Tag Archive for 'Liberalism'

Westminster democracy and illiberalism

Cam Riley doesn’t like the new “Bikie Laws” in South Australia.  He quotes Gary Sauer-Thompson, who says:

My understanding is that under the legislation … the Attorney-General has right to call an organisation, which could be anything from an informal group of people who meet at the local pub for a weekly drink through to a football club or a business, a Declared Organisation. The Attorney-General can use secret and untested evidence in making that declaration, and his decision can’t be challenged in the courts.

… Severe penalties are then visited upon controlled members who continue some form of contact, even remote contact by post, fax, phone or e-mail – two years imprisonment for a first offence, five years for a second or subsequent offence.

I agree with Cam and Gary.  This is illiberal and unnecessary.  The law is ostensibly to combat criminality in gangs of bikies, but every element of that criminality is already illegal.  It’s already illegal to conspire to commit violence, or to trade drugs.  So the net effect of this legislation is simply to grant the Attorney-General the power to disallow any organisation that (s)he doesn’t like.  Cam points out that the “emergency” laws enacted in NSW following the Cronulla riots are still on the books.

My question is this:

Why do these laws get passed now when they (probably) wouldn’t have been passed following equivalent crises 100 years ago?

It seems obvious that the legislature has a political incentive to be seen doing something, as time in the media’s spotlight is currency to a politician.  It’s common to suggest, although not universally accepted, that the sharp end of the executive (i.e. those charged with enforcing the law) generally wish for more options in carrying out that enforcement.  In a Westminster system of the executive having a controlling influence in the legislature, that would imply inexorable movement towards illiberalism over time as exogenously-sourced crises occur.

So how has liberalism survived for so long in the Westminster tradition?  What, if you’ll excuse the pun, arrests the movement to a sort of democratic dictatorship?