Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Gun to Your Head?

It's hard to work out what I feel about this report:
Full story here
There was a similar story in the Australian that focussed on O'Farrell's refusal to rule out mandatory sentences for gun crime:
Full story here
Those of you who read regularly will know how I abhor populist Laura Norda policies (see here, for example). Almost invariably they take away discretion from courts and impose harsh, punitive penalties whilst have no effect whatsoever on the crime rate.

It is really easy to appear tough on crime, but extremely difficult to actually do something that reduces the incidence of crime. Greg Smith (for the most part) deserves recognition for what he has achieved in this area since he entered the AG role.

The reason I'm conflicted about O'Farrell's comments is this.  In the past, Premiers would have been desperate to be seen to be "taking action" and "making changes" to "keep our community safe". They would lambast the judiciary, introduce new penalties and rant and rave on radio about how they are fixing the problem.

O'Farrell's approach has been a little more subtle.

I wrote earlier about changes to the criminal law that were (ostensibly) introduced to help prosecute these offences.  Most of the changes were (as I discussed) superficial at best, but it got Labor off the Coalition's back.

What I'm wondering is whether there is a bit more to this than meets the eye.

First of all, he made the comments at the traditional home of reactionary law-making - talkback radio.

Second of all, he didn't promise action the way past premiers would have - when asked about mandatory sentencing he said he was "open to all options".
He knew that the papers would uncritically pick up on that comment, and I'm convinced that was the intention.

Thirdly, he made vague comments about the sentences the offenders would be given, banking that the media would pick up on that. The Herald came through for him:
The result? Stories about how O'Farrell is outraged by the crime, which somewhat dulls Labor's attacks. Talkback listeners would have eaten up his comments yesterday.

He hasn't made any commitments, so he won't need to deal with the fallout that would follow from actually making those changes.

Maybe I'm just being excessively pragmatic about things. But I care far more about the changes that get made rather than meaningless posturing. And if we have to have one of those two, I know which I would prefer.

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