Do not judge these people, Reverend Nile. You are not entitled to. None of us are.

There are two words that we all use so much, they have lost their meaning – “Don’t judge”.

We beg it of others and we claim not to do it ourselves.

And yet it’s an impossible ask. We make judgements about every piece of information that enters our crowded brains, every moment of every day. Of course we do, and of course we should.

Questioning is powerful, automatic acceptance is foolish.

But there are some circumstances, some experiences, about which there is no alternative: Do not judge.

The Martin Place memorial.

Until now, the Australian people and the Australian media have held themselves to that position when it came to what happened to 17 Sydneysiders on December 15, 2014. The day of the Sydney siege.

But then the Reverend Fred Nile – a caricature of a religious extremist, yes, but still an elected member of the New South Wales Parliament, a person who holds considerable power – opened his mouth and unleashed his judgement on the way the male hostages behaved that day.

On Sunrise this morning, Nile made the astonishing assertion that, “The only man really there [in the Lindt cafe] was the man with the gun.”

Reverend Fred Niles.

“Usually men try to protect the women,” he went on to say. “But it looks like the men were trying to protect their own skins.”

The day before, talking to 2UE radio, he addressed the issue, raised by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, of whether the siege hostages, those that died, Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson, and those 15 that survived, should be awarded medals for bravery.

“Obviously they [the hostages who fled] were wanting to escape and save their lives, but normally bravery awards are given for an act of bravery, that somebody actually does something, and they haven’t done anything.

“But I think the awards, as Tony Abbott suggested, for the two hostages that died, I think they certainly should be given the awards.

“I just don’t think it’s something that should be rewarded with a bravery award…

He went on to add, “Maybe they could have done something more to protect the women, but I guess when you’re with a dangerous Islamic terrorist with a shotgun, you’re not thinking about protocol, you’re thinking about how to save your own life.”

There are only 15 people in the world who know what it was like have been at the Lindt Cafe in Sydney’s Martin Place on December 15 at 9.45AM when Man Haron Monis stopped chatting to the staff and pulled out a gun.

Should the Sydney siege hostages get bravery awards? This politician says no.

There are only 15 people who know how it felt to have an ordinary day, of mundane errands and work commitments, of school drop-offs and medical appointments, lurch dramatically into a waking nightmare.

These are those 15 people: (post continues after gallery)

It should go without saying – but I will say it, all the same – that no-one expects sensible commentary from Fred Nile. This is a man who is most famous for leading prayers for rain at the start of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras every year. This is a man who is on-the-record with his rampantly anti-abortion stance, and with his abhorant views on Islam. Fred Nile is not a reasonable man.

The offending tweet, which has now been deleted.

But his words are dangerous, because saying them out loud gives them weight, gives them currency, and sends them out on the ether to be discussed. Today, because of his comments, people are talking about the actions of the escaped and surviving hostages, and bringing their judgement.

Sydney siege hostage Julie Taylor speaks out.

The people Fred Nile has accused of doing nothing will have heard him say that. They will hear the consequent debates. They might read this column.


The people Fred Nile has accused of doing nothing will be feeling the eyes of their loved ones and strangers on them, wondering, ‘Do they understand?’ And of course, they do not.

The people Fred Nile has accused of doing nothing carry an enormous burden. One that can only be eased by expert counselling and time.

In their own words: What happened inside Martin Place’s Lindt chocolate shop.

A burden that will only have been added to over the past seven days, when stories of gunmen and hostages – dead and alive – beam from every television, shout from every front page, leap from every phone and computer in their lives.

Of course we can all play a game of “what would I have done?” in these unimaginable circumstances. It’s human nature to immediately put ourselves in the shoes of others.

Pressing a big red button that led your release, as hostage John O’Brien has said he did, might have just as easily led to a shot in the back, and death. These are split-second decisions, made under enormous stress.

Hostages Fiona Ma and Selina Win Pe comfort each other at the Marin Place memorial.

Would your responsibility to your own family, parents, spouse and own children – and despite Nile’s gender snipe, it’s abhorrent to suggest that would be any less of a motivating factor in a man than a woman – be the only focus when your life is in desperate danger?

But this is a shallow game. Our elected officials should be above it.

There are 15 people in the world who know what it was like to be in the Lindt Cafe at 9.45 AM on December 15th.

There should be two more people who survived to tell that story, but there are not. Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson lost their lives that night. Nobody is arguing about whether or not they should be recognised as heroes. And not should they be.

Remembering Katrina Dawson: “Mummy is in heaven. And heaven is in my heart.”

Today, Tori Johnson’s friends celebrates his “love, generosity and life.”

But as the the inquests release their findings, and police leaks drip disturbing detail, it becomes clearer and clearer that what happened in that dark cafe that night was a terrifying, chaotic mess. One that 15 people will likely relive every day for the rest of their lives.

Volunteers removing the memorial from Martin Place.

According to Reverend Nile, they are not heroes. They do not deserve our awards or recognition. They should only be questioning their actions, and wondering if they could have done more, could have done better.

An 82-year-old man. A 19-year-old boy. A pregnant woman. Terrified students. Mothers and fathers.

The hostages say goodbye.

They survived. And that is its own special hell.

They might not be “heroes” for the Reverend. But we will never forget what they went through.

And we will not judge them.

How do you feel about Nile’s claims that the hostages weren’t ‘manly’?

* This story was edited to include new information on the morning of Thursday, January 15.