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    « The dog ate the homework | Main | The Clash »
    Tuesday
    Mar032015

    A ray of sunshine for the Sunshine State

    Queensland's new attorney general and her shadow ... A refreshing change ... Prospect of genuine bipartisan engagement on law and justice policies ... Peter Callaghan SC says it's time to restore judicial discretions 

    Opportunity knocks. Qld AG Yvette D'Ath with ex-treasurer Wayne Swan

    FOR some in the legal profession, the only thing more pleasing than the appointment of Ms Yvette D'ath as Queensland's attorney general is the appointment of Mr Ian Walker as shadow attorney general.

    Both Ms D'ath and Mr Walker enjoy reputations of which their political colleagues must be envious. Each is thought to be intelligent, articulate, sincere, concerned and committed. Importantly, both are believed to be individuals of integrity.

    The coincidence of their appointments is a cause for optimism. It opens the way for a bipartisan approach to issues which have recently been a cause of division and distress.

    First, it should be possible for them to agree that, in Queensland at least, so-called "law and order" issues have no place in party politics.

    The recent attempt to emulate dreadful practices peddled in darker corners of the USA (and some other parts of Australia, by political parties on both sides) was pathetic.

    Ms D'ath and Mr Walker are both sensible enough to know that there is no such thing as a politician who actually wants to be "soft on crime", and that it is dishonest to pretend otherwise.

    They will understand that belonging to different parties does not give one or the other a monopoly of wisdom on topics such as punishment and rehabilitation, any more than it confers an exclusive right to express compassion for victims.

    Second, they can agree to respect and conserve all that is good about legal institutions that have taken centuries to develop. They can concur that an independent judiciary is a hallmark of our democracy, and sets us apart from so many countries that do not enjoy the rule of law.

    It is doubtful that either would tolerate any more of the nonsense that occurred during the last three years, but it would be heartening if they adopted, promptly, a joint approach towards restoring discretions that were recently ripped from our judges.

    These discretions were replaced by bad laws such as those that compel mandatory sentences for offences, irrespective of the circumstances.

    Reversing that madness should not have to await the outcome of an inquiry. A shared commitment to the prevention of injustice could see the offending provisions disappear now. 

    We can also look forward to renewed regard for parliament. So much recent controversy could have been avoided had elementary respect been paid to the parliamentary process.

    Encouraging debate about legislation, even legislation to which a government is irrevocably committed, is  actually a sign of strength. Hoarding draft laws until the moment they are introduced into parliament and then ramming them through with indecent haste is the tactic of a bully.  

    Ian Walker MP: cynical polarisation does not deliver seats

    So is bypassing the parliamentary committee process, and then disparaging those who dare to suggest that it might have been helpful. Ms D'ath and Mr Walker appear to have common sense enough to understand that bullies are actually cowards, and that open debate is nothing to fear.

    Finally, there is a compelling need to empower more recently developed institutions such as the Crime and Corruption Commission.

    Post-election analysis has already revealed that Queenslanders remain concerned about the spectre of corruption. There are many who remember what was exposed by Fitzgerald - they do not want to see the like again.

    A new generation understands that, whereas the things exposed by Fitzgerald were serious enough, corruption today might also involve a massive government contract, a mining lease, or some other activity that carries financial and environmental implications on a scale limited only by the imagination.

    Sports literate Queenslanders understand that when the prize is rich, there is a temptation for the rules to be bent. That is when you need a very strong umpire, unafraid to call out the cheats. It should not be difficult to secure agreement about what is required to ensure that we get one.

    Nor should it be hard, in light of the election result, for Ms D'ath and Mr Walker to convince their party rooms that, even if it had been thought that there were votes to be gained by the cynical polarisation of opinions on all of these issues, those votes do not deliver seats in parliament.

    From that starting point the way is clear for genuine bipartisan engagement. 

    It can be expected that some in politics may be jealous of the opportunity that presents for these two to do something that politicians rarely get the chance to do. The attorney and her shadow should start their journey together before these small minded individuals attempt to block their path. 

    From Peter Callaghan SC, President, Law and Justice Institute (Qld). 

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