Friday, 12 November 2010

Being "tough on law and order"

is still seen as a politically popular policy. It is nice to think of all those nasty criminals locked up and people who are stupid enough to drink and drive losing their licences and hoons having their cars crushed etc etc.
We were promised all of that by our state's government - and we were promised much more as well. They were, they grandly announced, going to be rid of bikie gangs. Members of bikie gangs would be subject to government imposed court orders which would not allow them to have any association with each other. They would not be able to telephone, write, e-mail or have any other sort of contact. This would, we were assured, drastically reduce crime in the state. Legislation was introduced into parliament. It was passed. It was imposed. It was challenged.
Yesterday the High Court ruled the legislation was unconstitutional. Put simply the High Court ruled that the government could not tell the courts to impose an order on someone. There has to be evidence of the need for it. An individual has the right to defend himself or herself. The legislation simply went too far.
There were other issues as well. Whether they have all been addressed I do not know. I have not read the judgments. There was one dissenting judgment. It will make interesting reading. Parts of the legislation were not considered. Other parts were declared to be constitutional.
I do not know whether other issues of concern were raised.
One of these was whether the legislation had the potential to apply to any group of people, not just bikie gangs. If that was the case then the legislation could apply to a church group, a football club, a book group or a service organisation like Rotary or Lions. A craft group meeting in a church hall, a knitting group meeting in a library or a circle of magicians meeting (as they do) in the old bomb shelter would all be liable to government imposed "control orders" if the government did not like their activities. There was no provision for appeal or defence.
The other was whether the legislation had the potential to make criminals of innocent persons who found themselves unwittingly associating with these people or unwittingly acting as a go between. You employ Jo Painter to do the guttering on your house. He finds a piece that needs to be replaced. He recommends Bob Gutter as the supplier. Both Jo and Bob are subject to control orders. They should not be doing business with one another. You are facilitating that. You are guilty.
It all sounds faintly ridiculous. Our society would never be like that. Or would it? It is the thin edge of a very large wedge that had the potential to do a great deal of damage in the hands of the wrong people. Governments should never be given that sort of power.
I once attended the funeral of a bikie. It was a strange experience. I knew his wife well. She held a highly respectable position in the community. He ran a motorcycle shop and seemed a pleasant man on the only occasion I had much to do with him. His mates turned up to the funeral. There were more than one hundred of them who escorted the hearse. They all behaved. None of them broke the law. None of them had been drinking. His wife was given a great deal of practical and much needed assistance. They respected her wishes not to associate with their young son but they still kept her lawn mowed and cleared the gutters of debris before the bushfire season.
They were a mixed bunch. Her grief, especially at the knowledge that his driving had been responsible for the death of himself and four other people, was made more bearable by the support his mates gave her. For all their long hair and tattoos, big bikes and leathers they cared and went on caring.
Under the proposed legislation none of that would have been possible. His mates could not even have attended his funeral.
The government has announced its intention to try and reframe the legislation to achieve the same result. I hope it fails. If an individual does something wrong then let us deal with the individual. Do not try and impose an order on someone simply because of who or what they are.


Sheep Rustler said...

They have all come over to Victoria by now I think! I thought (without reading the legislation) that it was supposed to apply specifically to members of particular bikie gangs, but clearly not. I think it is important to differentiate between members of those specific gangs (which are well known criminal groups) and anybody who rides a motor bike.

Freedom of association is an important freedom, so long as it can be accomplished without criminal activity, but I agree that clamping down on the latter often leads to losing the liberty of the former. A recent case in Victoria - a primary school banned children from congregating in groups of more than three in the playground, 'in order to control bullying'. My thoughts were (a) the last that happened, it was put into force by Joh Bjelke-Petersen, and (b) the school may as well admit that they have no control over bullying whatsoever, because if they did, such drastic measures would be totally unnecessary.

catdownunder said...

I saw a report about that bullying situation. My father, long since retired as a headmaster, said, "I am glad I am not in a school now. There is so much you cannot do to discipline a child."
He would come home with a raging headache if he had to cane a child. He would cane for only two reasons, stone throwing and gross insubordination - and only after a warning. He hated doing it.
Now you have to careful of everything you say and do. I am glad I am out of it too!