Law and Order Promises: Just a Vote Grab?

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Gavel and coaster

If state election campaigns tend to follow a theme, the recent NSW election was no exception. There were the usual promises about improving services and infrastructure, and building better roads. And, of course, promises relating to law and order were front and centre.

In the course of an election campaign, it’s not unusual to hear state political candidates promise to “get tough” when it comes to criminal justice issues.

Law and order remains a drawcard for winning votes, because it’s at the forefront of many people’s minds when trying to decide how to vote, but there are a number of reasons why policy shouldn’t be motivated by politics.

The new government’s law and order promises

  • The Baird government made various law and order promises during the campaign, including:
    310 new police officers.
  • $100 million to be spent on new police technologies over a period of four years.
  • Lowering the threshold for possession of a commercial supply of drugs from one kilogram to 500 grams.
  • Increasing roadside drug testing.
  • Seizing drug dealers’ and traffickers’ assets.
  • Requiring pharmacies to keep a register of and report pseudoephedrine purchases (pseudoephedrine is used to produce methamphetamine, or ice).
  • Increasing funding for ice treatment clinics.
  • Establishing a domestic violence register.
  • Appointing a Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.
  • Imposing life penalties for sexual intercourse with a child under the age of 10.
  • Increased non-parole periods for firearms offences.
  • Crime prevention orders where there is an apprehension that a person may commit an offence.

On paper, this is quite an impressive list. But the question is, will these promises produce results, or were they made just to grab votes?

The dangers of policy being motivated by politics

Now that the election is over, it remains to be seen how many of the pledges will actually be implemented.

For example, according to a report in The Guardian newspaper, the Coalition promised 209 new police officers in the 2012 state election, yet only 129 were actually appointed.

The report speculates that the latest promise of 310 officers may in reality only deliver 191, if the government tries to make up the difference from the last election, rather than make 310 new appointments.

The funding of police technologies will focus largely on video cameras, mobile fingerprint scanning and drug testing machines. While these devices will certainly help to increase revenue through issuing fines, we are yet to learn of the impact that the government hopes to have on crime with the use of such technologies.

The promises have also focused heavily on the activities and problems associated with the drug known as ice, and the wider impacts of these have concerned drug lawyers and activist groups alike. But there is a real issue with detection and punishment being the main focus of these promises, rather than education, social support, early intervention and rehabilitation.

Even more damning are the observations of Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation President Dr Alex Wodak, who told the Sydney Morning Herald that the promises were “nonsense on stilts” and “window dressing.” He also said that the key issue was about demand for the drug – with demand but no supply, users and dealers would simply move onto another drug and the issue would never be properly addressed.

Despite these criticisms, community concerns about ice and a general attitude in favour of punishment rather than early intervention and rehabilitation means that we are likely to see a much tougher stance on drug testing and punishment, even if these measures are not effective at dealing with the underlying problem.

Impact remains to be seen

There are some aspects of the government’s law and order promises that raise real doubts over how effective they will be in practice, if they are implemented at all.

Tackling law and order issues, particularly those surrounding drug activity, should be about reducing crime rates in the long term rather than winning quick votes.

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Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist with 25 years of experience as a Criminal Defence Lawyer. He is the Principal of Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

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