Self-described ‘punk-ass libertarian’ Dan Nolan, who blogs occasionally at Ultimate Science Team, has written a guest post for us on police powers. I reproduce it here unaltered:
It’s a widely held misconception that you can boil a frog alive by putting it in a saucepan or a pot of cold water and slowly applying heat. The theory goes that the frog adjusts to its temperature naturally, so if you heat it slowly enough you will be able to boil it alive without the frog even noticing. It’s a great story and a great allegory, one that Libertarians frequently use to point out the slow erosion of our rights and the increase of police powers in any society slowly moving towards a form of benign totalitarianism. Unfortunately in this situation the reaction does not reflect the reality, the frog will jump out of the water as it starts to heat. They don’t like being contained. The frog boiling alive is a myth that seems to have taken hold in our minds. In the situation of eroding police powers, though, the analogy holds because we are, effectively, doing nothing about the situation.
You may consider it to be a grotesque hyperbole on my part to claim that what is happening in NSW in any way resembles a ‘form of benign totalitarianism’. You may think that this kind of ardent claim is indicative of a mind poisoned by Libertarian propaganda and proof that the individual is thoroughly disconnected from reality. This, however, is not sensationalism. In NSW you can have your property investigated by the police without your consent, or you even knowing as long as a judge issues a warrant. Your car and everything in it can be searched without your consent even without a warrant without reason. Your mobile phone can be taken from you and the contents searched without your consent and, again, without a warrant. If you are traveling on public transport or are in a licensed premises you can be searched invasively without a warrant if a (notoriously unreliable) sniffer dog looks at you funny. The police can and will categorically misrepresent the scope and ability of their powers because their particular role carries with it the ‘fate of society’. They feel as if they are the individual guardians of society and anyone who questions them or attempts to limit their abilities and powers is effectively a criminal. If any or all of you have interacted with police and have uttered the phrase ‘civil libertarian’, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Though it is valid to say that police corruption has decreased substantially over the past three decades, the scope of their powers has increased by a truly vulgar degree.
What we have in NSW is a very dangerous meeting point of three concepts. The first of these is the mindset outlined above, that the police are the very force holding society back from the brink of anarchy and moral decay. This point has a modicum of validity, but it by its own nature, assumes we live in a society of sociopaths that only have the deterrent of the police stopping us from raping and murdering like it’s going out of fashion. The second is that, unlike our compatriots in the US and other nations, we have no enumerated rights that are guaranteed protection. We do not have a bill of rights that exists in either the Federal or NSW constitution. All rights we assume and presume we have are the side-effect of a benign jurisprudence than any real movement for guaranteed rights. This element, in concert with the third point, the drunken nature with which the NSW government kowtows to the media’s demands and those of the police association for increased police powers shows how blindly this erosion of our rights has been enabled.
It would be a crude attempt at pseudo-psychiatry to claim that I have any insights into the overall nature of the Australian psyche. Humour me, as I feel there is something valid in saying Australians have an over-reliance on the Government to solve their problems. Even a fleeting glance at the news media would show that the opinion of the average Australian on many issues is that of wanting the Government to ‘fix this’ or ‘do more’. This is stunningly obvious when it comes to issues of crime and punishment. Politicians wish to look tough on crime and the media holds them to account on this issue. The NSW police association, as by its very nature, wishes to have greater powers to ‘fight crime’ and proposes powers they should be afforded which are rushed through parliament with nary a glance from our elected representatives. Those individuals who see this as a grotesque echo-chamber that dissolves our rights are ignored or marginalised for being ‘soft on crime’. This has extended to such a degree that in response to recent laws passed to deal with ‘bikie gangs’, the NSW Director of Public Prosecution Nicholas Cowdery, commented they were: “another giant leap backwards for human rights and the separation of powers – in short, the rule of law“. The politicians and the police association are so ignorant of the actual role of law in society that they have extended their powers by a degree that would be farcical if it was not so stunningly bleak.
The problem faced by those who wish to protect human rights is the similar issue faced by those who wish to protect free speech. We speak in defense of the indefensible, and we are portrayed as outliers by the media to the community at large. Civil libertarians speaking out in defense of people are often seen siding with ‘terror suspects’, accused murderers or paedophiles, something the community seems to misinterpret. Unfortunately, this is the burden we bear, rights, by their very nature, must be uniformly applied and adhered to. You, as fellow lovers of liberty are already the greatest advocate for the perils of this situation. We need to start rocking the boat with furious and unrelenting anger, querying and questioning every further request for powers. We need to be issuing press releases, giving interviews and motivating people to write to members of parliament or the media. We need to respond to every request for even the slightest increase in powers with a torrent of protest in every way we possibly can. To steal a term from the feminists of the 60’s, we need to focus on consciousness raising. Show the people what rights have been taken from them and demand that the Government, which exists at our behest, relinquishes the power it has taken from us. Only by raising our voices and using the tools we have at hand can we make the response reflect the reality, only by facing this head on and demanding our rights back can we make the frog jump. I’d rather not consider the alternative.
You can follow Dan Nolan on Twitter @dannolan.