So when parents and children attending Christmas carols on Monday night, December 12, at St Joseph the Worker Primary School in South Auburn were abused and spat on by "young men of Middle Eastern appearance", there were no police to protect them. Not even when the sounds of gunshots echoed inside the church, and parked cars were pumped full of bullets. "Police were called by a number of parents and the principal, but they were unable to attend because they were needed elsewhere," said Cardinal George Pell in a statement.
The police were busy that night - Sydney′s mini Kristallnacht "night of the broken glass" - as carloads of men drove east from Lakemba and Punchbowl to systematically attack whole streets of parked cars with bats and machetes. Identified by police as being of the proverbial Middle-Eastern appearance - code for Lebanese Muslim, despite the fact many are second-generation Australians - they also stabbed a man, smashed a woman′s head with a bat, attacked another woman in a pizza shop and a man who was putting out his rubbish.
They were extracting revenge for the riot the day before on Cronulla beach when a protest against continuing intimidation of beachgoers by thugs described as Lebanese turned ugly and drunken racists attacked passers-by suspected of being "Lebs".
The retaliation from the gangs of the south-west was a calculated show of strength, with victims reportedly being asked if they were "Australian" before being attacked. Over the next 24 hours another three churches in Sydney′s south-west were attacked.
With police unable to guarantee safety, Holy Spirit College at Lakemba cancelled its carols service. Other schools in the south-west cancelled concerts and end-of-year presentations or hired security guards.
Thus the lead-up to Christmas this year has been notable for a rash of cancellations of traditional yuletide activities. The North Cronulla surf carnival was called off. As was the Bondi Surf Bathers Life Saving Club′s annual Christmas cheer party, and a carols concert expected to draw 3000 people to Coogee beach.
Rather than a problem of race, religion or multiculturalism, Sydney is suffering from a longstanding crime problem. It is a textbook case of how soft policing and lenient magistrates embolden successive waves of criminals, infecting other people who might otherwise have been law-abiding.
The roots of the problem can be traced back to Telopea Street, Punchbowl, in 1998 when a Korean schoolboy, Edward Lee, 14, was stabbed to death because he went to the wrong house for a birthday party and looked at the wrong people in the wrong way. He didn′t know that a notorious group of extended Lebanese-Muslim families, descended from the lawless hill tribes of Northern Lebanon, lived in Telopea Street.
When police arrived they were surrounded and intimidated by about 100 people. For two years they seemed incapable of solving the crime, despite at least 20 witnesses.
Lee′s mother, Soobin, searching for clues to the death of her only child, went doorknocking in Telopea Street and the inhabitants laughed in her face. His father took to sleeping on top of his son′s grave and weeping.
Eventually a youth, who was 15 at the time of the stabbing, was charged with Lee′s killing. In 2003, the youth, who had said "f---ing Asian deserved it" after the stabbing, was sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in jail. His friend, now-jailed triple murderer Michael Kanaan, received a three-year sentence for being an accessory after the fact.
But Lee′s killing had brought unwanted police attention to Telopea Street′s criminal activities, which included drugs and car rebirthing rackets. Soon Lakemba police station was attacked with machine-gun fire, death threats were made to police on their radio network and a police car was shot at as it travelled down Telopea Street. Kanaan was acquitted this year of the attack on the police station, which prosecutors said was to teach police a lesson for "hassling Lebanese people". An alleged accomplice skipped bail and was arrested in Lebanon on terrorism charges. No one has been brought to justice over the attack.
The police commissioner of the time, Peter Ryan, talked tough and did little.
Seven years later, the police are still running scared.
Last week, Channel Seven reported it had obtained a police incident report instructing police officers to stay away from Punchbowl Park that Monday night, where a group of men were congregating before heading to Maroubra.
The report said "a direction was given to police about midnight not to enter the area and antagonise these persons".
The Police Minister, Carl Scully, told reporters he defended the decision not to confront the group. Superintendent John Richardson was quoted saying a car crew sent to Punchbowl Park, where 10 cars and 40 men had gathered, was "ordered to withdraw and observe from afar. There was no trouble and sending police in would only cause trouble."
Setting the example of an astonishing lack of nerve, the Premier, Morris Iemma, told Sydneysiders to stay away from the beach for safety and then cancelled his Christmas media reception which had been scheduled for last Wednesday night. He appeared in every media appearance like a rabbit frozen in the spotlight, perhaps frightened of alienating Lebanese Muslims in his electorate of Lakemba.
That Iemma′s electorate is at war with former premier Bob Carr′s former electorate of Maroubra is a handy synchronicity. It highlights the ALP′s long-term culpability in creating the monster that is plaguing the city, its history of ethnic branch-stacking and "whatever it takes" tactics to shore up support in the heartland electorates of the south-west, its policy of spin and cover-up which is at last coming undone.
As one passenger last week told taxi driver Adrian Neylan, who has chronicled the violence on his weblog, "the gangs have won".
Indeed they have, but the recent display of official cowardice in the face of the criminal gangs of Sydney′s south-west is just a taste of the way Sydney has been run for a decade.