Increasingly, the expansion of police powers is becoming the norm in Australia with procedural protections and civil liberties tossed aside as inconvenient obstacles to criminal prosecution.
This week the Andrews government announced plans to remove the need for consent or court approval when taking DNA samples from suspects of serious crime or individuals in custody. This move follows similar changes in NSW, South Australia and Western Australia.
Earlier this month, NSW police implemented a bizarre policy of turning away festival-goers who received a positive sniffer dog response even when not found in the possession of drugs. Meanwhile, Tasmania is looking to implement draconian anti-consorting laws (literally banning clothing colours) following highly contentious attempts in NSW and Queensland.
All of the above announcements are a drop in the ocean given the overwhelming political tide toward the removal of procedural protections and hypercriminalisation in Australia.
Such moves are driven by the lobbying power of police unions and the media’s increasing tendency toward exaggeration and penal populist rhetoric. Moreover, human rights organisations and law societies share some of the blame – proving unreliably complacent on the civil rights of criminal suspects and prisoners.
Academic research demonstrates that a lack of oversight and procedural protections increase the risk of police misconduct and human rights abuses.
Moreover, Australia’s tendency toward criminalisation and punitive justice runs contrary to decades of research finding unnecessary imprisonment (particularly of young people) increases recidivism risk and societal harm.
American journalist H.L Menken once said that “the trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels”, however this defence is necessary to protect against encroachment by the carceral state.
Civil libertarians and human rights advocates need to stand united against increasing police powers at home and to stand up for the civil liberties of all Australians.