Monday, July 25, 2011

Shot in the Foot

Politicians lie.

We know it, we expect it.  We all know that anything we hear from a politician is as likely as not to be a lie.

We've had core and non-core promises.  We've had Tony Abbott saying that only his scripted comments should be relied upon, and who could forget the endlessly tiresome JuLiar drama?

One of the few times when politicians suddenly take lying very seriously is when a politician is alleged to have misled parliament.  Carl Scully springs to mind - he was sacked as Police Minister after misleading Parliament over the preparation of a report on the Cronulla riots. 

Carl Scully looking remorseful. Photo from SMH
Election promises come under scrutiny as well.  Already we have had O'Farrell being criticised for breaking an election promise to introduce an offence of "Drunk and Disorderly".

Some allegations of lying, however, have far more concrete consequences.

Today the SMH and ABC online published a story about a lie that could have devastating consequences for a NSW politician.

Shooters and Fishers Party MLC Robert Borsak has received some of the most strident criticism you are likely to see from a judge after a Supreme Court hearing about a commercial dispute.

S&F MLC Robert Borsak. Photo from SMH
The case had nothing directly to do with the performance of his duties in the Upper House, but nonetheless must cast a shadow over his credibility and honesty in that role.

The full judgment (from McDougal J in the NSW Supreme Court) is available here.

In short, the case arises out of a commercial dispute over the the sale of a business.

Some of the most strident criticisms of Mr Borsak can be seen below:

And, further on:

For those of you not fluent in legalese, the judge found the following:

  • Rather than telling the truth. Borsak gave evidence that advantaged his case;
  • Despite being confronted with very clear evidence to the contrary, he continued to insist that his original evidence was true, and 
  • There is no reason to believe he was just mistaken.
The above criticism is about as close to "Liar Liar Pants on Fire" as you are likely to see in a judgment. Whilst it is not uncommon to see a judge make adverse comments about a witnesses credibility, the certainty with which the Judge asserts that Mr Borsak was "knowingly untrue" is striking, to say the least.

The Judge doesn't at any time use the word perjury, but the lawyer for Mr Borsak's opponent was more than happy to do so, having written to the DPP asking that the Director consider bringing perjury charges.

He even goes so far as to say that, if the DPP declines to prosecute, his client wishes to launch a private prosecution.

It is unclear from the articles exactly who has leaked this intention to the press.  The DPP would have no reason to leak the letter, and neither would Mr Borsak's lawyers.

But there is also nothing to be gained by the writer of the letter leaking the document - this is not a civil dispute where a cash settlement can be reached.

It is hard to resist the conclusion that the letter has been leaked by someone who wants to damage Borsak politically. It would be inappropriate for me to speculate who that might be, although I will note that lawsuits can cause incredible bitterness between parties.

In any event, this situations would be very concerning for Mr Borsak, because if he was to be convicted of perjury, he would lose his seat in the Upper House.

The offence of perjury can be found in the Crimes Act 1900:

Section 13A of the Constutition Act 1902 reads as follows:

In short: if he is convicted of perjury then he will lose his seat in the Upper House.

A few important points - perjury is difficult to prove, and is seldom prosecuted.  In circumstances where the referral to the DPP has come from an opposition lawyer (rather from the judge, which does happen in the most reprehensible examples) the DPP is unlikely to prosecute.

Further, there are very significant financial costs and financial risks involved in Mr Borsak's opponent launching a private prosecution.

Finally, even if he was convicted and lost his seat, the Shooters and Fishers would still be able to chose his successor, meaning that the balance of power would not shift.

But, nonetheless, it is interesting to see a politician's honesty assessed by a judge - and to see that politician come up wanting.

I don't know how much truth there is in the maxim that you have to lie to succeed at politics.  It saddens me that the statement is at least partly true - and it saddens me even further that the practice is rewarded with votes.

Voters are fickle and, for the most part, have very short memories.  

We should expect a higher standard from our representative, but, as the saying goes, they'll stop doing it when it stops working.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Political Ethics

Before the 2011 election, O'Farrell seemed untouchable.

Everyone knew he was going to be elected, and this meant he could run a "safe campaign". As I have said on multiple occasions since, all O'Farrell needs to do to win at least 8 years is to not piss too many people off - and he started making sure he followed this edict well before the election.

