Monthly Archives: May 2011

Leaving justice up to Herald Sun readers you’ve deliberately misinformed

Just when you thought Robert Clark’s ham-fisted mashing about all over the criminal justice system couldn’t get any more destructive, comes this morning’s Herald Sun front page. If you had any doubt at which cynically and deliberately misinformed target audience the “conservatives” are aiming their abysmal campaign:

Victorians asked to pass their own sentence on crime

People will be asked to pass their own sentence on violent thugs, murderers, rapists and vandals by the Baillieu Government.

If that sounds like an excellent idea – and there’s nothing wrong with comparing judicial attitudes to sentencing with those of the general public to determine if they’re compatible – that’s because you’re picturing something like the Sentencing Council’s previous efforts to determine what Victorians think about sentencing – those were about informing people of all the relevant information about a case, and then, armed with that information, determining what sentences they thought were appropriate. And they found that the general public is, if anything, actually less punitive than the real judges.

If they have all the facts at their disposal.

So, naturally, the Herald Sun and the Liberal Party are going to make sure that that’s not what happens here:

Together with the Herald Sun, the Government will survey tens of thousands of Victorians about what they believe are appropriate punishments for violent attacks as it imposes minimum terms for serious crimes.

The public’s verdict will be used to help set the baseline jail terms judges will be expected to impose on criminals under the Government’s get-tough sentencing reforms.

Ah, so the public’s participation is premised on the idea that it’ll be “tougher”.

Before completing this survey, will the public be advised of just how expensive imprisonment is? Of reoffending rates from various sentencing options? Of the availability of mental health and drug counselling services? Of research on effective deterrence? Will they be given examples to highlight the different sort of behaviour, at widely-divergent ends of the spectrum, that can be captured by the same offences? Will they be asked to consider those sentencing options in relation to defendants with real and genuine problems, ranging from mental health issues to long-term drug addiction?

Or will they simply be asked to decide if really bad things should happen to really bad people?

Based on the Herald Sun‘s previous form – and Robert Clark’s, for that matter – I have a horrible feeling it won’t be the former.

And, when the budget blows out with spending on new prisons, and when crime rates skyrocket from the efforts of graduates of our new bluestone colleges, I suppose they’ll demand we get even “tougher”. It’s not working! We must do it more!

See, this is the thing. No matter how incompetent and annoying Labor gets, the Liberals always manage to make it worse.

PS: An easy indication of whether a policy is a good idea or not is whether that Noel McNamara crank is in favour of it. He loves Robert Clark’s idea:

Crime Victims Support Association president Noel McNamara said the survey to be published in the Herald Sun in July would allow Victorians to have their voices heard.

“The community at large is outraged over the sentences that have been handed down from the bench over the last 12 years,” he told this morning. “Criminals seem to have more rights than anyone else.”

“More rights than anyone else”? Like what?

Seriously, what?

I suppose, the more victims out there, the more point Mr McNamara’s association has for existing. No wonder he supports policies almost guaranteed to create more of them.

UPDATE: If you’re curious to try it yourself, and see how your views actually compare with real judges’, have a look at the Sentencing Advisory Council’s Virtual You Be The Judge.

Robert Clark determined to make wayward youths into lifelong criminals

See what happens when you elect the “conservatives” to government? Sending kids to jail.

Attorney-General Robert Clark has asked the Sentencing Advisory Council for advice on sentencing protocols for serious-injury offences that involve ”gross violence”.

He has committed to introducing a mandatory two-year minimum sentence in a youth detention facility for 16 and 17-year-olds found guilty of recklessly causing serious injury and intentionally causing serious injury when committed with ”gross violence”.

(Note that this isn’t just for intentionally causing serious injury, it’s also for recklessly causing serious injury.)

Yeah, brilliant. Rather than redirecting impressionable kids away from offending behaviour, let’s lock them in to a life of crime. Let’s force the courts to send them to be trained by the more serious offenders in prison so that when they come out, still young, they’ll have developed whole new skills in even worse behaviour.

Revealingly, Robert Clark hasn’t even tried to present us with any evidence that mandatory jail sentences for young offenders work in reducing crime, probably because it doesn’t exist.

Don’t worry, my brief practice didn’t actually have anything to do with criminal law, so I’m not tainted by actual KNOWLEDGE of how it works or anything.

Obviously the gullible idiots who believe the Herald Sun spin think this is a wonderful idea that will keep them safe – despite the research indicating quite the opposite – and when it actually results in an increase in crime, they’ll demand we increase mandatory sentences even further. THIS BEING TOUGH ISN’T WORKING, WE MUST DO MORE OF IT!

