Saturday, June 13, 2009

Mike Rann, Safety v Civil Liberties, and a knock on the door from Constable Plod a cure for everything

(Above: Mr. Pooter discovering the red paint on the bath was not a success, unlike Mr. Rann, who relentlessly boasts of relentless success).

You know as soon as you read a sentence starting "I would never presume to pre-empt" that you are in fact in the presence of a humbugging, pettifogging dingbatting politician worthy of inclusion in George and Weedon Grossmith's Diary of a Nobody. Who will of course proceed to presume to pre-empt anything and everything in a preening, grandstanding way.

Never read the book? It's fun, and while it's set in Victorian times,  you can surely find Mike Rann, premier of South Australia, predicted within it, with unerring Nostradamus-like capacity for comedy, in its story of the aspirational Mr Pooter and his sense of self-importance.

The owl loving Rann - perhaps he thought his pet owl reflected his own capacity for wisdom - is at it again in his Pooter-ish way, under a header which says it all: Bugging the firebugs: when safety trumps civil liberties.

Er actually no, safety doesn't have to trump civil liberties, and safety and civil liberties are not mutually exclusive in a civilized society, unless you want me to break Godwin's Law and start listing societies that did believe safety (or whatever other catchphrase politicians could devise at the time) would always come out ahead of the civil liberties of the citizenry.

Rann goes way back to the 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfire in South Australia as the inspiration for his own vision of a society stripped of its civil liberties in pursuit of safety. Now it so happens I was up close, and amongst the flames in that fire, having made the mistake of taking to the Adelaide hills at the wrong time and managing to get myself in the wrong place.

So Rann doesn't need rhetoric to remind me of that dodgy time, nor of the impact of other bushfires I've seen up close.  But Rann piles it on because that's how you embark on the fearmongering. By first of all planting the fear - a nuclear bomb striking the land, the button pressed by arsonist terrorists - so that Rann can go on to explain how he's devised an excellent plan to quash the fear, by deal with potential arsonists the way you would an errant cockroach.

The knock on the door at the dead of night from cops who know you're guilty, guilty as hell.

Everyone knows that catching and convicting bushfire arsonists is extremely difficult unless they are caught red-handed.

Our focus, through a program called Operation NOMAD, is on preventing them from plying their deadly deeds in the first place.

So, on days of high fire risk, police officers “visit” potential offenders who have been identified as suspects through the intelligence process.

We let them know we’re on to them.

Which come to think of it is a handy way to deal with any likely miscreants you might find contemplating any kind of deviant behavior. Like a knock on the door of potential burglars to let them know the cops are on to them. And even a whack across the chops with a telephone book - always the best way not to leave unseemly marks - just to let them know we're really on to them (though what will happen if we get rid of telephone books in this digital age? Will a dictionary do the job?)

In fact, you could start knocking on almost anyone's door at any time to remind them that the cops are on to them - for almost anything that happens to threaten the security and safety of the citizenry. Or indeed corporations. Which means you might have a hard time explaining exactly where that mp3 came from (not to mention those ripped discs).

Excellent, I'm beginning to get the hang of this. Guilty until you can produce some evidence you're innocent, until of course we know we're on to you for another crime. Let's face it we know you're guilty, it's just a matter of establishing your crime. Perhaps even a thought crime against fearless leader Rann.

Now I don't have a problem with pro-active policing or patrolling bushfire areas on high risk days - and catching firebugs in the act - but I do have a problem with Rann's righteous rhetoric about having people on a list, and judging them guilty on suspicion. But then if you grew up in New South Wales, where fitting up people was one of the chief skills of an extremely corrupt police force, you wouldn't be quite so sanguine about the outcomes as proposed by Rann.

Rann is in effect boasting about how Victorians copped a wave of bushfires, and this time South Australia got off lightly, as if it's all to do with him and his government. Well I don't want to go old testament prophet on him, but we'll see how well South Australia goes in future years, if they're mug enough to imagine that the tap on the shoulder by the cops will keep the citizenry safe from fires in a state which has big fires as regular as clockwork.

Funnily enough, the incident Rann celebrates at the end of his column actually involves conventional policing, but maybe Rann doesn't care to think about the implications of conventional policing, and the financing thereof, as opposed to the joys of harassing his citizenry:

Highlighting the effectiveness of this collaboration, there was a recent incident where Molotov cocktails were found by firefighters at a fire scene.