The campaign was overwhelmingly a "safe" one, with policies calculated to keep people either happy or indifferent.

Of course it was obvious to anyone paying attention that this was what he was doing, but it was the Coalition's compensation for 16 years in the wilderness - people were so sick of Labor that they were willing to vote for just about anyone else.

This all made the kerfuffle about ethics classes so surprising - it was entirely of the Coalition's making.

In some ways, it was not dissimilar to the solar feed-in tariff drama - it could have been easily avoided had the Coalition managed it better.

Ethics classes are a touchy issue.  It lies at the point where religion, politics and children intersect.

Church groups have long been permitted access to school by way of religious education.  At present, children have a choice whether they wish to attend religious education.

However, if they choose not to attend, then they are not offered any alternative instruction or (often) even supervision.

The St James Ethics Centre has for years been agitating for these children to be given instruction in Ethics.  The classes have been offered on a trial basis for some time now.

Predictably, churches have vigorously opposed the mooted changes, presumably thinking that these classes will reduce interest in the religious education.

For me, this position has never really made sense. I'm young enough that I remember school, and I know that given the chance to be in a class or goof around in a library, we would have chosen the library every day of the week.

I would have thought if the kids not attending religious education were rather forced to attend ethics classes, then there might be a newfound interest in the religious education.  

But maybe that's just me.

In September 2010, as opposition leader, O'Farrell said "I don't favour ethics classes being an alternative to special religious education classes."  In November, the Coalition announced that their policy was that the classes would not be retained.

In February, after a sustained campaign in support of the classes, the Coalition announced that the classes would stay after all. The excuse given for the backdown was that the Coalition did not believe that it would have the numbers in the upper house to make the changes.

Unsurprisingly Fred Nile was "disappointed" by the backdown, but said that he agreed that the "left" was likely to hold the balance of power in the upper house.

Of course, as it happens, the CDP and the Shooters and Fishers hold the balance of power, and since the election the trial of the ethics classes has continued unabated. 

A rumour began to spread on twitter yesterday that Fred Nile, leader of the Christian Democrats, was only going to back O'Farrell's IR changes if ethics classes were dumped.

The rumour was confirmed today when Nile released this statement.

This part is the most telling:

This is a dangerous game for Nile to be playing.

On one hand, he is entirely right about the make-up of the upper house.  There is no doubt the Coalition has the numbers to end the classes.

Having said that, no one seriously believes that the reason that the Coalition did not persist with the changes was that they lacked the numbers,  The policy had become politically inconvenient, and was dumped.

To now revive it, and to change their position again, is going to make the Coalition look indecisive.

This is particularly a danger when Labor and the Greens are turning on the heat re the Coalition's relationship with the minor parties.  A change in position at the direct, public command of one of those minor parties is going to be thrown back in the Coalition's face for years to come.

Fred Nile is, however, nothing if not a canny politician, and he may well suspect that whilst threatening to vote down the IR changes would make him look bad, it would get the IR changes back on the front pages for a few days, which would no doubt cause O'Farrell all sorts of trouble.

However, my view is that by making the threat so publicly, he is backing O'Farrell into a corner.  

With this threat being made in the open, my view is that O'Farrell cannot relent, or else he risks this government being permanently labelled as being at the beck and call of the minor parties, much as Gillard is currently regarded by many as being controlled by Bob Brown.

On the other hand, O'Farrell is clearly committed to the IR changes, and has already spent a large amount of political capital getting them this far down the path to enactment.

It seems to me that the Coalition has to call Nile's bluff.  Ideologically, there is no reason for the CDP to vote against the changes.  Further, on 2 June, Nile gave a speech in the Upper House supporting the IR changes.

If he now votes against the changes, he will be described by the Coalition (and, in all likelihood, by certain sections of the media) as being a shameless opportunist, voting based on spite rather than policy.

The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that there must be a third solution that Nile is pushing behind the scenes. Perhaps he has now communicated privately that he will agree to vote for the IR changes if some change is made to the Ethics classes, such as allowing the classes but saying that they should be run at a separate time to Religious Education.

The IR bill is to be voted on on 2 August, but every day this threat stays out there is another day of IR being in the papers, and another day of unions building outrage and campaigning against the changes.

