Anti-terror campaign hits home

The Age 02/03/03: Brendan Nicholson

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The Federal Government will send every Australian home a booklet this week explaining what to do in the event of a terrorist attack, with instructions on first aid, preparing a survival kit and drafting an emergency plan to collect children from school and check on elderly neighbours.

The booklet and a letter from the Prime Minister are part of a package that develops the "be alert but not alarmed" theme of the television advertisement released last month.

The package includes general directions on what to do in case of a chemical, biological or radioactive onslaught and a card attached to a fridge magnet with the number of the 24-hour security hot-line (1800 123 400) on which members of the public are asked to report suspicious activity.

Anyone with such suspicions who doesn't speak English is urged to call an interpreting service (131 450) and then ask to be connected to the security hot-line.

The booklet suggests that residents develop their own household emergency plan that would include assigning someone to check on elderly neighbours and collect children from school, arranging a meeting place should family members be separated and turning off power, gas and water if necessary.

An emergency kit should include a torch, battery operated radio, first aid materials and copies of key personal documents.

The booklet warns that Australians will probably be living with increased security concerns for the foreseeable future and says they should keep up to date with the news through the media.

In a "Dear Fellow Australian" letter, Prime Minister John Howard repeats his call for people to strike the right balance between sensible precaution and unnecessary alarm.

Distribution of the booklet follows the launch last month of a television advertisement calling on Australians to be vigilant but still maintain their way of life.

Mr Howard says Australia's intelligence, law enforcement, defence and emergency services are well prepared to respond to the threat of terrorism, but that response does not depend on governments alone.

"Time and time again a member of the public who has noticed something unusual or suspicious in their neighbourhood or workplace and reported it to the police has prevented a crime from being committed," Mr Howard's letter reads.

"We need now to take the same approach to terrorism and I ask all Australians to help."

Mr Howard says it is not possible to give a detailed list of things that might be suspicious.

"I encourage you to be aware of what's going on around you and to use your judgment and common sense when something seems out of place."

The booklet cites as an example of such awareness an episode where hotel staff noticed guests acting suspiciously and alerted police who found weapons and explosives in their room.

It suggests as possible signs of terrorist activity, people videotaping or photographing official buildings or structures, suspicious vehicles near significant buildings or parked in busy public places, suspicious accommodation needs, unusual purchases of fertiliser, chemicals or explosives, a lifestyle that doesn't add up or the use of false or multiple identities.

In his letter, Mr Howard says Australians must work together to make sure no religion or section of the community is made a scapegoat for the actions of a small number of fanatics.

The booklet includes contact details for human-rights offices across the country that can investigate complaints from anyone subjected to racial vilification.

It lists improvements to security, police and defence organisations and changes to security legislation.

The booklet is also available in braille and on audiocassette.
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