They preserved the area and alerted the police, who identified fingerprints that were then linked to those found on other Molotov cocktails located nearby.

As a result, two alleged offenders were arrested and were charged with deliberately lighting two bushfires.

They now face life imprisonment.

What? No knock on the door? Just firefighters and cops and fingerprints? How disappointing. 

Meantime heaven help you if you get tagged in the South Australian system as a firebug. What recourse do you have? What right to correct the record if it should turn out that you aren't one?

That's a never no mind to the pious, gloating humbug of Rann:

I’m sure the Royal Commission will come up with many positive ideas on how we, as a nation, can be better prepared to deal with the menace of bushfires.

But across the border in South Australia, we have a program that works, has strong public support, and is at least reducing the incidence of bushfires that are deliberately lit.

One commenter on the column - a Mark Newton - puts it neatly:

It isn’t just the headline of this article that makes that association (civil liberties v. safety), it’s his whole approach to the “proscribed organizations” legislation too, which rests on the assumption that we must kill freedom of association in order to make society safe.

That’s an extremely lazy way of governing, and betrays a total lack of useful ideas about how to deal with the assaults against safety he perceives. If we are to believe Mr. Rann, we’ll be unsafe if we are free, and destroying civil liberties are the only way to produce safety.

I can think of lots of ways of dealing with bikies and firebugs which don’t impinge on the civil liberties of law-abiding Australians—aggressively enforcing existing laws would be a start, as would adequately funding police (in the case of bikies) and mental health facilities (in the case of firebugs), but apparently these measures aren’t worth trying for Mr. Rann.

And now for a lighter moment, which reminds me ineffably of Adelaide, and is taken from Diary of a Nobody, as narrated by Mr. Pooter:

I shall never forget the effect the words, "happy medium," had upon him (Mr. Huttle). He was brilliant and most daring in his interpretation of the words. He positively alarmed me. He said something like the following: "Happy medium, indeed. Do you know 'happy medium' are two words which mean 'miserable mediocrity'? I say, go first class or third; marry a duchess or her kitchenmaid. The happy medium means respectability, and respectability means insipidness. Does it not, Mr. Pooter?"

I was so taken aback by being personally appealed to, that I could only bow apologetically, and say I feared I was not competent to offer an opinion ... 

... He continued, with an amazing eloquence that made his unwelcome opinions positively convincing: "The happy medium is nothing more or less than a vulgar half-measure. A man who loves champagne and, finding a pint too little, fears to face a whole bottle and has recourse to an imperial pint, will never build a Brooklyn Bridge or an Eiffel Tower. No, he is half-hearted, he is a half-measure - respectable - in fact, a happy medium, and will spend the rest of his days in a suburban villa with a stucco-column portico, resembling a four-post bedstead."

"That sort of thing," continued Mr. Huttle, "belongs to a soft man, with a soft beard with a soft head, with a made tie that hooks on."

You have to have lived in Adelaide to understand the intimate conjunction between a premier who cheerfully believes in fear mongering and a knock on the door from the cops, and the conflating of safety and civil liberties. 

Gee, it feels only yesterday that Don Dunstan was sacking state police commissioner Harold Salisbury after discovering that the police special branch had kept thousands of secret files on public figures. 

Rann fancies himself as a current day Dunstan, but he doesn't have a clue what a breath of fresh air Dunstan was to a closed society ... and what a breath of closed, stale air Rann himself is ...


Anonymous said...

"Er actually no,..."

As if democracies don’t already limit civil liberties. Drunk driving, smoking in pubs, freedom to discriminate against (and bash if that’s your fancy) boongs, poofs and women – oh for the good old days when these were high among Australia’s cherished freedoms. At least we can still bash our kids, not like in those nine or ten totalitarian western European democracies that deem this illegal. (Gee, writing sarcastically ala your style is fun – seriously – but I’m not sure it’s an entirely useful way of communicating a message).

As I’ve commented before – the Nazis were the criminal gang persecuting the innocents, whereas Rann’s laws persecute criminals and evidentiary psychopaths like arsonists that prey on and threaten damage to innocents. Exactly 180 degrees of difference.

Anyway, life is short. As far as I’m concerned that’s strike two on this incorrect analogy. One more and I’ll stop reading your stuff and move on elsewhere for my entertainment.