No doubt the Coalition will be hoping that Nile can be placated over the ethics classes without making the Coalition look weak, or else the image of the CDP running the state will be difficult to shake.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Report Card

I'm not sure why a formal review is necessary after an electoral defeat.

There can be no doubt that it is appropriate to reflect and take stock. 

That said, it makes just as much sense to conduct a review after a win. Often in politics (as in life) there is as much to learn from a victory as from a defeat.

What confuses me is why a review is done in such a public fashion.  It is all and well to think about a loss, to talk to people and to reach an assessment - but once it is called a review and a formal document produced, then the document needs to be released.

It is good and well to say that the public wants to see that lessons have been learnt - but the public needs to see action - a party self-assessing that they did the wrong thing is not going to garner much credit from an electorate.

In any event, the NSW Labor Party has produced a report into their crushing loss earlier this year.  It is called the Wattkins/Chisholm Review. The authors are former NSW Minister and Deputy Premier John Watkins and the Queensland Branch State Secretary Anthony Chisholm.

Whilst the report was handed out to journalists the ALP conference, the report was not, as best I can tell, published on any ALP website. The is despite a large number of journos obtaining a copy of the report, if the number of articles on the report is any guide. 

I don't know whether this a deliberate decision by the ALP - make it available to journos to assist in the visible self-flagellation, but don't release it widely to avoid it being thrown back in their face?

It is particularly interesting in that the Victorian branch has released a similar report on their unexpected election loss earlier this year.  It is easily available on their website

In any event, if you want to read the NSW report, you can download it here.

Various news reports have picked out parts of the report that the writer considered particularly newsworthy.

Herald report noted the blame levelled at the "Party Hierarchy" as well as the "sex, drugs and corruption scandals" that plagued the party.

A separate Herald article picked up on the recommendation for police and probity checks for all candidates, as well as the suggestion that the party had "lost interest in governing". 

The Australian led with this in their first paragraph: "identifying a culture of bullying and abuse within cabinet, and between cabinet and the back bench, that developed into a toxic mix of disloyalty, leaking and disenchantment". The writer also seemed to enjoy the description of the scandals as being "sordidly criminal to the adolescently stupid"

The report covers a number of areas, as listed below:

The section about the fall in the primary vote is easily the most interesting part of the report. 

The part that catches the eye immediately is what the report calls a "loss of policy vision" and details the ways in which the party moved away from "some of its central constituencies"

It particularly speaks of the increased pro-development and pro-privitisation attitude. As a consequence, "Labor supporters who were interested in issues such as law reform, gay and lesbian rights, the environment, and public education at times felt pushed to the fringes. Many found a welcoming home in the arms of the Greens.

The report also picks out something that was less obvious from the outside: a culture of "bullying and abuse within the Cabinet, and between Cabinet and the backbench."  In those circumstances, it is not surprising that little of value got done.

The section about scandal chooses not to list all the scandals that characterised the government, but rather states quite plainly that "embarrassing, tawdry and devastatingly regular reports of scandalous, inappropriate and corrupt behaviour became the norm.

In considering the reason for the "outbreak" of scandal, the report suggests that two possible causes: the complacency that "we would never be beaten" or, simply, "inappropriate candidate selection".

In the event, it was probably a combination of those factors, as well as a culture.  In every organisation, whether it be a place of employment, a club, or a government, there is a culture.  A culture can be difficult to control, but it is always pervasive, and when it is an undesirable culture, scandal is usually all but inevitable.

The breakdown of the local branches is covered at length. The reports of falling numbers of members and branches is hardly surprising given the state of the NSW government. As the John Faulkner was quoted as saying, "ìt ís hard to win a campaign if you can't staff a booth."

It is also interesting that, further on, the report says "The thought that repeatedly changing the NSW Labor Leader could change Party's political fortunes was simplistic and was ultimately rejected by the electorate."

Picture from here
The events in the Federal jurisdiction sit well with this assessment

The report moves on to consider what can be done, in a section that essentially mirrors the observations about the reason for the poor electoral performance

It is fascinating, however, to contrast this report with the report from the Victorian ALP.

A caveat at the outset though - the Victorian branch had served 3 terms, not 4.  This is significant - it is a significantly harder to win the 5th election than it is to win the 4th.

