A 41-year-old member of the Australian Navy claimed that he was attacked outside his home in Bella Vista, North-West Sydney, while wearing his navy uniform.
He claimed his attackers were two men of middle-eastern appearance and that he suffered bruising as a result, and that his attackers had threatened to slit his throat.
The report attracted a great deal of media attention including the Channel 9 headline:
‘Navy Officer Attacked in Bella Vista – Military Warned Not to Wear Uniform in Public’.
It also led to a flurry of racially charged remarks on radio, television and social media pages.
And Muslim Community Leaders, accepting the report as true, condemned the attack as ‘abominable’.
The report even contributed to the Defence Force Chief’s decision to raise the alert level of all military bases and establishments.
The alleged assault came just days after the largest ‘anti-terrorism raids’ Australia has ever seen, which have so far revealed very little to substantiate a terrorism threat here.
But police have come out and said ‘we believe it actually never took place’, suggesting that the report was entirely fabricated.
The Member has now withdrawn his claims.
The Defence Force Chief has also issued an apology to the community, especially the Middle Eastern community, after speaking with NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione who informed him that the complaint was completely baseless.
But mud sticks, and the Australian Muslim community has borne the brunt of the claims.
Unreliable and unsubstantiated reports can be very damaging to those they are directed towards.
They also waste police resources which could be directed in meaningful ways.
The alleged threat of cutting the sailor’s throat by men of Middle-Eastern appearance conjures images of the shocking beheadings of innocent people by the ‘Islamic State’ overseas in recent times.
And perhaps community fears of such disgraceful incidents occurring here in Australia is what the officer intended to incite.
Before it was found to be baseless, the report certainly succeeded in stirring up religious hatred and triggering attacks against Australian Muslims.
One Muslim family was targeted in a shooting in Queensland which was described as racially motivated, and other parts of Australia saw a striking backlash against the Muslim community.
Staff and students in one Sydney Islamic school were allegedly confronted by a man who came in holding a knife.
An Islamic centre in Brisbane was vandalised with racist graffiti.
And it is almost impossible to go past the ignorant comments of Jacqui Lambie who seems to think that Sharia law is predominantly about terrorism.
Even Clive Palmer has tried to distance himself from her comments, and has indicated that she is not very bright.
And while Lambie is perhaps one of the more well-known voices to chime in, many others took to the air and internet to voice their Islamaphobia, leading Muslims to say they feel they are the ones being terrorised.
But putting all of this aside, one wonders what charges await the man who made the report.
Deliberately making false accusations is a serious crime in NSW.
And this incident is a prime example of why they are dealt with seriously.
Surely his conduct, if substantiated, must be seen at the higher end of objective seriousness for offences of this type.
Accusations made in order to subject another person to investigation of an offence, when the accuser knows them to be innocent, carry a maximum seven year jail term if the case is decided in the District Court.
The maximum penalty is two years if the case remains in the Local Court.
For false accusations to be a crime, they must have been made knowingly, not by mistake.
The offence of ‘public mischief’ is also available, which carries a maximum penalty of 12 months imprisonment and/or $5,500 fine.
Amongst all the media hype about terrorism, it can be hard enough to make sense of where we all stand – and we certainly don’t need false and harmful claims by people who are supposed to carry a level of respectability and responsibility.