Well, the election is over.

Transport issues, power prices, footy stadiums and small bar restrictions have all been ventilated ad nauseam and are all now water under the bridge.

Like it or lump it, we’ve got more of the same for the next four years.

As a lawyer and a journeyman of some 30 years  at the coalface of the justice system I cant help but despair at how far down the political agenda law and justice issues have sunk.

Apart from a fleeting reference to even more rapacious mandatory sentencing laws, which Labor allowed itself to be sucked into, the broader issues facing anyone coming into contact with the law didn’t seem to surface.

Labor seemed to see any brave opposition to the past four years of monumental  Liberal incursions into civil freedoms and legal safeguards as being electorally unpalatable. They shamefully agreed not to take issue with the government’s appallingly ham-fisted proposals to radically expand mandatory sentences.

Personally I know a number of current Labor members (some of them former legal colleagues of mine) are horrified by the current trend in justice issues. Over a drink, they will frankly tell you so. But publicly, (and shamefully) they have to take a different stand.

Public opinion these days is firmly and squarely in the corner of tougher measures against crime and of the misguided impression that our system is geared in favor of accused offenders.

But that doesn’t make it right. There comes a time for tough, principled decisions. Things that a Labor party of old would have embraced, irrespective of ballot-box backlash.

Im no fan of the Labor Party, quite the reverse; but historically there is no doubting that they have led the way in issues of social justice.

Abolition of the death penalty. No fault divorce. Legal Aid. Land rights. Equal Opportunity. I could go on. Few of these have come to pass under conservative governments.  But where are these sort of visionaries in the ALP today?

I didn’t see too many of them putting their hands up last Saturday. Mark McGowan blew his opportunity to make any sort of a stand.

Sure, the  Curtins, Whitlams and Hawkes don’t come along every day, but has law and justice simply drifted off the radar for Labor? If you knew where McGowan or any of his shadow cabinet stood on any of the basic issues confronting accused people in WA today you must have been watching a different campaign than I.

 

 

The inherent and continuing problems in the WA system that threw up the perverse results in cases like (inter alia) Mallard, Mickleberg and Button seemed to be of no consequence to anyone.

The fact that, unlike most other States, we have no right to a preliminary hearing of any criminal charges  which may be preferred against you, seemingly interests neither political party.

The fact that we have the most rapacious and inequitable assets confiscation legislation in the western world, regularly penalizing innocent third parties, slips under the radar.

The bizarre outcome of cases where persons unconditionally acquitted of criminal charges after trial are still forced to personally bear the massive legal costs of a hopelessly flawed prosecution seems to be a matter of no concern to anyone. Except of course the unfortunate person in question.

The fact that young first offenders and the mentally ill are sentenced to mandatory imprisonment by judges whose hands are tied by reactionary new legislation seems to now be common ground by both parties. (Despite the fact that Labor fought tooth and nail against these laws in both houses in 2009, they bewilderingly refused to utter a word against them in the 2013 campaign).

Nor the fact that despite imprisoning more people per head of population than anywhere other than the NT we still have more violent crime across the board than even Victoria and NSW.

Not that long ago these sorts of things might have been fairly critical issues at any State election.

 

 

When issues like where to build the new footy stadium, traffic congestion, and whether you will need to have a meal at a café before buying a drink, start to completely submerge basic and urgent issues of social justice you just have to wonder  where both parties’ priorities lie.

You probably couldn’t expect any better from a Barnett-led government. His economic record is  good, but as to the wider social picture, his child-like (and now discredited)  response seems to be that increasing penalties for criminal offence will solve any justice issue.

In that regard Mark McGowan failed to show any initiative, give us any alternative. And for that alone he deserved to lose.

TFP

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