adam Larkham empathised with both sides of the debate. He said he understood a need for extra security at events but at the same time it was sad.
“Sad that it’s gotten to a point that that’s what has to be done these days,” Mr Larkham said. “We can’t just have a festival and have fun without possible repercussions.”
Jaffa cafe manager Allan Harris said he knew some Corrimal business owners were outraged at the cost of security, but said it has become the way of life.
“Things do cost money, if you want these kinds of events to happen that’s just how it has to be really,” he said.
“I believe that there’s more festivals now more than ever. You look at Jimmy Barnes and you look at Elton John’s [concerts] and they were run really, really successfully.”
Mr Harris believed police had a job to do and they were doing it well, and felt incredibly safe to be running a business in the Wollongong region.
Currently the National Terrorism Threat Level for Australia remains at “Probable”, which reflects the advice of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).
“Security measures vary from event to event,” Supt Smith said. “Police visibility and being in the right places at the right time is also critical.”
Education is now the focus for Supt Craner who said Illawarra residents shouldn’t be afraid, but needed to understand the world had become a different place and community safety was paramount.
Police will be holding a free forum open to owners and operators of events with the Counter Terrorism Command>
It will be at the Wollongong Steelers Club, Monday August 27 at 10:30am.