News National ‘Necessary evil’: Security boost for Anzac marches but spirit remains intact

‘Necessary evil’: Security boost for Anzac marches but spirit remains intact

Veterans march to Melbourne's Shrine of Remembrance for the Anzac Day march. Photo: AAP
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Security is being boosted at Anzac Day dawn services and marches this year amid heightened safety awareness after recent terror attacks.

But Diggers have resolved not to let fear of groups who seek to threaten freedom ruin the annual commemorations.

In line with our New Zealand counterparts who have reduced the number of marches due to terrorism fears, many Australian services will use concrete bollards and a greater police presence as a deterrent.

In Victoria, the regional cities of Bendigo and Ballarat will have, for the first time, bollards in place for marches. It’s a move Ballarat’s Return Servicemen League (RSL) secretary Maurice Keating described as a “necessary evil”.

“It’s a bit sad, but it’s just part of the world we live in right now,” Mr Keating said.

“I don’t think regional areas are such a big target, but we have to take precautions too if that’s what it takes for marches to go ahead.”

But the move have not been universally welcomed.

Vietnam Veterans Association (VVA) president Paul Penno lamented the bollards being brought in for Bendigo’s Anzac Day commemorations.

“We see the imposition of barriers to hide behind on Anzac Day as a disgrace and a moral victory to those who wish to oppress us,” Mr Penno told the Bendigo Advertiser.

“Being able to move freely about and gather in the public domain is what democracy is all about.”

Mr Penno said the Bendigo branch’s 40 members “unanimously opposed” the move on the grounds the security barriers were overly risk adverse.

In Melbourne, permanent bollards have been erected in the city after the 2017 Bourke St car rampage, during which a driver of a stolen car killed six pedestrians. It was not found to be a terror-related incident.

Yet the city is no stranger to terror plots that involve vehicles.

In 2015, an Australian-born man, Sevdet Besim, was arrested and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for planning to drive a car into, then behead, a law enforcement officer on Anzac Day in Melbourne.

In Australia the terror threat level remains at probable, where it has been since September 2014. The threat level is regularly reviewed in line with the security environment and intelligence.

Marches nearly cancelled

In New South Wales, two marches were cancelled over concerns not enough resources were in place to protect the public from an attack.

Epping RSL in north-west Sydney, cancelled its decades-old march for the first time over concerns that there was not enough security to prevent a rogue car from crashing into marchers.

The nearby Hornsby RSL followed suit, before NSW Police stepped in to ensure both would proceed.

In New Zealand – still recovering from the March 15 terror shootings at two Christchurch mosques – only 26 commemorations will go ahead in Auckland, down from 84 in 2018.

The Anzac Day parade in Brisbane. Photo: AAP

RSL adamant it is business as usual

Despite the encroachment of security, many RSL clubs across the country retain a steely resolve not to let it diminish the spirit of the occasion or take away from moments of sombre reflection.

No doubt – as in previous years – Anzac Day commemorations will include the games of Two-Up, gunfire breakfasts of rum, coffee, bacon and eggs, and a beer or two with mates.

In Western Australia, Fremantle RSL vice-president Robert Fittock said his community accepts that security efforts are part of the changing times.

“In recent years we have been used to security being higher than it once was on Anzac Day. Especially here in a smaller city,” Mr Fittock said.

“Still it’s business as usual.”

This year Fremantle’s RSL branch have moved with the times in another way.

This year its Anzac Day ceremony will feature an ode from Professor Len Collard, a Whadjuk Nyungar elder, who will read the verse in an Indigenous language.

When they gather on Monument Hill on Thursday morning, Mr Fittock is adamant that any security will be in the “background”.

All eyes, minds and hearts, he hopes, will be on remembering the men and women who have given so much to this country.

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