21 September 2023

Is Canberra really a safe place?

| Ian Bushnell
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police cars at ANU

ACT police on the scene at the ANU campus on Monday. Photo: Joanne Griffiths.

In the aftermath of this week’s stabbing attack at the ANU, those in authority rushed to reassure Canberrans that they were safe.

Aware of the damage such an attack could do to its reputation, particularly with overseas students, the ANU was quick to emphasise the safety of its campus.

“We’re a peaceful campus,” ANU Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Sally Wheeler said.

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But it didn’t help that it was allegedly the second time the man charged, Alex Leonard Ophel, had embarked on an indiscriminate attack on campus.

Police also moved to reassure the public.

“Obviously, any violent offence is concerning. ANU and Canberra are usually very safe places,” Detective Stephanie Leonard said.

As did Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury: “Canberra is a very safe city … [this] is a very rare incident for the ACT.”

But like everyone, Mr Rattenbury wants to know why Ophel, a paranoid schizophrenic who was found not guilty of the 2017 baseball bat attack at the ANU due to mental impairment, was at large and able to find his way to the campus for another alleged attack.

He has ordered the Chief Psychiatrist to investigate the circumstances surrounding Ophel.

This case is a reminder of crimes committed by people while on bail or after light or suspended sentences.

The breakthrough arrest this week in the murder of Irma Palasics also revived memories of the horrendous home invasion she and her husband suffered and a trotting out of the ACT’s unsolved murders.

For those with a law and order axe to grind or who have lost loved ones, these violent acts point to a jurisdiction soft on crime where understaffed police have their hands tied and the courts give criminals too much of the benefit of the doubt.

While there is a case for more police as Canberra’s population grows, all of the above are correct in saying Canberra is generally a safe place.

That may be of little comfort to those affected by crime, whether they be random acts, break-ins, road trauma, or sexual, family and domestic violence.

Their experience should not be played down.

But Canberra is still a small town, so when major crime happens, it is a big deal, and the courts are reliable fodder for the news cycle, magnifying crime’s prominence.

It is important not to lose perspective because statistically, crime rates in the ACT have been falling in recent years and if you want to live in a safe city, Canberra is the place to be compared with the other capitals.

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Giving police more powers, compromising the bail system and removing discretion from the courts is a simplistic approach that will mean overflowing prisons – and the Alexander Maconochie Centre is already full, so judges and magistrates are still putting offenders away – but won’t prevent bad things happening.

It has been tried before and failed.

Having said that, the government needs to ensure that the Chief Psychiatrist’s investigation is swift and that if any systemic issues are found, they are fixed.

Canberra may be safe, but there is no point tempting fate.

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I grew up in Canberra and I can’t help but feel that the majority of Canberran’s are subconsciously bored with their lives and therefore whenever an incident like the stabbing at ANU happens there’s a gross over-reaction of “Canberra’s not safe!” We obviously have crime but compared to other cities it’s pretty pissweak (except for the Motorbike Gangs). When you get an increase of a population and especially in a small area the rate of violent crime will increase. Also, on a broader leve, l the increase of crime is a result of a breakdown in discipline during childhood.

For all of you people out there advocating for a greater police presence in safe little Canberra, Braddon and Reid were the places to be today. Driving along Limestone Avenue towards the war memorial this morning, following the road rules and sticking to the speed limit as I always do, I saw a police car in my rear vision mirror. As he sped up behind me with flashing lights and his siren blasting, I thought I had been targeted for goodness knows what. Surrounded by traffic and with nowhere to go the police car was close behind me. The driver I could see in the rear vision mirror was yelling at at me with his hand on the horn. I indicated in my rear vision mirror with my hand that I understood and turned right. He sped past me.

Within two minutes I saw 8 police cars with sirens blaring speeding through Braddon. 

What in the goodness sake was going on? There has been nothing in the media. 

And people wonder why we have such a bad impression of police!

