A former SAS soldier, the newest member of the WA Parliament, delivered a telling commentary on the erosion of civil liberties in Australia when he gave his maiden speech in March. “…a speech capable of making the hairs on the back of your neck stand up,” said ABC reporter, Claire Krol.
Civil liberties erosion
By Claire Krol, ABC News, Perth, 11 March 2010
It’s not often a newly elected Member of Parliament delivers a speech capable of making the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
But, that’s exactly what happened when the (Labor) member for Willagee, Peter Tinley, took to his feet to deliver his maiden parliamentary speech.
(The former SAS Major was elected the member for Willagee following former WA Premier Alan Carpenter’s resignation in September 2009).
He made a simple yet compelling statement.
“I didn’t participate in two wars on the other side of the world to deliver democratic freedoms in those countries to see them whittled away in my home.”
With those carefully chosen words, Mr Tinley summed up what he sees as one of the biggest challenges facing Western Australians – an erosion of their civil liberties.
In the last 18 months WA’s parliament has been asked to consider the controversial stop and search laws, anti-association laws, anti-hoon legislation, mandatory jail terms for assaults on police and the banning of convicted criminals from going into or working at licensed premises.
Mr Tinley is concerned those pieces of legislation have been brought in under the guise of law and order and a ‘tough on crime’ policy.
“For some things like the stop and search powers we won’t necessarily see how problematic they are until someone somewhere in Northbridge or in Fremantle or in Hillarys gets stopped inappropriately and all of a sudden we realise we’ve got a problem on our hands, ” he said.
“As a product of fear politics we get a latitude to take away the civil liberties that are really innate to our society.”
The president of the Law Society Hylton Quail has been a strong campaigner against several pieces of proposed legislation.
He says the community is perhaps a little naive about the laws.
“People are concerned about this. They need to be ringing their local MPs and saying we are worried about this. This is not on, we don’t need this legislation.”
He says West Australians have been losing rights for more than a decade.
“This erosion, one step at a time, and you’ve got all these liberties and you turn around and suddenly you’ve got none left.”
“It’s not just started with the Barnett government, it’s been going on for a long time and it’s something people ought be worried about.”
The director of Civil Liberties Australia Tim Vines says the public should be concerned.
“It’s easier to put in place a piece of legislation than to take it away. That is why governments need to be so careful.”
Mr Vines believes that fear is a fundamental driver to increasing penalties or introducing new pieces of legislation.
“We see that fear being created and driven by politicians. Study after study by the Australian Institute of Criminology has shown that rates of violence and serious crime have been decreasing for a number of decades. So while people are actually safer on the streets, they may not feel safer.”
Mr Vines warns that a piece of legislation that seems unremarkable today, might later become more controversial.
“People always need to be aware when draconian legislation is put in place, not by how it might be used by the government that is in office, but how it could be applied by a government later on.”
Mr Quail says the fight over stop and search laws is continuing.
“The battle is not lost yet, the Nationals are looking hard at this and so is a parliamentary committee. It could be there are some amendments that would put in place some checks and balances so that this legislation can’t be abused. ”
Peter Tinley says voters need to be paying attention to the government’s plans.
“We need to have the conversation…about civil liberties.., we need to have them in an honest way. Those things should definitely be a part of the state agenda.”
“Australians seem to take their democratic freedoms for granted a bit in Australia.
“They don’t seem to engage because there is this broad perception that everything is going to be ok.”