The Victorian report focusses mostly on what I would call "ordinary" complaints about government.  "Time for a change". Failure to invest in "Public Transport." "Cost of Living."

The NSW report is a bloodletting - on one level, it airs out the dirty laundry whilst the party fortunes are as low as they are ever going to get. From this point, the party can (at least in theory) refocus, rebuild, and get on with the job of holding O'Farrell to account.

In Victoria, the ALP lost the last election by a small margin.  Indeed, the loss was a major surprise, the ALP having lead every single 2PP Newspoll between the 2006 election and 2010 election, save the last poll taken in the week of the election.

Further, the Victorian Coalition's 2 seat majority means that the state is one by-election away from a deadlocked parliament.

For those reasons, Victoria could easily come back to the ALP next time round. If a Coalition member dies, an election could be just round the corner, with the ALP in genuine contention.

Only the most optimistic Labor member could foresee Labor winning the next NSW election, barring an absolute meltdown for the Coalition.

The one thing that I was disappointed to not see in the NSW report was a closer look at the Coalition's gains in Western Sydney.

...and after  Maps from Wikipedia
Western Sydney is always a battle ground, and most people expected large gains there, but nonetheless the number of seats gained and the margin by which they were gained was truly remarkable

I've written previously that O'Farrell has the opportunity to bring about a fundamental shift in these seats. If he can bring the "Howard's Battlers" across to the Coalition permanently, the traditional Labor dominance in NSW could be at an end.
By the same token, until Labor reconnects with those voters it is difficult to imagine them clambering out of opposition.

This report is a good step on the road to redemption, but is not more than a step. Much more remains to be done.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Politicians v The Media

It's always interesting to get a look behind the persona.

Politicians these days are so relentlessly on message, so dolled up and grinning for the cameras that we often don't feel like we ever really get to know them.

There is a persona that they are trying to portray - and when that image is muddied by a persona cast on them by the other side, we are left with little idea of what they are really like.

I'm always fascinated by what politicians are really about - what their real motivation is for what they are doing, and what they really think about this person or that policy.

I'm especially interested to find out what politicians think about each other, and what they think about the electorate. Do they hold the voters in contempt, or do they have great respect for the people that elect them?

In an article in today's Herald, their State Political Editor Sean Nichols has a very frank interview with O'Farrell, and he opens with something I'm sure O'Farrell would rather he hasn't:

...the Premier apologises for being late but cannot suppress his irritation when told he is to be photographed.

Releasing a sharply delivered expletive, he calls for a jacket, which a minder indicates is on its way.

''I will never understand journalists and the endless photographs,'' he snaps, before perching himself reluctantly on the edge of a chair in one corner of his spartan Parliament House office.

The Picture in question.  From SMH
My personal view is that most politicians have a fair degree of contempt for voters.  The constant valuing of form over substance, the relentless focus on minutia and trivia, as well electoral moods that shift with the winds - it's enough to exhaust anyone.

People often criticise politicians for being gimmicky, for not showing any substance themselves.  I usually point out that they'll stop doing it when it stops working.

I like to think that politicians hate themselves a bit for the way they have to act.  I suppose some will be in it for the fight - they enjoy the argy-bargy of political debate and, lacking any real convictions, simply take the position that is most convenient to them at that point in time and then fight tooth and nail to protect it.

I truly hope that there are other politicians who truly do believe in things - men and women of principle who believe something to be best for the State and give it there all to make it come to fruitition.

When it comes to the media however, it would be hard to blame any politician for having contempt for a journalist.

The media come in, take the politician's carefully crafted press releases and put their own spin on.  They come to press conferences and ask off-point questions - questions about the things they want to write about, not what the politician wants to talk about.

The media feeds the form over substance monster because, after all, they have to sell newspapers. and people like me who really want to get stuck into the nitty gritty can look up Hansard ourselves.

At the end of the day, the media and the politicians have goals that are all but diametrically opposed - but it is also obvious that politicians need the media, and that political journos need politicians.

So one imagines an uneasy truce between to two - each doing their job but trying to, on one level, stay out each other's way.

The highest resolution photo of Nicholls I could find.  From here

I don't know why Nicholls chose to lead with the jacket story.  Maybe it was payback for something.  Maybe it was a warning to O'Farrell about being late, or being rude, or disparaging the 4th estate. Maybe Nicholls wanted to write a little bit about the persona behind the image we see on television.