So a police car wanting you to move out of their way as they were on the way to an emergency and then seeing a further 7 police cars plus not having whatever they were attending to reported in the media means that you don’t like cops.

yeah that makes sense….not.

Gregg Heldon8:11 am 25 Sep 23

And if your refusal to allow the police pass you, because you don’t
like them, even though they had their emergency lights on,resulted in a death or serious injury? What then?
I hope you get an infringement notice in the post as you dd commit a traffic offence.

Maybe goggles and Gregg Heldon can advise me what I should have done for future reference.

Mr Heldon thinks I should be issued with an infringement notice because he believes I committed an offence.

I had an aggressive police officer bearing down on me on one of Canberra’s busiest roads, blasting his horn with his lights flashing and siren sounding. I was hemmed in with cars all around me and there was nowhere to turn or pull over. The next turnoff was about 150m down the road and there were roadworks ahead outside the AWM with only one lane in operation and cars merging.

I thought he was pulling me over for some obscure reason and I was indicating to him with my hand that I understood and had my indicator on to turn right. I imagine it would have been a pretty frightening experience for an elderly person or visitors to Canberra. I wonder how goggles and Mr Heldon would feel if it was one of their elderly relations.

I have never seen ambulance or fire truck drivers act so aggressively when attending emergencies.

Grateful for your advice goggles and Gregg Heldon!

Gregg Heldon12:14 pm 25 Sep 23

I know you committed an offence. It’s called impeding an emergency vehicle.
If you’re on the inside lane along Limestone Avenue, then you go onto the median strip. I’ve done that in the past. Emergency vehicles have priority. Everyone gets taught that. Entitled “drivers” choose to ignore it.
I find it disturbing that you are choosing to brag about holding up an emergency vehicle with its blues and twos on.
Maybe you find that satisfying. Most people wouldn’t. They’d have better morals and standards.

I am certainly not bragging about it Gregg Heldon nor do I consider myself an entitled driver. I have an impeccable driving record, am considerate and follow the road rules always.

Yes I did certainly consider driving over the kerb and up on to the nature strip. In the short period of time I had to make a decision, a police vehicle following closely behind and being surrounded by other drivers it was safer for me to turn the corner. Rather than put myself and my passengers in danger by mounting the kerb at the speed I was travelling in my low built car and hitting the signs and trees which lined the the nature strip.

I am not familiar with blues and twos just that there was a police vehicle which suddenly appeared behind me from nowhere. The driver appeared aggressive and was pressing down on his horn with his lights flashing.

I never have nor would I ever impede an emergency vehicle. I was under the mistaken belief that the officer in his police vehicle wanted to pull me over for reasons I did not know. I did clearly indicate to him that I would be turning right to pull over and I had my right light flashing to do so.

Hilarious that Jack D thinks a police officer attending an emergency with lights and siren on is somehow “agressive” for trying to get to that emergency as fast as possible without being slowed down unnecessarily.

And he’s actually posted his own clear driving incompetence in not getting out of the way as if it’s somehow the police’s fault. Unbelievable.

Perhaps he should read Rule 78 of the Australian Road Rules around not impeding an emergency vehicle, instead of posting here first.

Call me a bit naive chewy but I am a bit unsure of what the appropriate colour of a police vehicle’s lights are when they pull over a driver. 

How do you react when you see those red and blue lights fast approaching you in your rear vision mirror? Does your heart go pitter patter like mine did and you wonder what the hell you did wrong? Or do you panic like most people and maybe do something extreme and put your life in danger and those around you too?

The rules and regulations surrounding lights, speed, police and emergency vehicles are varied throughout Australia. It is a well known fact that the biggest problem facing our emergency services workers when attending a crisis is people panicking. Luckily our professionals, the emergency services people, the paramedics and fire crews take this seriously. They approach road users with care and consideration as they did with me and other motorists a few weeks ago on Fairbairn Avenue when attending a rear end collision. They also approach intersections with their sirens turned off and their lights on to avoid generating a sense of panic. That is not what the police officer did on this occasion blasting his horn with his lights flashing and siren blaring and I panicked.