Meanwhile, the calls by the Children’s Court to properly fund bail support programs that actually do get good results fixing these kids up, continue to be ignored…

UPDATE: Greg Barns in today’s Crikey: Mandatory jail terms for young to cost lots, fail to cut crime:

While Clark is happy to send more young people to prison, in Texas — yes hard-core, conservative Texas — Republican governor Rick Perry has joined with Democrats a fortnight ago to pass a law that will close three of the state’s 10 youth detention centres and put the savings into rehabilitation. It costs about $A270 to house youth offenders in prisons in Texas but only $A70 to have them participate in a structured program of rehabilitation and support. No wonder fiscal conservatives in Texas love it…

There is a realisation in the US that, as Anthony Barkow, a former senior prosecutor put it recently, “juvenile offenders have diminished culpability: a view supported by science — and common sense, as anyone can attest to who remembers his or her years as a teenager”. Placing them behind bars, irrespective of the circumstances of each case and without having regard to their mental capacity at the time of offending, is simply a recipe for higher recidivism rates on release and the high cost to taxpayers that goes with that and the incarceration.

Did Robert Clark even talk to any people who deal with young offenders?

“Failed experiment”

Tony Abbott thinks “minority government” has “failed”:

On what criteria? In doing what the Liberal Party likes, sure – but there are very many of us in the electorate who’d see that more as a point in its favour. Has it been crippled by indecision? No, it’s passed plenty of legislation – the perception that the Liberals are doing very well is a result of the easy run they get in the commercial media and the now-compliant ABC. In Parliament itself, where Rupert can’t help them, they’ve been regularly trounced.

The thing is, “minority government” (a silly term, because of course a majority is always required to pass anything) simply means that the parliament does not enforce the lie that more than half of the country agrees with one party on a majority of issues. If Labor has more than 50% of the seats, then on some issues the minority position will get up because Labor has the votes it won by appealing to voters on another issue. Likewise if the Liberals have more than 50% of the seats. If one party has a majority in its own right, it can (and they do) treat parliament with contempt. It doesn’t need any of the rest of them – they’re irrelevant. Issues are decided, not on the floor of the House, in the open, but in backrooms where only the party and lobbyists are represented.

The present makeup isn’t exactly ideal – with several lone, unconnected members, it’s unwieldy; and the numbers are, because of the single member electorate system, not particularly democratic.

We do need a more representative parliament – one where different perspectives in the community are represented in accordance with their support. There probably should be a few Fundies First MPs, to speak for the fundamentalists. At the moment, they get their perspectives pushed by the two biggest parties, effectively using your vote (if you voted Labor or Liberal) to push their religious cause on the rest of us. They should be forced to stand on their own feet, and see just how much of the community agrees with them.

And of course, based on their proportion of the vote last time (11.76%), there should also be 17-18 Greens MPs, elected in their own right and without having to hope the Liberals preference them in a seat. (If the Liberals hadn’t done that, then there would be, seriously, nearly 1.5 million Australians without any representation at all in the House of Representatives. That is a ludicrous situation.)

Proportional representation, or a milder form of it like multi-member electorates, is what we need to have a real democracy in which everyone’s votes really do count equally. The fact it would lead to no party having complete control of the Parliament is a feature, not a flaw.

What’s wrong with a Parliament that closely matches the community? The combination of parties that combine to pass the budget might not be the same combination of parties that form a majority on an environmental issue or a social issue – but isn’t that the way it is in the community? On different issues, we often agree with different people. Why do we need to shove the social conservatives in with the economic conservatives? Why do we need to shove the “government out of our lives” crowd with the “government telling us who we can marry” crowd? Why can’t they all stand on their own feet and see what the community really thinks?

We don’t need a parliament of fixed big parties and the occasional local-issue independents, like we have now – we need a parliament of four or five significant but not dominant parties that represent the various main perspectives out in the electorate and can form different alliances depending on the issue.

That is when we’ll really have given “minority government” (or, to use a more accurate word, “democracy”) a try.

We haven’t even started this “experiment” yet, Tony.

Don’t let Bob Brown hear about this

Those outrageous Greenies and leftists at US megacorporation General Electric predict that Solar power may be cheaper than electricity generated by fossil fuels and nuclear reactors within three to five years.

Don’t believe a word of it. We need our coal power stations! They can never be replaced! There’s no renewable sustainable technology that can provide power as cheaply and with as many delightful emissions AND THERE NEVER WILL BE.

Stop working on alternatives. It’s futile!

A changed mind starts with a respectful debate

Now this, this is how you write to your local MP to get them to change their mind on an issue. Even if your local MP is arch-conservative Jamie Briggs and the issue is marriage equality. See how Ryan Davidson politely and respectfully helps Jamie to see the hollowness of each of his pre-programmed responses, to the point where at the end Jamie’s mind is, if not yet changed, certainly troubled…

You have articulated a very strong argument, in a passionate and considered manner which does make me think hard about this issue… I continue to think about this debate and I appreciate the fact you have put to me information that challenges my current position.

Good on Briggs for being man enough to continue the discussion, but most of all good on Davidson for calmly, non-threateningly demolishing the MP’s lame “this is how it is” position. One that, remember, is officially held by 149 out of 150 MPs in the House of Representatives. Have a read, and remember how he did it.