Or maybe he just thought it was a funny story and would make a snappy opening to his piece.

I suppose media can do things both for noble or ignoble motives too. Just like politicians.

Premiers are busy people.  I wasn't surprised to read Nicholl's comment that O'Farell "looks exhausted" what with being constantly "buffeted between tightly scheduled appointments." I imagine the man is scheduled within an inch of his life.

No doubt he has far better things to do than give an interview to a man who, I have no doubt, has written his share of articles that have put a negative spin on something O'Farrell has said or done.

But politicians need exposure.  No doubt someone from the Premier's team felt that it was important that Nicholls be given the chance to write this piece, to get some attention focussed on what had been accomplished in the government's first 100 days.

I'm sure O'Farrell is abundantly aware that these interviews and these media commitments are as much a part of his job as making important decisions, brawling in question time and leading a government.

Of course, that doesn't mean he has to like it.  And today, that showed.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Plan, Campaign, Action!

Campaign finance has been an issue in NSW for a long time.

When lobby groups and companies are allowed to make large donations to political parties it is very difficult to accept politician's word when they say that the donations do not influence them in any way.

At the very least, these donations buy access.  More importantly, however, the look suspicious, which is almost as bad because it breeds a cynicism in politicians and their decisions, with a corresponding decrease in support and engagement.

In South Africa (where I spent the first 14 years of my life, and where it is easier to simply assume that politicians are corrupt, because the prospect that these decisions are honest decisions is too horrifying to contemplate) there is a particular phrase that I like: riding the gravy train.

A person will get into a position of power (elected or otherwise) and ride the gravy train to prosperity, to the detriment of society as a whole.
Cartoon by the brilliant Zapiro
It is easy to simply demand that political donations be banned, but the fact remains that political parties are essential to our democracy, and they need to be funded somehow. Membership fees could not possibly suffice unless they were enormous, and in a time of falling engagement in the political process this would be unsustainable.

Banning political donations (or, at least, the big ones) would also require some form of public funding for campaigns, and this will have a corresponding effect on the budget's bottom line.

Having said all that, the biggest reason that the rules have not been changed to date is the same reason we never see changes in the rules that govern the operation of parliament and the appointment of the speaker - these changes would benefit the opposition more than the incumbent. They are easy to complain about in opposition but there is little motivation to take action once in power.

The exception to this rule is when the government is almost assured of a defeat - much of the planning can then take place with a view to an expected time in opposition. NSW was of course in this position for much of 2010.

This lead to NSW Labor introducing changes in October 2010 that: 

  • limited donations to political parties at $5000
  • limited donations to individuals at $2000
  • limited a candidate's campaign expenditure to $100 000, whilst a party could chip in a further $50 000, and
  • limited upper house party expenditure at $1.05 million

What infuriated the Coalition at the time was the fact that third parties were able to spend up to $1.05 million.  Given that there are 22 unions affiliated with the Labor party, this in theory would allow those 22 unions to spend a total of $23 million on a campaign.

What O'Farrell's complaint conveniently ignored was the fact that there are a number of 3rd parties closely affiliated with the Liberal Party who would be able to take advantage of the same "loophole".

In any event, this was no doubt at least in part why, as part of his 100 Day Action PlanO'Farrell committed to "Enact Campaign Finance legislation that includes restricting political donations to individuals".
From the cover of what no doubt was a glossy brochure
On the Liberal's website, he commits to, amongst other things:
You will note that this makes no explicit reference to third party spending, which is more than a little concerning, and perhaps suggests that he was not ignorant of the fact that the Liberal Party is probably as well placed to take advantage of the "loophole".

The above quote comes from a post on their website dated 6 October 2010.  An earlier post (on 9 September 2010) is phrased differently, committing the Coalition to:
You will note that the promise to cap election spending by "other groups including unions and employer groups" was dropped from the list in the October posting.

Now, that may be a simple question of brevity, because we do not know precisely what changes O'Farrell plans to make.

Ignoance of what changes are planned is of course the precise issue raised by this Herald article.

The 100 Day Action Plan promised to "enact" the changes within 100 days, a time limit which expires next week.  As parliament is presently not in sessions and will not be sitting til well after next week, it appears that this promise will not be kept, or at least not as soon as expected.

