Sightings Warn of Terror Threat to Sydney Opera House

Sydney residents have been reporting suspicious activity near the world-famous Sydney Opera House. The attraction is situated in the popular tourist destination of Circular Quay, a district of Sydney which, according to Destination New South Wales, the government agency responsible for tourism to the state, handles upwards of three million unique tourists each year. When factoring in visits from locals, this brings the yearly total to roughly nine million individual visitors to the Quay. Given the high amount of pedestrian and vehicular traffic in the area each day, securing the Sydney Opera House and its surroundings has become a topic of conversation among citizens, businesses, and government agencies alike.

Numerous reports from local residents have indicated suspicious vehicles in the vicinity of both the Sydney Opera House Precinct and the Circular Quay area as a whole. One such incident, reported by a citizen who chose to remain anonymous, involved a vehicle entering and driving the length of the pedestrian promenade, undeterred by measures already put in place to prevent such incidents.

Lined by restaurants, hotels, gift shops, and other tourist-favored attractions, the promenade is often crowded with both tourists and locals. The unnamed resident witnessed the work van enter and travel down the walkway, describing the situation as "scary." The incident raised concerns after attacks in Nice, Berlin and London where terrorists used motor vehicles to assault and kill pedestrians.

Additional reports mentioned a food truck and an ice cream van both entering the promenade by way of unmanned slip roads and traveling down the pedestrian walkway. The security bollards, short posts meant to prevent vehicular traffic, did nothing to stop the unlawful intrusion.

One major problem with securing the Sydney Opera House is the vague outline of security responsibilities for the area. Agencies and organizations responsible for sections of the Circular Quay include:

  • the Sydney Opera House
  • City of Sydney Council
  • NSW Police
  • Property NSW

These groups, along with other public and private institutions, have separate properties areas of interest, and concern within the tourist hot-spot. This has lead to broad confusion and poor cooperation between the various departments responsible for administering security and disaster preparedness. When reached for comment, these stakeholders in the area were unsure themselves who was primarily in control of the precinct.

Both residents and local business organizations have called for the city to reevaluate its security and preparedness measures. Patricia Forsythe, the executive director of the Sydney Business, has been especially vocal about the situation, noting a lack of “clear co-­ordination” in administering security of the Opera House. Forsythe told media that is was essentially for the agencies to cooperate and "develop a complete approach to the future development of Circular Quay, which would include security.”

The city itself, being the capital of the New South Wales and Australia's most populous city, is a prime target for terrorist activity. Jacinta Carroll, Counter Terrorism director with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, noted (http://www.news.com.au/national/crime/concern-iconic-sydney-street-is-a-terror-weak-spot/news-story/43ab3d087e3ce542f1894772ae64c1a6) that both the city and the famous landmark itself "have featured in extremist literature suggesting and inspiring targets.”

However, she went on to clarify that this was true for London, Paris, and many other world-famous cities, including other popular destinations in Australia. Carroll further echoed Forsythe's call for a combined approach, but cautioned that, regardless of security efforts, there is "always a risk.”