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Crack annoyance squad wanted

Thanks to Joshua Watt for the link.

http://www.smh.com.au/news/opinion/crack-annoyance-squad-wanted/2008/07/02/1214950843595.html?page=fullpage#contentSwap1

Crack annoyance squad wanted
Julian Morrow

image descriptionMorris Iemma leads a Government whose members have displayed a truly impressive array of human failings. If we limit the list just to convicted criminals, it has harboured in its ranks a drink driver and a pedophile, not to mention a number of serial speeders. So it's no wonder an official visit from a man who can absolve sins is appealing to the State Government. But it's probably also not a surprise that the Government has, yet again, demonstrated bad judgment and made a bad law.

Thanks to the World Youth Day Amendment Regulation signed by the the Deputy Premier, John Watkins, on June 25, doing something which "causes annoyance or inconvenience to participants in a World Youth Day" could now lead to a criminal conviction.

It is astounding this law was signed off by Mr Watkins, who is also the Minister for Transport. One of the main causes of annoyance and inconvenience in this state - and one likely to affect World Youth Day participants - is the public transport system. Atheism notwithstanding, I pray to God that Mr Watkins will cop a fine under his ridiculous law.

One easy way to identify a bad law, other than simply reading it, is to think about what types of conduct might fall foul of it. And it's fun, too.

First, "inconvenience". My preliminary list of things that could cause inconvenience to participants at World Youth Day includes being ahead of them in a toilet queue, obscuring their view of the Pope, or maybe just situating your convenience store too far away. Ironically enough, excessive security checks can also be a major source of inconvenience, as the citizens of Sydney may recall from the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit last year.

Then there's "annoyance". On pain of a $5500 fine, all mobile phone ring tones should be set to silent until the Pope leaves. All banks should drop their infuriating ATM fees in World Youth Day areas. And if being annoying is now a crime, Frank Sartor and Michael Costa should steer well clear of Randwick.

The point here is that the new offence is built on concepts - inconvenience and annoyance - which are vague, subjective and not sufficiently serious to justify imposing a criminal sanction.

The laws are also deviously authoritarian. What will get you into trouble is failing to comply with a direction from an authorised person: "In the name of the law, please stop being annoying." The law gives a wide licence to meddlesome officials to stop legitimate conduct just because another person doesn't like it. And it's not just the Fun Police: members of the SES or even the Rural Fire Service can lead crackdowns, too.

Now I support muzzling idiotic pranksters as much as the next member of The Chaser team. But these laws could also be used to suppress the dignified and heartfelt protests of the many, many people who have suffered disgraceful abuse, cruelty or discrimination at the hands of the Catholic Church. That is unforgivable, even by a Pope. The new law offends the most basic principles of freedom (of speech, of association, of conscience) upon which our society - though not the Vatican's - is based.

Governments in liberal democracies should not pass anti-liberal, anti-democratic laws. But they do, more and more, and regardless of political persuasion. Sadly, repressive legislation is one of the few areas where the Iemma Government is not below average. It is simply average.

So what should citizens do when governments fail them? Put simply, bad laws should be defied. But defying a law does not necessarily mean breaking it. (I tend to agree with Rosa Parks, Mahatma Gandhi and Simon Townsend that sometimes breaking a law is justified, something our politicians and even judges can and should recognise … but that's another story).

The Chaser got lucky with the APEC motorcade stunt, not least because the charges were dropped. (Thanks, Nick Cowdrey.) But there were lots of aspects of our "fauxtorcade" that were not illegal. It's not illegal to hire some black limos. It's not illegal to wear a dark suit and sunnies, or a name tag that says "this is a joke" or - as far as I'm aware - to display the Canadian flag. It also wasn't illegal to drive into the green zone, although we knew we would have to comply with a direction to leave.

An attention-grabbing act of defiance can be just as effective as breaking a bad law, not to mention far less hassle. Lord knows World Youth Day is appealing: it's the chance to take on two decrepit authoritarian institutions for the price of one. So if these laws have got you thinking about doing something less bland and boring than writing a self-righteous opinion piece for a newspaper, here's my advice.

First, don't be intimidated. That's what they want. Second, try to be smart about it and prepare carefully. For example, even under this awful law it's not illegal to annoy World Youth Day participants (although you can't obstruct the event) - it's only illegal to not comply with a direction to stop. With the right idea, it may be possible to make a good statement, or even just a good joke, before anyone asks you to stop.

Remember, you're not committing an offence if you have a reasonable excuse - in the end, a court will decide what's reasonable. But if you conduct yourself in a calm and sensible way and try to stick to the rules, you'll give yourself a better chance of getting away with it.

Finally, film everything for as long as you possibly can (mobile phones are great for this) and try to make sure you keep the footage. Even just seeing the ridiculous situations this law creates, and potentially the heavy-handed way it gets enforced, might help turn the tide against bad governments passing bad laws.

And my last bit of advice: whatever you do, don't rely on my advice.

Julian Morrow is a lapsed Catholic, a lapsed lawyer, a lapsed Chaser comedian and a practising criminal. Miranda Devine is on leave.

TAGGED: LAW


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