"Rann goes way back to the 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfire in South Australia..."

Your presence on that day is supports your arguments how? Oh – you don’t try to explain, just throw this fact in as if having been there means what you are about to say has cred. Apart from coming over all hairy-chested, you sounds like a loon using a personal anecdote to rant against something useful.

"So Rann doesn't need rhetoric to remind me of that dodgy time..."

Yes, without Rann’s fearmongering we hick SA's would believe bushfires are just luvverly. Except for the recent ones in Victoria that killed nearly 200 people, we love them bushfires over here in SA, as you might recall from your stay here you keep bringing up as if to suggest some sort of expertise on SA. I’ve heard the locals talk about the chickenshit interstater who thought bushfires were a bit scary but I ne’er believed it until now.

But seriously, I like the analogy of arsonists being the equivalent of cockroaches, although I think roaches have got a lot of bad press historically and probably don’t cause nearly as much damage as psychopathic firelighters do in Australia. But as we can’t morally take the low-cost way out and cut their throats, (unless there’s enough of them to be a threat that we’d then be legally able to declare war on them and kill them with the zealous efficiency US paratroopers in WW2 used in Europe and the Pacific), then I’m quite happy for government to use its powers to prevent these nutters inflicting harm on us.

By the way, I know for a fact that the SA government is considering pysch testing as part of getting a driver’s licence – and if you fail the test you won’t get a licence but you will qualify for help to make you better so that you might be able to get one later – and I’m all for it. God forbid we try and reduce the road toll by doing what we can to keep the most likely worst drivers off the road. Apart from the trauma for crash victims this would be a smart economic decision for a small State to make. I suspect economics is behind the criminal “bikie” laws too, as the SA Govt are at least a bunch of good economic managers, and making these arseholes some other “free” State’s problem is fine by SA. And if all States had these laws then goodbye criminal bikie gangs from Australia. Democracy at work, slowly grinding it’s way forward from the signing of the Magna Carta. What, you want to live in a country that has criminal bike gangs and arsonists roaming at will? Then by all means exercise your legal right to emigrate, no totalitarian Oz govt will stop you. Or you can either stop whining, or start raving like a loon, which would be sad.

Anonymous said...

"The knock on the door at the dead of night..."

And why not? Some might even call this pro-active policing. Isn’t the idea of that to prevent crime by way of police being seen to be out on the street? Ah, but there’ Rann’s pro-active policing and then there’s your pro-active policing. I think I’ll take my chances with Rann’s – I know one year’s correlation doesn’t prove causation but the argument is good and it seems to have worked. I’m prepared to risk it and (I hate to argue from popularity but this it can’t be avoided when it comes to politics in a democracy) so it seems are a large majority of SA voters.

"And even a whack across the chops with a telephone book..."

It doesn’t follow that a knock on the door will lead to illegal violence by police, let alone a member of the public. Then again, those Jehovah’s Witnesses might be armed with more than Watchtower, so I better kill them when they come calling next Sunday.

"In fact, you could start knocking on almost anyone's door at any time..."

Of course, dobbing is wrong and un-Australian. Live and let live/kill/rape/whatever I say, it’s your libertarian Australian right to do so. I wish I could believe you think this should apply to corporations, then we could have a Whistleblower Act. Oh, we already do? Then we’re living in Nazi Germany already but we just don’t know it. Very clever of the bastards.

Exactly what is wrong with this sort of pro-active policing? Oh I see further down, it’s only pro-active policing when you say it is, and in Rann’s case the Gestapo will be reformed in SA, the state that apart from Tasmania has the best record of progressive law reform in living memory. I suspect Rann believes that we Croweaters are prepared to risk these laws in the knowledge that we still live under the Australian Constitution, for what it’s worth, and if the price we pay in the short term is for all arsonists and criminal bikes to leave SA for friendlier climes (like NSW – proud to be the home of baseball bat wielding heavies enforcing ‘democracy’ in a not so legal way) then we’ll laugh all the way to the bank with the savings in the policing bill.

Anonymous said...

"Which means you might have a hard time explaining exactly where that mp3 came from (not to mention those ripped discs)."

