Coalition of the willing in eroding our civil liberties?

Yesterday’s Independent newspaper carries a powerful article by Henry Porter. It charts the loss of civil liberties in the UK created by nine years of the Blair Government. He describes clearly and powerfully how, given a choice between personal liberty and collective security and public order, Tony Blair has consistently plumped for the latter. And all, seemingly, with nary a whimper from the great British public.

Could it happen here? Political labels apart, Blair and Howard seem to be temperamental and philosophical soul mates. The general tenor of government discourse in the two countries has disturbing parallels.

Indeed, how far down this path has Australia already travelled in response to the “war on terror” and the assault on Australia’s shores of waves of queue jumpers and proto-terrorists? Porter’s article exemplifies the challenge of understanding the cumulative effect of measures spread across different pieces of legislation. And this is in a unitary state, rather than a Federal system.

It would be very interesting to understand how far Commonwealth and State action post Tampa and 9/11 has taken us down the Blairite road. Would Churchill be spinning rapidly in his grave in response to these trends? Or do we only warrant the odd lazy half twist?

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Scott Wickstein
17 years ago

That is a powerful indictment of the entire Blair government. Could it happen here? Of course; indeed, I would not at all be surprised to find that the legislative apparatus is already in place.

You should not be at all surprised of course. Once politicians get it into their heads that they have the right to boss citizens around (for their own good, of course), and the voters accept this, then they become more and more accustomed to it.

Ken Parish and most of the other readers around these parts like to make fun of libertarians like me, but when you accept the state has a right to expropriate a citizen’s economic rights, it isn’t that hard to concede the state’s right to expropriate a citizen’s political rights as well. So do not kid yourself that a change of government will turn things around in Austrlaia. Only a change of thinking will do that.

17 years ago

When you accept the state has a right to expropriate a citizen’s economic rights, it isn’t that hard to concede the state’s right to expropriate a citizen’s political rights as well.

??? So”

Nicholas Gruen
17 years ago

Fresh from Slashdot.

NH Man Arrested for Videotaping Police

macinrack writes to mention a story about a New Hampshire man who was arrested for videotaping police on his doorstep, using a fairly standard security camera system. He was officially charged with ‘two felony counts of violating state eavesdropping and wiretap law by using an electronic device.’ From the article: “The security cameras record sound and audio directly to a videocassette recorder inside the house, and the Gannons posted warnings about the system, Janet Gannon said. On Tuesday night, Michael Gannon brought a videocassette to the police department, and asked to speak with someone in ‘public relations,’ his wife said and police reported. Gannon wanted to lodge a complaint against Karlis, who had come to the family’s house while investigating their sons, Janet Gannon said. She said Karlis showed up late at night, was rude, and refused to leave when they asked him.”

Scott Wickstein
17 years ago

No, I don’t just mean tax. All societies have had tax, and I accept that the taxman will always be with us.

What I am referring to is the raft of regulations, controls, permits, and blanket ‘verbotens’ that governments have placed on a massive range of economic activities. This movement started in the wake of the First World War, and got a huge kick along on with the Second World War.

Take as an extreme example, broadcasting. It’s illegal for you to set up your own television network. Why? The government has taken it upon themselves to regulate television broadcasting, ostensiably to protect ‘the public interest’ but really to protect a powerful oligarchy existing already.

Or try to import bananas. Can’t do that either- even if they are clean of disease. Can’t upset the National Party now, can we?

CL might not see a link between the erosion of economic and political freedoms, but just because he can’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist!

17 years ago

Scott. I agree with the examples you gave, especially TV. I have obviously lumped you in with the those typically extremist ratbags that label themselves libertarians and call all taxation thievery.

I still do not see the erosion of economic freedoms as the main threat to our political freedoms. I reckon that the main threat is Aussie apathy and an incredibly pliant media for whom fear mongering is the centrepiece of their business model. And we do not have the protection of the US constitution.

Richard Phillipps
Richard Phillipps
17 years ago

The reason most if not all states licence tv is that the spectrum is a finite and limited resource. Apart from needing to keep some of it for ambulance, police, and the like, there is some argument that the remainder should be shared out to some extent and not just given to whichever mogul gets in first. Of course, we have an over-regulated broadcasting sector, but that is better than a totally unregulated one.

As for bananas, I don’t know what the law there is, but we have the advantage of a relatively disease free agricultural sector, which is good for us and good for our exporters. Tell the british farmers devastated by foot and mouth disease that a totally open sector is a good idea, and see what they say in reply.

Law is not all about commands and verbotens. The greatest engine for national and economic wealth, and for the freedoms that a vigorous economy delivers, is the company limited by shares, and they are an artifact of legislation.

It is wrong to equate Tampa with a desire to have effective collective security and public order. Tampa was an act of opportunist bastardry by one half of politics and of gutless acquiescence by the other.

The Porter article is wrong when it says that Churchill lived in more testing times than ours; he was not under the shadow of loonies with suitcase size wmd’s deciding to go off because someone has offended their particular religous beliefs.

As we become more and more interdependend, more closely settled, and more dependent on jontly owned resources and structures like the internet, the rail and road network and the global petroleum market so, inevitably, our scope for untramelled action diminishes.

The real issue is not the power of governments, but whether they use their powers as far as possible to avoid hurting us. And the best answer to that threat is a bill of rights.