The Abbott Government on Monday announced 54 schools — including 17 Jewish schools and 15 Islamic schools — will share in $18 million dollars to employ security guards and CCTV cameras. Another 11 independent schools a 11 government schools will also beef up security.
The funding is part of the government’s strategy for tackling racial and religious intolerance and follows a speech by the PM last week where he declared the threat of terrorism is rising in Australia and announced a number of counterterrorism measures.
It comes seven months after a Jewish primary school in Melbourne’s east was evacuated because of a bomb scare, six months after eight men climbed aboard a Jewish school bus in Sydney’s eastern suburbs and threatened to cut the throats of 25 children and just three months after the AFP called on teachers to look out for students they feared susceptible to radicalisation.
Robert Goot from the Executive Council of Australian Jewry said attacks overseas and at home have led to a grim realisation that Australia is not immune to the threat of a terror attack.
“There’s been a resurgence of anti-Semitism in the last year and attacks at Paris, Copenhagen, Toulouse and Brussels,” Mr Goot told news.com.au.
“(The funding) is bittersweet: We’re grateful for the help but we would prefer not to have to secure our schools to the extent we do.”
Justice Minister Michael Keenan made the announcement on Monday, declaring “all our children have the right to be educated in a safe and secure setting”.
“This support recognises the unique security circumstances that some schools face,’’ he said.
More than $7 million will go to Jewish schools where parents have traditionally paid additional fees on top of tuition to ensure the safety of their children. Islamic schools will receive $4.5 million.
But 44 schools which applied for funding because parents and staff believed students were “at risk of attack, harassment or violence stemming from racial or religious intolerance” missed out.
Mr Goot said no longer can Australia ignore the threat faced elsewhere.
“There’s a potential for acts of terror to occur here,” he said.
“We and the federal authorities think it’s just a matter of time before it happens and that measures ought to be undertaken to ensure students are safe.”
Last August, the King David School in the Melbourne suburb of Armidale was evacuated and the Bomb Response Unit was called after a “suspicious looking vehicle” was parked outside the school’s front entrance. It turned out to be a false alarm but the school’s principal Marc Light said he was “following regular protocols”.
Students aboard a bus in Bondi in the same month were threatened by teens who yelled “Kill Jews” and “Heil Hitler”. Extra security, including armed guards, was deployed outside the gates of Mount Sinai College in Maroubra.
Community leaders, including local MP Malcolm Turnbull, called for calm in the weeks after the attack.
“The police and the courts will deal with the offenders in this case, but all of us should pause and reflect on our obligation, whatever our calling, to be always vigilant in opposing racism and racist language,” Mr Turnbull said at the time.