OPINION: The NSW police force publicity machine is an ambitious, if not audacious beast.
Less than 24 hours after Deputy Commissioner Catherine Burn was accused by fellow deputy Nick Kaldas of bugging him in a "possibly illegal operation" she has been trotted-out again as the face of NSW counter-terrorism.
Ms Burn was briefing the media on the arrest of two terror suspects in Sydney’s west but the "business as usual strategy" from the police hierarchy defies the reality that is tearing the force apart.
After the bitterness exposed by the upper house inquiry into the bugging scandal, nobody could for a second pretend the management of the NSW Police Force was not seriously fractured, or completely dysfunctional.
Yet someone within the police force, perhaps at the most senior level, seems determined to build Catherine Burn's public profile on the back of counter-terrorism.
It's a brave move considering the intensity with which the NSW coroner will scrutinise the police force for its handling of the Martin Place siege.
Hostages are now posing their own questions about the effectiveness of the police operation, which ended with the deaths of two innocent people.
One survivor has demanded answers on why crack army commandos - based just half an hour from the Sydney CBD at Holsworthy - were not used as part of the emergency response.
After all the East Coast Tactical Assault Group been training for a domestic hostage siege situation since the 2nd RAR unit was unveiled by former Defence Minister Robert Hill 13 years - and billions of taxpayer dollars ago.
“The special forces Tactical Assault Group is an elite unit to deploy at short notice to respond to a terrorist incident, such as a hostage siege,” the Minister’s release assured us.
This week 7News revealed the very same commandos had been training at Martin Place, right alongside the Lindt Cafe just 18 months before the siege.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott backed NSW Premier Mike Baird in his support of Commissioner Andrew Scipione’s rejection of the army’s offer to help on December 14. We have since been left to ponder the absurdity of the Federal Government’s retrospective declaration of the siege as a "terror event" for the sake of compensating sandwich shop owners and other small businesses around Martin Place for lost trade during the crisis.
Yet on the day of the siege itself the NSW Police said to the army: “Thanks but no thanks – we will handle this.” Tony Abbott then told the National Security Council the siege was not a terrorist situation that required the army's intervention.
The sea of flowers left by thousands of mourners in Martin Place left no illusion about the public perception of the siege as a terrorist incident, yet Commissioner Scipione stood in the floral ocean two days later and said his force were “more experienced” than the commando unit – despite the latter’s repeated deployments to the theatres of Afghanistan and the Middle East.
Commissioner Scipione went on to assert: “We do this every day. In fact on the very day of the siege we were responding to four similar situations.”
Similar? The last hostage situation on a similar scale was the Spit Bridge siege 30 years earlier. What exactly did the Commissioner mean by “similar”? …that police put on their uniforms that day and put their keys in the ignition? Where did the similarities begin and end?
Hopefully these will be questions addressed by the Coroner – the authority to which Catherine Burn deferred when refusing to answer questions about the decision to have her lead the Martin Place operation rather than the leader of a highly-trained, elite commando unit.
Seasoned army commandos have told 7News the Tactical Assault Group would have acted with the same ruthless efficiency employed by French special forces when they shot dead the two terrorists responsible for the Charlie Hebdo atrocity - without the loss of civilian lives.