My understanding is if you are approached by an emergency services or police vehicle with their lights flashing and you can’t see a safe place to pull over, use your indicator so that the police know you are looking for a safe spot to pull over.

That is what I did!

@jack d you might not have any options to pull over safely to let the police vehicles past, however it seems that you over-reacted to the situation and to the replies received to your post where you criticise the police for doing their job. are you an expert in police work such that you know how many cop cars should attend an emergency?

Wait… Do you think Police have different lights for when they want someone to pull over and for when they want someone to get out of the way?

Also, you think Ambulance and Fire do not have the sirens on at intersections? You will find that between intersections they are least like to have the siren on and will definitely have it on approaching and within and intersection. This isn’t to stop panic, it’s to reduce the noise hazard that the occupants of the vehicles are subject to.

All you are doing is bashing the Police going to an emergency situation. You didn’t know how to deal with it and took it personally that “nasty” police man made you feel bad that you didn’t get out of the way. Your opinion doesn’t really matter, that police officer would do more for the community any day of the week than you you would in a life time, give them some credit for the work they do and the people they help.

Now you are embarrassed that you voiced your opinion and no-one agrees with you?

Maybe the police were trying to arrest the man who committed the stabbing and stole a car from Westfield Belconnen? He was arrested in Braddon. That’s what 8 cars where doing and you were holding them up from arresting him. Good work. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-09-25/act-man-stabbed-woman-in-alleged-carjacking-westfield-car-park/102897976

I’m reminded of ACT crime every time I drive past the crash site on the Monaro Highway, just before the Lanyon Drive turn off

Difficult questions need to asked. “Ophel, a paranoid schizophrenic who was found not guilty of the 2017 baseball bat attack at the ANU due to mental impairment, was at large and able to find his way to the campus for another alleged attack.”. Why? Why was he found not guilty of attacking people with a baseball bat? Did ACT Chief Prosecutor Shane Drummond stuff up that case as well? Why was Ophel then later freed and unsupervised? Did he convince some gullible officials that he was no longer a threat? How? Will he again be found not guilty of the latest ANU attack due to mental impairment? What does society do with unpredictable irrational violent people who are an ongoing risk and may attack again anywhere, anytime and with any weapon? Where are criminally insane people incarcerated? How do we stop them being released? The safety of the entire community must always take priority over the rights of a mentally deranged homicidal recidivist like Ophel. Or the next question has to be when, who and where will he attack next time?

The Chief Psychiatrist should not be asked to examine himself. What’s wrong with an independent inquiry?

And the efforts to undermine our justice system poses a much greater risk to all of us than do the criminals in our midst”

So the people trying to improve the justice system to give a higher priority to victims are a greater risk than the actual criminals.


If you ever wanted a better example of the loony “progressive” mindset on crime, Christine Stevens regularly outdoes himself.

Although strange that these types of people never comment around how safe it is when left wing activists are pushing a narrative of feeling unsafe or there being an increasing amount of assaults.

eg. https://the-riotact.com/horror-story-after-horror-story-anu-students-protest-sexual-violence-on-campus-for-sixth-consecutive-year/689106

It’s made unsafe by left wing nutters pushing to raise the age of criminal culpability, decriminalisation of drugs and ongoing campaigns to “rehabilitate” and “treat” psychological disorders rather than using prisons and the criminal justice system. Have a serial killer roaming the streets? No worries, let’s put him through years of therapy that will fix his “mental disorder” and then release him back out there a reformed man.

Ian, you are wrong. Sexual assault in Canberra is not diminishing and it is a violent crime, even if you don’t think so.

Where do you get your info from psycho? The ACT Police website claims that the ACT is the safest capital city in Australia to live. In fact, the ACT does not even make it into the 10 most unsafe cities in Australia.
The crime statistics are even on the ACT Police website. They have been divided into different crime types and regions for people to easily research.

How good is that!

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