Bad laws are meant to be broken. I’d actually like this to happen because society’s reaction to police arresting kids in possession of illegal mp3s would bring about the end of the stupid law wherein corporations and some musos think they can get paid over and over for the rest of their lives for something they did once a long time ago.

"Excellent, I'm beginning to get the hang of this. Guilty until you can produce some evidence you're innocent..."

Two non-sequiturs and an ad hom:
First, police aren’t charging anyone with anything when they’re just knocking on your door, so no-one is guilty until innocent. And why would they be knocking on your door unless they had good reason to, like perhaps your criminal record or some circumstantial evidence. The latter is actually a technique they use to solve crimes now. You’re not suggesting that you have to be caught performing a crime to be charged, are you? Imagine a society where that applied – it would be a crim’s paradise. At least for a while until even they realised that unless they’re the biggest, meanest dog around that they’re just prey too. You see, even crims like some laws, just not the ones that prevent them from robbing you.

Secondly, thought crime? I don’t believe Rann suggested he cared about what people thought, only what they do. And you’re using Orwell in an arse-opposite way – he might have invented the term ‘thought crime’ but he didn’t actually believe it existed other than in the eyes of the Stalinist IngSoc govt of 1984.

And the ad hom, Rann has probably received death threats from crims such as bikies, as do pollies of all stripes I imagine. I doubt he doesn’t fear for his own safety or that of those close to him. So what’s your point, anonymous blogger?

"Now I don't have a problem with pro-active policing..."

Then you are against all police as they do have list of ‘usual suspects’ for various crimes or can quickly link up databases to determine who’s in and out of jai.. If they didn’t we’d all be complaining about how stupid and wasteful of taxpayer money policing is. And again, if you’re not charged with anything then you can’t be found guilty.

Anonymous said...

"But then if you grew up in New South Wales..."

From the Rum Corps to recent times that’s the history of a State that began just a few generations ago with loads of criminal stock, and I don’t just mean the convicts. NSW is slowly, slowly outgrowing its origins and sometime it’s two steps back for one forward. Just because SA is ahead of NSW in law enforcement is not an argument against Rann’s laws. And SA doesn’t have an ICAC (as it should) nor does Australia have a Bill of Rights, so we’re a long way from a perfect legal system. But don’t forget the role Ombudsmen play – surely even NSW has them?

"Rann is in effect boasting about how Victorians copped a wave of bushfires..."

So unless you can guarantee that laws can prevent all fires then it’s not worth trying? Where’s those murder/rape/robbery/drink-driving laws we have…toss them out will you as Dorothy has proved they’re not working. His solution – it’s don’t try anything except pro-active policing where police drive around a lot in cars. Where do they drive? Oh, just anywhere, it doesn’t really matter where, as long as they haven’t thought beforehand they might go where there might be some criminals doing criminal things, as that would be assuming some people are guilty until innocent, and we don’t live in a totalitarian State now do we. And to suggest Rann is boasting that nearly 200 Vics died while none did in SA is contemptible.

"Funnily enough, the incident Rann celebrates..."

Fingerprinting! What an invasion of civil liberties!!! No police force should have a database of fingerprints – we’re not living in Nazi Germany you know! Before you know it they’ll want to use DNA to solve crimes! "Two alleged offenders...face life imprisonment". Where's the presumption of guilt that Dorothy told me is to be the law?!!! Harumph!!!

"Meantime heaven help you if you get tagged..."

Ombudsmen maybe? Just like we have for when you get incorrectly given the wrong credit rating.

"That's a never no mind to the pious, gloating humbug of Rann:

This seems to be the real sticking point with you on Rann - his smugness. Get over the delivery, it’s the ends that count and not the means. You think asking crims to stop doing their crimes is going to make them? No, it’s men and women with guns who do that a.k.a. the police enforcing the government’s laws. And yes, police enforcing bad laws is bad, but police don’t get to choose which laws to enforce or to make their own. At least not in SA.

"One commenter on the column..."

If you’re going to quote others to support you – and I don’t suggesting you do as your arguments should stand up or fail on their own structural merits – then at least use something not written by a libertarian loon. It just makes you look like…a loon.

dorothy parker said...

Eer actually life is short, feel free to move anywhere for your entertainment. As if I should care what an anonymous reader chooses to do with their anonymous time?

Meh. This is a loon pond, I'm a loon, and libertarian loons are welcome here. Yes, even loons from South Australia ...