Tuesday, January 18, 2011

NSW Election 2011

In ten weeks time, New South Wales will elect a new government.  If the bookies and pundits are to be believed (not to mention those inside the Labor Party) there is no prospect this election will be close and it now seems the only real contest will be fought over the size of the Coalition majority, tipped to be somewhere between healthy and massive.

It is shaping as the most unusual election seen in New South Wales for a very long time. Word has well and truly got out that the electorate are armed with intent to inflict grievous bodily harm on Labor. Even if Barry O'Farrell died or was charged with a criminal offence, he could be replaced and the Coalition still win in a canter.  Indeed, the drover's dog could lead them to victory.

Seeing then the Coalition bears no real onus to shift votes, will they have any need to take part in the type of "law-and-order" campaign with which NSW has become so familiar? Perhaps not, although Labor, fearful of a wipeout, and unable to change their spots, may still draw them into one.

With this in mind, RG intends to examine the major parties in the next ten weeks, and determine their policies on issues surrounding the criminal justice system.

Throughout their sixteen year reign, Labor has a shown a great fondness to use imprisonment as the primary lever of policy. During this time the NSW prison population has risen sharply. Can we expect any changes in 2011 and beyond? In an interview on Stateline between Quentin Dempster and Police Minister Michael Daley last May, we are given a strong indication that Labor believes imprisonment works.

Here's a part of the transcript, which also includes an interview with Shadow Police Minister, Michael Gallacher, himself an ex-police officer, who observes that teenagers do "apprenticeships in crime" in the juvenile system, and speaks of a need to prevent them from going on to complete a "masters in crime".

Stateline - 18 May 2010
As we all sleep more soundly in our beds knowing police will soon have the capability to catch more criminals, Dr John Buchanan, an expert on incarceration rates, unemployment, social and workforce trends, has a warning for police and for the rest of us: Australia now has a growing prisoner population and we're trending towards the United States in locking up marginalised and criminalised citizens.
JOHN BUCHANAN, SYDNEY UNI: Two per cent of the adult male population in the US is in jail. It actually keeps their unemployment rates down. That's actually ...
(Laughter from audience).
That's actually the equivalent of what we call the long-term unemployed. In the US they call them inmates. I was thinking for you guys, for policing, that's something to reflect on, because if you look at Australia, it was like Norway and it's becoming like America. So we've got a long way to go, but they are dramatic shifts, and if you look across all countries, Australia's been one of the fastest shifters to rely on the rising incarceration rates for maintaining social order.
QUENTIN DEMPSTER: Stateline asked the Government and Opposition Police spokesmen if it they were happy with the NSW and Australian incarceration trends.
MICHAEL DALEY: As Police Minister, and I can speak for the Police Commissioner and for all of his record 15,000-odd troops, we have a very simple job to do and that is simply to keep people safe and feeling safe. And this graph issued by the Bureau of Crime Statistics bears out what you say. As we see the blue line there trending up, the rates of incarceration trending up, the pink line, which is the crime statistics trend, correspondingly down. For every point that pink line falls, it means one of your viewers has not fallen victim to someone who wants to hurt them or their family. That's our charter: stopping people becoming victims before the criminals get hold of them.
QUENTIN DEMPSTER: You make no apology for the incarceration rates and the likelihood that it will go up?
MICHAEL DALEY: Does government have a responsibility to make sure that people from lower socio-economic groups and those that you talk about as marginalised get the welfare that they deserve and the safety nets are in place? Yes, we do. Do we have a responsibility to make sure that they have an access to education and employment so they don't embark upon a life of crime? Yes, we do.
MICHAEL GALLACHER: Every person you've got in jail are there because there are victims out on the street. And we believe that the direction that we are travelling isn't necessarily in the best interests of the community. We do need to look at measures that we can intervene much earlier on. We've got young offenders now, 11, 12 years of age - four years from now when they've completed their apprenticeship in crime in the juvenile justice system, they've still got two years to run, and I think we've gotta do a darn site more to try to get those people out of the pathway that they're currently travelling and get them into one where we can actually prevent them completing an apprenticeship beyond that and indeed a masters degree in crime.

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