As I said earlier - it is easy to be righteous and demanding when in opposition, but once it power it can be just as easy to put off change.

This is more than a little odd, especially given the profile O'Farrell gave the mooted changes before the election. The Herald in fact claims that this is the "only one of his action plans he has failed to deliver."

In the absence of an explanation O'Farrell is practically begging the opposition and the media to speculate as to why, and the Herald obliges, saying:
Presumably only upon being contacted by the journalist, O'Farrell claimed that the reason for the delay was "due to the government agreeing to a review of NSW electoral laws, including the Election Funding Act." Apparently he wants to "ensure that any legislative changes do not conflict with the end goal of that review."

The explanation is not a convincing one. It seems far more likely that John Kaye (GRN) is right when he says that the Coalition is (ignoring the hyperbole): "so addicted to corporate cash that the government was prepared to breach this unequivocal promise to let the rivers of gold flow for two more lucrative months".

It's all silly politics, because surely O'Farrell must have seen this attack coming. All he needed to do was take some positive steps (perhaps by releasing some draft legislation for comment) and he could point to a process in place.

There was another story published by the Telegraph earlier this week that said that MPs have been complaining about O'Farrell being too focussed on the plan, to the exclusion of all else.
Robertson took the opportunity to explain what a nothing list the 100 Day Action Plan was, saying "When you set the bar as low as Barry O'Farrell did in his 100-day plan, you can hardly expect a prize when you manage to jump over it... The majority of the O'Farrell government's 100-day plan involves handing a piece of a paper to a bureaucrat."

Another anonymous Coalition MP fed a quote to the journalist about how "We have not been able to concentrate on anything else," such has been the focus on the 100 Day Plan

It may well be that Labor has engaged in some savvy politics by feeding the Telegraph the quotes earlier in the week about how piddling many of the action points were so that when the story about the lack of campaign finance change was run it would be all the more powerful.

There may well be nothing sinister in the fact that the changes have not been made yet, and it may be that case that it was just one big goal too many for the first 100 days. 

If O'Farrell is to be believed, then it was pretty poor planning that, of all the changes, he promised, this was the one that fell by the wayside.

Especially in this state, it is just too sensitive an issue to give the media a sniff.

And that's what he did.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Burqa Burqa

The Burqa story was made for tabloid.

It has all the ingredients.  A sense of injustice because someone has apparently dodged the law because of a sneaky lawyer.

Racial elements, with a heady dose of Islamaphobia. There were scuffles outside court and a chance to use the words "radical cleric" in a headline.

Finally, who could resist the chance to have a shot at the court system?

In short, it was a tabloid editor's wet dream.

For those of you not in the know, a Muslim by the name of Carnita Williams was pulled over by a highway patrolman for not displaying her P-plates.  

For some reason that is not clear, she then leaves the car, and is clearly captured on the car's video camera ranting and raving at the officer.  The officer, to his credit, keeps his composure and does his job well.

The view from the in-car camera.  Photo from The Daily Telegraph
Later on that day, police alleged, Carnita Williams made an official complaint by lodging a statutory declaration at Campbelltown police station that the officer had threatened to rip her veil off.

The video was retrieved and viewed, and not long after Police launched a prosecution against Ms Williams for making a false complaint.

I'm not sure precisely what she was charged with, but by way of example, section 314 of the Crimes Act says that "A person who makes an accusation intending a person to be the subject of an investigation of an offence, knowing that other person to be innocent of the offence, is liable to imprisonment for 7 years."

At the Local Court she was convicted and sentenced to six months imprisonment. On 22 June that decision was set aside on appeal to the District Court, and she was acquitted.

The problem lay in that police could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it was Ms Matthews who made the complaint.  Police apparently did not ask her to confirm her identity when the filed the complaint.

It appears that Police may not have in fact had the power to force her to remove her veil when making the complaint, although whether they should have accepted her complaint without her doing so is worthy of reflection.

Ms Williams outside court.  Photo from The Daily Telegraph
Suffice to say, the media went into a bit of a frenzy over the case.

As you can see from the watermark on the above video, the major networks all played the video.  The Daily Telegraph led with little else for over a week, milking the story further by covering the paper's attempts to have a copy of the statutory declaration in question released to the media.

