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Australian Households Begin Receiving Anti-Terror Kits - 2003-02-14

Australian households have started receiving government kits offering tips on how to identify suspicious behavior and survive a terrorist attack. While some citizens applaud the government efforts, others believe they are causing unnecessary expense and alarm.

The anti-terrorism kits arriving on Australian doorsteps this month come with a list of emergency phone numbers and tips on spotting potential trouble.

A booklet in the kit recommends keeping emergency supplies such as water, food, flashlights and batteries on hand in case of an attack.

The kit is part of an $8.8 million government campaign for higher security in Australia. The government began the campaign following the October twelfth bombing on the resort island of Bali that killed 192 people, including 88 Australians.

In addition to the kit, the government has tightened security at airports, national landmarks and foreign embassies. The government and its supporters say Australia could become a target for terrorists if it takes part in a U.S.-led war on Iraq.

The kit urges the public to be vigilant and to report suspicious behavior. According to the booklet, that behavior could include taking pictures of public buildings or videotaping things in an unusual manner.

Critics say the kit only causes unnecessary alarm and could encourage people to single out minorities.

Anthony Bergin, director of the Australian Defense Studies Center at University College, says the booklet addresses these concerns. "I think the kit is careful not to alienate any particular sector of the community. The booklet does have within it, specific references to if there is any signs of discrimination or harassment or singling out of particular ethnic groups," he says.

David Martin Jones, a professor at the University of Tasmania and an expert on the effects of terrorism on society, sees the kit as unnecessary. "I think it is probably a bit over the top," he says. "I just think there is a general insecurity among liberal democratic governments whether they're in the [United] States or in the UK or here: on one level [they] want to make people more aware of the dangers they face from the possibility of an al-Qaida style action, or on the other, trying to be too alarmist."

Opposition parties call the kits a waste of taxpayer money. One opposition leader suggested the money could have been better spent on increasing airport security. Other critics say the kits are just a ploy by the ruling party to win votes.