By Blake O’Connor and Ugur Nedim
The Baird government is set to remove extended trading hours for ‘Service NSW’ centres across the state, representing a backflip by a government whose approval rating is already sliding after introducing a range of measures which enhance state control at the expense of legal protections and safeguards.
When its introduction was announced in 2013, Service NSW was described as a ‘one-stop shop’ for state government services. Combining the Roads and Maritime Service with other organisations into a convenient location with generous trading hours was the master plan of former premier Barry O’Farrell. At the time, O’Farrell said:
“We have heard the message from residents and business owners that they want easy access to government services, faster service and a single point of contact”.
This vision was made a reality through the Service NSW (One-stop access to Government Services) Regulation 2013, which was a response to community criticism about the ailing and dysfunctional network of government service centres across the state.
Despite the consolidation of services saving the community millions, the Baird government is intent on slashing trading hours to save even more money.
As of Monday 3 October 2016, 30 branches will have their trading hours reduced from 7pm to 5.30pm on weekdays, including Parramatta, Rockdale, Castle Hill, Ryde and Penrith.
At least 35 regional branches will also be affected, 12 of which are scheduled to close at 4.30pm and 23 at midday on weekdays – which is unlikely to rescue Baird’s falling popularity in country areas.
It hasn’t been a popular year for Mike Baird.
Even shock jock and liberal supporter Alan Jones has served up a stinging rebuke of his policies, likening him to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un by labelling him ‘Kim Jong-Baird’.
Mr Jones’ attack comes of the back of a range of decisions made by the government with little community consultation – including the forced merger of local councils, the ban on greyhound racing, and the relocation of the iconic Powerhouse Museum.
Others have criticised the Liberal party for substantially increasing the powers of police and other law enforcement agencies in a range of areas, while removing basic rights such as the right to protest and to remain silent, and eroding legal protections and safeguards – slowly turning NSW into a police-controlled state.
Further criticism has been levelled at the state government’s decision to spend big on prisons while slashing funding to a range of diversionary and rehabilitation programs, bolstering bail laws, introducing mandatory minimum sentences and increasing maximum penalties – measures which have contributed to the state’s rising prison population.
Police as judge, jury and executioner
Perhaps most recently, the premier was criticised for giving police new powers to restrict the movement of individuals, and control their associations and employment with little court oversight.
The new laws now allow police officers – without permission from a court – to issue “public safety orders” banning individuals who police claim are a “risk to public safety” from attending specified public places for 72 hours.
Police can also now apply to the Supreme or District Court for Serious Crime Prevention Orders that can carry a range of onerous conditions, including:
- prohibiting a person from engaging in specified activities,
- regulating who they can associate with,
- limiting their business dealings, and
- preventing them from using certain technologies, including those which area part of modern life such as computers and mobile telephones.
In order to get such orders, police only need to show to the court – through documents prepared by themselves – that an individual is suspected of engaging in crime-related activity; a very low test. Any breach of the orders carries a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment.
The president of the NSW Bar Association, Noel Hutley SC believes the new laws create:
“… broad new powers which can be used to interfere in the liberty and privacy of persons and to restrict their freedom of movement, expression, communication and assembly. The powers are not subject to necessary legal restraints or appropriate and adequate judicial oversight and in many cases basic rules of evidence are circumvented”.
Many hope that such brazen interferences with the rights of individuals – who are supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty by a court of law – will ultimately lead to the removal of Baird at the next state election. That said, it should be noted that many of the new laws have been passed with the support of both major political parties.
Image credit: Greyhound Data.com