Archive for the ‘Civil liberties’ Category

Is Zimbabwe a police state?

October 30, 2013 5 comments

In Zimbabwe, the police have the power to detain somebody without charge or questioning, the government is able to overrule the judiciary, small crimes like drug possession or dangerous driving are punishable with over 20 years in jail, freedom of assembly and association are restricted, free speech is stifled as outspoken people can be taken to court for saying peaceful but “wrong” comments, subsections of society are banned from certain jobs, the internet is censored, the right to silence has been removed, and the government is involved in surveillance programs against their own citizens that sound like they come directly from 1984.

The system in Zimbabwe is still democratic, with regular elections and an active opposition. But the steady growth in government/police powers and the erosion of civil liberties have led some observers to describe Zimbabwe as a “police state”.

Not everybody agrees.

Some people in Zimbabwe have dismissed the idea of a police state as silly fear-mongering from the radical fringe. They argue that the expanded police and government powers are necessary to keep ordinary people safe. These loyalists point out that the government and police do not intend to abuse their powers, innocent people have nothing to fear, and that people complaining are simply defending criminals. Most Zimbabweans seem to agree with the loyalists and support the “tough on crime” policies.

From an outsiders perspective it is hard to know what conclusions to draw. It seems clear enough that Zimbabwe has abandoned the traditional checks and balances of liberal democracy, and have placed their faith in arbitrary power and super-strict sentencing. But is this a bad thing? Just because the government and police have suspended privacy and civil liberties, does that necessarily mean that Zimbabwe is a police state? From the outside it is easy to judge and criticise Zimbabwe for their strict policies… but perhaps they have found the right balance?

Before we judge countries like Zimbabwe for having authoritarian policies, perhaps we should try some of them in Australia to see if they work. What could go wrong?


Senate voting reform

September 11, 2013 Comments off

With the possible Senate victory of the Motoring Enthusiasts on 0.5% of the vote, and the Sports Party on 0.2% of the vote, there has been a growing call for reform to the way that we vote. One of the more sensible suggestions doing the rounds is that people should have more control over their preferences, for example by being able to preference parties “above the line” on the Senate ballot paper. Perhaps. That is certainly something that should be considered.

Another idea being promoted is that small parties should be required to achieve 4% or 5% of the vote before they are allowed to sit in parliament. The rationale is that unless a party can show they have serious public support, then they shouldn’t be there representing the public. This argument fails for two reasons.

First, there are 226 people in the federal parliament, meaning that each politician makes up 0.44% of the total. The idea that a party doesn’t deserve 0.44% of representation because they only get 3% of the vote is an absurd example of Orwellian double-talk. If we are to exclude the micro parties, then the 15% of people who prefer those options will be represented by nobody, while all the big parties will be over-represented.

Second, by making the 1% and 2% parties irrelevant it becomes much harder for those small parties to ever grow into bigger parties, creating political stagnation. The system will be limited to the current big parties, only interrupted by an occasional billionaire. The Greens currently get about 8% of the vote, but go back 20 years and they were a 2% party. Their occasional successes helped them to build a profile and grow, and provide more political diversity.

The Senate system is certainly strange, and it’s reasonable to look at reforms that help make preferences more transparent. Or better yet, the new parliament should re-think our absurd attachment to compulsory voting. Forcing people to vote devalues the voice of people who carefully consider their vote, annoys people who don’t care, leads to lower quality public policy debates as parties appeal for the all-valuable ignorant vote, ensures that some segments of the voting public can be taken for granted, results in many informal and donkey and joke and random votes, while being a pointless infringement on free choice. For no benefit.

If we are going to reconsider the way we vote in Australia, voluntary should be on the table… but having an arbitrary cut-off that biases the system against small parties should be an absolute non-starter.



Good news in the “war on drugs”

October 25, 2012 Comments off

There has been some good news in the “war on drugs” in Queensland recently. The government has been working hard to achieve their goals, and they are proud of their success. In the Australian Crime Commission Illicit Drug Data Report 2010-11 we are told that the Queensland police managed over 17,000 seizures of marijuana. Well done to the boys (and girls) in blue.

Now, some of you may be thinking that this is all a horrible waste of time & money. People have argued that the “war on drugs” is too expensive and draconian, and does more harm than good. But those people would be missing the point.

It’s true that prohibition does cost hundreds of millions of dollars, harass many peaceful people for their lifestyle choices, help organised crime and leads to more violent crime, leads to worse health outcomes and more deaths, and it doesn’t prevent drug use to any noticeable degree. But there is another effect that is often ignored — it helps switch drug-users from marijuana to other “harder” drugs.

And this is the good news.

Read more…

Defending death threats

December 14, 2011 8 comments

I believe in free speech. I mean — I really believe in free speech.

That doesn’t just mean that I support Andrew Bolt’s right to say whatever he likes about aboriginals, irrespective of who gets offended. And it doesn’t just mean that I oppose all censorship, such as the banning of Mein Kampf in some European countries. It also means I oppose defamation laws, and I believe you should be allowed to say anything about anybody, whether true or false, for whatever reason. It even means I believe that tobacco companies should be free to advertise.

I believe attempts to limit speech “for the public good” will mostly do more harm than good, and that messy and imperfect freedom is better than neat and tidy (but even more imperfect) government control.