When the Police Commissioner sought the power to order women to remove burqas, the Tele had this graphic for us:

From The Daily Telegraph
Barry O'Farrell quickly acted on the pressure from the Tele, and was quoted yesterday as saying "I don't care whether a person is wearing a motorcycle helmet, a burqa, niqab, face veil or anything else - the police should be allowed to require those people to make their identification clear."

The changes mooted would allow police to force a person to identity themselves when spoken to by police in relation to minor matters, not just serious ones (as section 11 of the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act empowers).

The interesting thing for me was that just most Islam-related lobbies and interest groups have supported the changes. The Islamic Council of NSW and Mulsim Australians were good examples.

Watching SBS news as I write this, a reporter claimed that every Muslim she spoke to on the street (both those wearing burqas and those not) supported the changes.

Predictably, civil libertarians were unhappy, but then they never are.

The issue of burqas is a sensitive issue.  Accusations of racism and xenophobia are often just below the surface.  

On the other side, the campaign by the Telegraph was a powerful one, and you don't need a Newspoll to tell you that changes would be popular.

That said, the poll on the Telegraph website (96.5% in favour of changes) was probably less than scientific.

Normally I would bemoan any change brought on by a newspaper campaign.  Often they are ill-founded and based more upon stoking fear in the community.

This time round, however, there seems to be a genuine need for the changes. Police need to be able to positively identify people who they suspect have committed an offence.

The real test is going to be the precise composition of the laws.  On what basis will police able to demand that a woman remove her burqa? What safe-guards will there be to ensure that the new powers are not abused?

No doubt there will be a lot of people (including me) taking a very careful look at the wording of the section when they are released to ensure that the government is not using this as a chance to dramatically increase police powers.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

In the Firing Line

This morning I shared the following exchange with Greens MLC David Shoebridge:

The tweet linked to his blogpost on the topic.  

The blogpost seems to be more about shining a light on the Coalition's relationship with the Shooters and Fishers Party.

This is looking more and more like a concerted strategy by the Greens and Labor - in truth, it is something they should have been doing a long time before the election.  The fact that the Coalition sits on the same side of the political spectrum to the Shooters and Fishers as well as the Christian Democrats would have been a great way to fill the policy vacuum that O'Farrell cultivated in the lead-up to the vote.

The ad in question is this:

The associated blurb clearly does use language that leaves a bit to be desired:

But writing bad copy is not a crime.

Shoebridge's blogpost calls for two changes:
  • "laws to prohibit these advertisements" and
  • "stop easy access to guns"
The claim that these advertisements should be stopped is more than a little confusing.  It doesn't refer to some gun tragedy, nor does it make false claims - all it does is suggest that firing a gun is fun and then (perhaps) glamourises the sport a bit.

Whether you agree or disagree with the sport, it is a legal activity. No doubt the participants enjoy the sport and have fun doing it - if not, no doubt the sport would not exist.

Now, I am as anti-gun as the next guy.  I don't own a gun and (as far as I know) I don't know anybody who does.  I would be horrified if there was a sudden proliferation of guns in the home or (even worse) concealed guns being carried around, as is so common in the US.

If the Shooters and Fishers were to start pushing for expanded rights to carry a concealed weapon you'd be hearing all about it on this blog.

But this brings me to Shoebridge's second claim - this is an ad for gun use at a range.  Shooting at paper targets, using a gun that you cannot remove from the centre.

The post from Shoebridge appears to have been motivated by a Daily Telegraph article he came across while munching on his cornflakes this morning.  I usually try not to read any comments on news articles for fear of getting a headache from all the stupid, but a few of the comments to this story make some sense:

The last comment is (I can't believe I'm saying this about a comment on a news website) a particularly astute one.

A lot of people want to race their cars.  We don't want them doing it on the street at night, so we make that illegal but then allow Eastern Creek Raceway to run "Car Track Days" where people can go and drive fast.

A lot of people want to box as a sport.  We don't want them meeting in a basement to flog each other, so we have the sport of boxing, with all the associated regulation and medical supervision.

People are going to want to give shooting a gun a try, whether it is legal or not.  Far better they do that at a licensed gun range, with instructors and safety gear rather than on a mate's farm where anything could happen. 

To suggest that to allow them to do so is somehow fostering a destructive gun culture is, in my view, an overreaction.