14 December 2009


These letters appearing in The Age newspaper of 14 December 2009 remind one - if one needs reminding - of how easy it is for governments to provide themselves with police state powers which people discover too late that they have lost control:

Powers breach rights in charter
December 14, 2009

WHEN the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act was enacted in 2006 it appeared a new era had arrived in the relationship between government and citizens in Victoria.

When the Summary Offences and Control of Weapons Acts Amendment Bill was passed last week, however, it became obvious how weak Victoria's proud new charter really is and how ready elected representatives are to ignore the charter.

The act has given police increased powers to:

■Search any person in a designated area, even when there is no reasonable suspicion the person is carrying a weapon. The Government admits this new power is a breach of the charter.

Moreover, there is no exemption for peaceful protests. Accordingly, these powers breach the rights of freedom of association and freedom of expression contained in the charter.

■Conduct pre-arrest strip searches of anyone in certain circumstances. The Government tried to justify this in the interests of community safety, a grossly insufficient justification for a law that disregards fundamental human rights.

■Move people on. These powers are distressingly broad. For example, the police have power to direct a person to ''move on'' whenever an officer believes the person "is likely to breach the peace" or "is likely to endanger the safety of other persons".

As the Federation of Community Legal Centres noted, such broad move-on powers involve "granting police powers based on subjective predictions of future behaviour by individual police officers". Such powers are inevitably "prone to be applied in a discriminatory and disproportionate way against some of our most vulnerable community members, including people who are homeless, young people, Aboriginal people and people experiencing mental health issues''.

A motion by the Greens that would have seen the act submitted to a process of public consultation was voted down by Government and coalition members, thus ignoring the clear recommendation of the Victorian Privacy Commissioner, who was concerned about the lack of public consultation on a proposal with such adverse impacts on the rights of Victorians.

Alice de Jonge, Brunswick

Orwellian notions

ON JANUARY 1, it is expected the State Government will implement legislation on assisted reproductive treatment. Most people would be familiar with this as IVF. The legislation requires all individuals and couples accessing treatment

to undertake a criminal record check and child protection order check before beginning or continuing treatment.

The legislation aims to control the reproductive rights of anyone who, due to infertility, requires medical assistance. In a society with rising infertility rates, this is not only highly insulting, but a potentially devastating consequence of any ''criminal'' behaviour for which anyone requiring treatment has already paid their dues.

Do we want to live in a society with Orwellian notions of controlling our reproduction and determining our access to medical treatment based on perceived criminality? This is the thin, sharp edge of the legal wedge, which sets a precedent for future control of access to medical treatment. It is discriminatory and breaches basic rights set out in United Nations conventions.

Jane Mateer, Hawthorn

Gross distortions of truth

SO BRUMBY'S Labor Government has again withheld critical information (''True cost of desal plant concealed'', The Age, 12/12). Yet again, the grand words of then Labor leader Steve Bracks from 1999 are shown to be hollow. He said a Labor government would differ from its predecessor through "leadership that believes in openness and accountability, that isn't afraid of scrutiny, that credits the people of this state with the intelligence to make their own judgements".

Thank you to The Age for highlighting such abuses of power. It's time the broader media,

and the population in general, scrutinised our governments more closely. They get away with murder because too many media outlets feed the public a diet of orchestrated 10-second sound grabs that either say nothing or grossly distort the truth.

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90 years old, political gay activist, hosting two web sites, one personal: http://www.red-jos.net one shared with my partner, 94-year-old Ken Lovett: http://www.josken.net and also this blog. The blog now has an alphabetical index: http://www.red-jos.net/alpha3.htm