Wednesday, January 29, 2014

King hits, alcohol, bias and subtlety in Australian politics

Tonight just a round-up.

The appointment of Peter Cosgrove as Australian Governor General has been widely welcomed. However, New Matilda wonders (How Will Indonesia Take Cosgrove?) about the Indonesian reaction. John Menadue took a similar position - Is another Indonesia faux pas imminent?.

I must admit I did wonder about the wisdom at this point, given current sensitivities and General Cosgrove's role in East Timor. I suspect that he is well enough known as a person at official level that this will work its way through.

In NSW, the O'Farrell Government has gone the law and order route in trying to combat "alcohol and drug violence", effectively forced into it by campaigning in the main stream media. I quote just the first bullet point. You can find the full release here:

This tough and comprehensive package includes:

  • Eight year mandatory minimum sentence for those convicted under new one punch laws where the offender is intoxicated by drugs and/or alcohol, plus new mandatory minimum sentences for violent assaults where intoxicated by drugs and/or alcohol;

This means that a sober bikie who king hits someone gets treated more leniently than a silly young person. Frankly, this is silly stuff of the type we have come to know and love from all NSW Governments (and other Australian governments of all political persuasions). They go the narrowly defined penalty route because they feel it's about all they can do and it's immediately popular. But it's also totally stupid.

Like many Australians, I am worried about alcohol fuelled violence. I was going to say a few years back, but it's more than that, oldest had an eighteenth birthday party. We did the right thing as defined. We hired security people. We had door checks. We let the police know. And then a few young drunken yobbo gate crashers actually damaged the venue where we were holding the party.  It was a bit of a nightmare.

Much later, I thought that we had done the wrong thing and its partly connected with the way that we as a society have shifted responsibility. In the new society, eighteen has become the new fifteen or younger.

As parents, we wanted eldest to have a good time. We took responsibility for organising, worrying about rules and risks. That was arguably wrong. It wasn't our party.

What we should have done is hand over key responsibility to eldest and her key friends. This is H's party. You organise it. You control. We help. Could they do it? Of course they could. They know the people, they know the scene. We didn't.

The blood sport that is Australian politics leaves little room for either nuance or subtlety. Mr O'Farrell's sledgehammer is one example, Foreign Minister Bishop's comments on the Australian-US relations (We’re all the way with USA) appears to be a second. There are different ways of putting things, depending on your target audience. Did Ms Bishop intend to grab the headlines she did with their focus on the US vs China? I wonder. In any event, it wasn't helpful.

Mr Abbott's apparent spray against the ABC (Prime Minister Tony Abbott says ABC not on Australia's side in interview with 2GB) is grabbing today's Australian headlines. The similarity between Mr Abbott's and Ms Bishop's views on Edward Snowden and the timing suggests a collaborative approach.

I suppose I should declare my own biases here without arguments in support.

Do I think that the ABC should have run the Snowden material? No, I don't. Do I think that the ABC has a centre left bias? I don't know that the ABC itself does as an organisation. I do know that many of the reporters and commentators on the ABC do as measured by my own reaction to their stories and opinions. After all, one of my favourite ABC programs is Counterpoint. The very fact that the ABC has to have a single alternative view program is instructive.

Do I support Mr Abbott's spray against the ABC? I do not. I thought that it was actually un-prime-ministerial and also unwise. Later, I will come back to this and to a fundamental and, I think, insufficiently recognised shift in Australian political commentary and analysis that has changed the political dynamics. For the moment, I will defend my ABC!   

Finishing with Indonesia, the Jakarta Globe reports (Indonesia Facing Populace Larger Than US Revives Birth Control) on  Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono desire to have families stop at two children to prevent a burgeoning population overwhelming schools and services. Indonesia's population is already 250 million and could double by 2060. That's a lot of people!

The article is worth reading for what it says about the dynamics of the situation in Indonesia. Australia has to manage those dynamics.


Noric Dilanchian said...

Jim, following is the view of the President of the Law Society of NSW. It was her lead story in her weekly "Monday Briefs", an email sent to the 20,000+ solicitors in NSW.

"Mandatory sentencing ineffective

The Law Society of NSW has voiced concern about proposed new mandatory sentencing laws for drug and alcohol related violence. Announced by the Premier on 21 January, the package includes a new offence for “one punch” assaults where the victim dies, punishable by an eight year minimum penalty where the offender is intoxicated. Minimum penalties between two and five years are proposed for other assaults where drugs or alcohol are involved.

The Law Society does not support mandatory sentencing which is ineffective in deterring crime, excludes judicial discretion and inevitably leads to injustice. The Law Society will continue to make submissions as Parliament is recalled on 30 January to consider the proposals.

On another note, we congratulate those who received Australia Day Honours.

Ros Everett, President 2014"

Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks for this, Noric. Appreciated. Premier O'Farrell reportedly remarked that if the price they had to pay was a higher prison population, so be it. The bill has passed with labor support.It doesn't matter how you vote in NSW, Lab or Lib get in, and their views are pretty much identical.

Anonymous said...

Noric, I regard the view of the President of the Law Society as just so much lawyerly hubris. How, in any case, would the LS know whether mandatory sentencing were ineffective in deterring crime in NSW? It hasn't yet had a run. Neither does mandatory sentencing exclude judicial discretion; there is plenty of discretion above the two-year minimum. To the extent that harsher penalties were ineffective, there could presumably be a case for zero penalties, which is clearly absurd. Theory and evidence tell us that effective deterrence of crime is a function of the product of the size of the penalty and the probability of successful apprehension and conviction. Once conditions for this arithmetic were effectively satisfied we would ultimately have safer streets, smaller numbers in jail and fewer jails. Everyone's welfare would improve in conjunction with significant savings in the direct costs to the legal process and of running jails. Furthermore, there would be much less "inevitable" about "injustice" in such a new environment than the injustice perpetrated on innocent victims under the current discretionary and inconsistent regime of sentencing. Of course, there will be a time dimension to realisation of the gains. So be patient with the new legislation, because both judiciary and police in NSW have some distance yet to travel.


Jim Belshaw said...

Noric can respond, but there is a fair bit of Australian (and US) evidence that mandatory sentencing laws have all sorts of adverse effects. This is an example -

Anonymous said...

These aren't necessarily problems intrinsically related to failings of mandatory sentencing. There are many confounding variables in Indigenous communities in countries of 'recent' settlement such as Australia. Other quite fundamental and radical interventions may also be required.


Jim Belshaw said...

I have been up in Armidale, DG. The thing about mandatory sentencing is the way it leads to injustices. Its the same reason I'm opposed to the death sentence. It's final.

I find it a bit frightening the way that DNA testing has overturned so many guilty verdicts, including those already executed.

Anonymous said...

Jim, good quality DNA testing reduces the risk of wrongful conviction as well as increasing the likelihood of crime apprehension / safe conviction. It thus has become a powerful deterrent in its own right and could assist thereby in mandating lower sentences. Police corruption and tampering with DNA nevertheless is a risk. When, on the other hand, sentencing is left entirely in the hands of the judiciary, it can also become an egregious source of abuse (e.g. arbitrary imprisonment for ‘disrespecting the dignity’ of a court). I’m not an advocate of the death penalty but, wow, Singapore is a very safe, king hit-free and prosperous country.