Victoria’s new Premier Ted Baillieu has promised to hit the ground running with a raft of new law and order legislation pre-Christmas.
He plans to abolish suspended sentences and home detention. Let’s hope he doesn’t rush these very important and sensitive issues in his haste to make good on election promises. Law and order is a delicate balance. Putting weight on one side of the scale can tip the other end disastrously.
Suspended sentences are a good case in point. Victorian judges still have the capacity to give offenders good behaviour bonds, even if suspended sentences are abolished. Under a bond, the offender agrees to be well-behaved for a set period of time. If they break their bond, the judge will send them to jail. If they don’t break their bond, an offender gets a clean sheet, no conviction recorded. So getting rid of suspended sentences in an effort to look tough may in fact have the reverse effect. Judges will maintain their independence by hook or by crook.
Suspended sentences have also been a useful tool for prosecutors seeking to cut deals with defendants facing minor charges. Pleading guilty in return for a conditional freedom makes sense to many villains. Without this option, many defendants will roll the dice on going to trial which will cost the community a fortune in court time. The court calendar is already clogged. This move will make the process grind even slower. For victims, the old saying: ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ is apt here.
Moreover, judges don’t like being told what to do by governments, particularly when candidates make promises to win elections which are simply popularity contests. Judges should never be concerned about their popularity; the Supreme Court is not Australian Idol.
Justice is about maintaining universal principles of fairness, not responding to the whim of the mob. No matter how the media spin their fear campaigns, revenge has no place in the process.
Premier Ted has so far been quiet on his promise back in March to ban the bikies by using the anti-association laws that SA Premier Mike Rann unleashed last year. Again, Rann didn’t think things through carefully enough and the draconian laws were knocked over at the Supreme Court and then on appeal in the High Court. It cost the taxpayers $10 million for no result. Let’s hope Ted doesn’t bow to sections of the media and the Victorian Police Association who are using the bikers as a Trojan horse to attack Chief Commissioner Simon Overland for entirely different reasons.
Preventing association between citizens is a foolish, headlong leap down the road of totalitarianism. In South Australia, it actually galvanised the bikers. Freedom of association is a basic right that our grandfathers fought the Nazis and the other Axis powers to uphold. It would be shameful to waste that sacrifice so a few pollies can win re-election. It makes me nauseous to think about it.
The ultimate solution is to enact a national Bill of Rights to protect such freedoms from the caprice of party politics. Until we have a Bill of Rights, the principle of the separation of powers under the Australian constitution protects us. The Executive cannot usurp the Judiciary. This is the hammer that smashed Rann’s ludicrous attempt to ban the bikers using secret evidence and arbitrary declarations by the Attorney General. Let’s hope Ted has read the High Court’s decision or he’s got a rude shock coming.