Indigenous Law Bulletin
by Russell Hogg and David Brown
Pluto Press, Sydney, 1998. RRP $24.95
Reviewed by Syd Sparrow
Law and order (or the lack thereof) is a topical issue in Australia at the moment. There is a perception in some parts of the community that our society is in decay. Politicians regularly use the law and order issue as an electoral platform, and the rise of minority political parties in Australia using law and order as a political slogan is a matter of some concern.
Rethinking Law and Order is an examination of current and past views on law and order and the issues and policies that shape our opinions on this subject. It also serves as a timely reminder of how willing governments are to amend current laws in order to create new laws tailor-made to suit the political flavour of the month.
There is some thought-provoking discussion about the manner in which the Federal Government has deliberately tried to negate the influence of the High Court's Mabo and Wik decisions by legislating away the effect of those judgments, supposedly in the national interest. Serious concerns are raised about the way in which this kind of legislation directly interferes with the independence of the judiciary, and the way in which it attempts to diminish the rights of marginalised groups in Australia. The authors also allude to the practice by a number of governments of producing legislation in immediate response to topical issues or incidents that occur in Australia.
They are also critical of the sometimes negative influence of the media on public views of law and order, citing the notorious comment by one member of the media blaming the high Aboriginal crime rate on the existence of Aboriginal Legal Services. Views such as these represent not only an attack on Aboriginal people themselves, but on mechanisms established to defend marginalised groups in Australian society.
Such attacks on disadvantaged sectors of the Australian community are a significant feature of contemporary populist politics in Australia. In recent times, single mothers have been added to the list of neo-conservative targets. Here, the authors draw strong parallels between events during the Thatcher period and current events in Australia.
Perhaps the real keynote of Rethinking Law and Order is the analysis of how neo-conservative forces are seeking to redefine exactly who are the `victims' or `most disadvantaged' within Australian society. A reasonable person might think that it is the unemployed, single mothers and Aboriginal people who are the most disadvantaged people in our community. For Pauline Hanson, her supporters and other neo-conservatives however, it seems to be Aboriginal people and single mothers who enjoy the most favourable position in Australia.
Rethinking Law and Order is a timely warning that these marginalised groups in Australia should not be made the scapegoats for what is seen as a deterioration in the fabric of society.
Syd Sparrow is the Director of, and a solicitor at the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement Incorporated South Australia.