As one of the commenters to that post notes:

Congratulations Ryan, a brilliant effort. Clear, articulate and absolutely spot on. You really made him think. Rarely do people change their minds in one go, but if you move them one step then that’s progress, because the next person who challenges them can move them one more step.

Exactly. A useful reminder for all of us who argue about politics. Of course, you’re never going to get any kind of concessions out of a sitting big party MP when conducting a debate in public, in real time, or in an interview – when they’re in that mode, the game is simply Stick To The Party Line For All You’re Worth.

But if you can get them in a reflective moment, when they can respond in their own time…

The Australian pretends Greens have “failed” if they don’t run the parliament with their one lower house seat

The campaigners at News Ltd aren’t unaware that their general smears about the Greens are of limited effect in deterring Greens voters – voters who obviously simply don’t believe them. That’s no reason not to run those smears – it’s important to make sure that potential Greens voters are deterred from learning anything about the party beyond the half-truths and outright lies that make them sound like “extremists” – but it’s obviously not going to be enough to see them “destroyed at the ballot box”.

So there’s the second approach: make unrealistic, strawman claims about them that their voters might like to believe – the regular “moral superiority” sledge, in particular – and then when they fail (with their limited parliamentary representation) to achieve all those impossible “goals”, portrary it as some kind of a failure. So, for example:

Greens backtrack on carbon tax, saying they’ll accept a compromise price

THE GREENS have backed away from their hardline position on a high starting price for the carbon tax, conceding they won’t get the price they want in negotiations with Labor.

THEY’VE FAILED! They’re “backtracking”! “Conceding”!


The Greens’ stance is at odds with its decision to vote down Kevin Rudd’s emissions trading scheme in 2009 because it was too weak

Well, no, it was because it was worse than nothing, giving public money to the biggest polluters at the Liberals’ insistence, but anyway, don’t let reality interfere with your cunning little bit of Greens-bashing.

When Greens deputy Leader Christine Milne said last week a carbon price of more than $40 a tonne would be needed to shift Australia’s reliance on coal-fired power to cleaner energy, the Gillard government responded that the starting price would be `well south” of that.

So she didn’t say that the Greens would accept nothing less than $40/tonne – just that it was the necessary price to achieve the sought-for aim of an effective shift away from coal. That doesn’t mean that they’d prefer no deal to $40. That doesn’t mean that they’re unwilling to negotiate.

So where’s this failure? As Brown points out:

I’ve always said this is not going to be a Greens package,” he said in Canberra.

“I’ve had talks with big fossil fuel-involved corporations and they think about $40 is about the price that’s required if you’re going to get a transition from coal to gas and onwards towards renewables. But we’re looking at a package here of measures to get us in that direction. It isn’t just a price that counts,” Senator Brown said.

“All I can tell you is that whatever price comes out of this process is going to be the more active, the better because we’re there. It won’t be a Greens price, but it will be greener because we’re there.

Let’s hope that Greens voters got that far into the article. Well, if they were reading The Australian in the first place.

It’s no surprise that the biggest Greens haters at News Ltd are trying to portray this as a betrayal of principle:

This compromise may possibly hurt the Greens, who may be blamed by conservative voters for giving us an unpopular tax, and blamed by the Left for agreeing to make it ineffectual, too – while Labor voters may conclude there’s no product differentiation now to tempt them into voting Green instead. The fate of the Democrats after compromising on John Howard’s GST is a warning.

Fortunately, Greens voters are smart enough to see the difference. The Democrats promised no GST, and their then voters (like me) believed them. And after they betrayed us, and voted for the GST Howard would otherwise not have been able to pass, we never voted for them again. In contrast, I suspect most Greens voters are happy for the party to be achieving whatever it can with the power it has won in Canberra – and any effective carbon tax at all is entirely due to their influence. So we’re hardly likely to give up on them.

The thing that would make us give up on them is seriously selling out. The relentless hatred of them by the Murdoch press reassures us that they haven’t. The minute News Ltd starts writing positive stories about the Greens, that’s when we’ll start worrying.

A weird obsession

I didn’t see yesterday’s Question Time, so thanks a lot Greg Jericho for depressing me about it:

It was only three sitting days ago that the Budget was delivered. The Libs have had two weeks to pick apart the budget papers. So how many questions today do you think were on the budget? How many questions today were from the Shadow Treasurer, Joe Hockey or the Shadow Finance Minister Andrew Robb?

Yeah that’d be none.

I know Robb was there, I saw him before question time started, and he was on straight after. But during actual question time? err no.

So the Opposition didn’t want to talk the economy. What did they want to talk about? Yep, you guessed it: THE BOATS.

Sigh. Yes, the “alternative government”, with no better ideas on how to run the country, instead consumed by a weird obsession with a small number of asylum seekers who happen to arrive by boat. It’s ridiculous. Why aren’t they a laughing stock?