The true threat of terrorism

Screen grab from Isis video

Terrorism is often sensationalised in the media and by politicians, but how big a threat is it really? Emily Burley takes a look at the statistics.

Screen grab from Isis video

PHOTO: IS militant ‘Jihadi John’ has renewed terror fears in recent videos showing the executions of Western journalists.

How serious is the threat of terrorism to Australians? We spend billions of taxpayer dollars fighting it and sacrifice some of our most basic freedoms for it, so one can assume terrorists pose a pretty serious risk to our lives.

Since the Hilton Hotel bombing in Sydney 36 years ago, there have been 113 Australian victims of terrorism. This includes both Australians killed overseas and foreigners killed here.

Looking at Australian Bureau of Statistics data on causes of death from the last 12 years, it seems we might be better off focusing on threats much more real.

In the years 2003-2012, there were 2617 homicides in Australia. This is 23 times the number of all terrorism victims since the 1978 Hilton Hotel bombing. In the same decade, there were 8500 people killed in car collisions, and an alarming 22,800 suicide deaths.

Clearly terrorism is not the greatest threat to the lives of Australians.

Risks slightly more comparable to being killed by terrorists include tractor accidents (137 Australians between 2003-2012), electrocution (206 Australians) and falling from ladders (230 Australians). In order to find a cause of death that has claimed less lives than terrorism, we must look at even more specific occurrences; 10 people were killed by lightning in the decade 2003-2012.

My point isn’t to belittle the impact terrorism has on those affected by it, but rather to consider how some of the billions of dollars spent fighting it may be better directed.

In the years 2003-2012, 1700 indigenous Australians died from diabetes: a rate around seven times higher than non-indigenous Australians. If a small amount of money used to fund the war in Iraq was spent on programs to lower that rate, hundreds of lives could have been saved.

In the same decade, between 700 and 1000 women and children (estimated at 850) were killed by their partners or parents in domestic homicides. Surely this deserves more attention than it’s getting?

It’s only fair to assume our intelligence and law enforcement agencies have stopped terrorist attacks from happening here in Australia during this time. While we can’t be certain, ASIO says it has stopped four attacks since 2001. According to the Global Terrorism Database, the average causalities of all terrorist attacks worldwide since 2000 – including the perpetrators – is 2.27 people. Four terrorist attacks in Australia would kill, on average, 10 people.

Terrorism isn’t a threat that should be altogether dismissed; 113 Australian lives lost is significant. However, there are many causes of death that claim far more lives, and get considerably less attention from our politicians and mainstream media. Yet, the tiny, distant chance of being killed by a non-white non-Christian is enough to push a traditionally racist country over the edge.