Today I was discussing another of the controversial areas of free speech. Yesterday, that crazy old kook of the blogosphere grumpy-Graeme Bird wrote an eloquent rant aimed at me, where he said:

“He must die. John Humphreys must die so that this country can live.  He has betrayed this country too many times and he must no longer live … This is too important a subject to let John Humphreys live. Where does the lying end. I’m convinced that it only ends when John Humphreys is cold and stiff … HE MUST DIE, FOR THE LYING TO END. AND THIS IS A LIFE OR DEATH MATTER … I am accusing Humphreys of being a knowing traitor … SO MY NEW CLAIM IS THAT HUMPHREYS WILL NEVER STOP LYING. THAT HE WILL NEVER BE A SAFE PAIR OF HANDS. THAT HE WILL ALWAYS BE A TRAITOR. WHILE HE YET LIVES.”

My first death threat. Now I know that I’m important. A few friends have suggested I take it seriously, and one kindly offered to call his federal police friend who would call Graeme… but I nixed that idea. For his part, Graeme says that it is not a death threat because he doesn’t plan on doing any killing himself. That’s good to hear. But another friend pointed out that the above sentiments might still be considered incitement to violence… which got me thinking about free speech.

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Submission on civil unions

November 14, 2011 Comments off

The Queensland Treasurer Andrew Fraser has recently introduced a private members bill on civil unions for same-sex couples. The debate is ongoing, but submissions to the relevant committee considering the bill closed today. Below is my submission, on behalf of the Australian Libertarian Society.

Submission to the Legal Affairs, Police, Corrective Services and Emergency Services Committee


On behalf of the Australian Libertarian Society (ALS), I would like to suggest that the government does not belong in marriage at all. The debate about how the government should regulate our love lives and our personal relationships rests on the idea that the government should be involved in the first place. That starting assumption is flawed. Love and relationships do not become better or worse because you inform a politician. Few married people conclude that their love is real only because it has been approved by Anna Bligh or Julia Gillard.

A marriage or civil union is an agreement between two people, and the only people who should be able to make that decision are the people involved. So long as the people involved are consenting adults, there is no reason for the government to restrict their right to form a contract with each other. The idea that the government should restrict the basic economic freedom to contract, on the basis that the parties to the contract are the same sex, is a perplexing attack on liberalism and the rule of law.

Ideally, the government should fully deregulate “marriage”. But if the government insists on continuing its weird fixation with documenting our love lives, then at the very least they should conduct their kinky hobby without discrimination. Personal discrimination is necessary and normal in everyday life, but government discrimination should never be tolerated because the government has the privileged position of being able to impose their views on others through force, and without direct consent.

In case this isn’t clear, let me state it simply — marriage should be fully deregulated, but if that is considered “too radical” then the government should at least allow for same-sex civil unions.

Defenders of marriage will rightly say that marriage is traditionally a religious concept. If only it had stayed that way. I suggest that religious groups should be free to discriminate according to their beliefs, just as we all discriminate every day regarding who we date, meet, support, visit, like, etc. However, that discrimination must not be done with the backing of government. Churches should always be free to *not* conduct a same-sex marriage or a same-sex union, but that decision should be left to each church, and not imposed by the government.

Freedom is now considered a quaint concept in most of the western world, including Australia. While political talking heads will argue passionately about how the government should run our lives, most people are genuinely perplexed when they hear the idea that perhaps the government should not run our lives at all. Many people now feel comfortable in their gilded cage, debating about the rules that our “leaders” should impose on us. This letter is in support of civil unions, and to let you know that some of us still believe in human self-ownership and reject the idea of government control of our lives.

You may set restrictive laws if you like. I will consider obeying them. Who is Ron Paul?

Kind Regards,

John Humphreys
Australian Libertarian Society

The new minority that people love to hate

May 30, 2011 5 comments

Perhaps it is inevitable that people will always need to find a minority to hate. Whether it is based on race, or sex, or sexual preference, or lifestyle choice, or language, or religion, or personal habits… the instinct to discriminate, to distrust “different” people, and to enforce conformity is a constant theme throughout history and throughout the world. If this instinct was purely personal, then it would not be a big issue. People could simply choose to associate with those people they prefer, and we could all live in peace. But sadly, many groups want to use the government to force their bigotry on others.

Over the last 100 years there have been some great improvements in social policy, as the government removed most of their discrimination based on race, religion, sexual preference and sex. There are a few outstanding issues (women in the military, gay adoption rights, special rules for aboriginals) but on the whole we now have less official discrimination in these areas. Sadly, not all minorities have been this lucky.

While some minorities become popular political causes, other minorities are on the receiving end of negative political populism. Politically correct campaigners will loudly support the “good minorities” such as GLBT or immigrant groups, but they are equally loud in their condemnation of the “wrong minorities”. This seems to indicate that we are not becoming more tolerant… we are simply switching our bigotry on to other areas.

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Irresponsible gambling

April 18, 2011 2 comments

The problem with irresponsible gamblers is the word “irresponsible” not the word “gambler”. The same is true with “irresponsible drinking” or “irresponsible drug-use” or any other irresponsible action. It is not the existence of gambling or alcohol or drugs that create irresponsible behaviour. And yet the nanny-state campaigners want to punish the product instead of addressing the underlying problem. With wowsers Nick Xenophon and Andrew Wilkie in parliament, and the government in trouble with the carbon tax, the pressure is growing for the government to “do something” about poker machines.

It’s easy to attack poker machines. I don’t like them. I enjoy playing texas hold’em poker for the judgement, excitement and social element… none of which I get from poker machines. But personal preference is besides the point. In a free society, people should be free to pursue their own hobbies and activities, and I shouldn’t force my preferences on others. People who use poker machines (like smokers and shooters) are the new whipping boys of politics. While “progressive” politicians love to wax lyrical about defending minorities, they only seem to defend fashionable minorities. And while trendy lefties will advertise the moral superiority of their tolerance, they only seem to tolerate groups which they actually like.

People who enjoy playing poker machines are seen as the “wrong sort of minority” and therefore they apparently deserve no tolerance.

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