A modern day witch hunt: how unexplained wealth laws victimise the innocent

Pictured: how unexplained wealth laws combat organised crime

Pictured: how unexplained wealth laws combat organised crime

We like to think of ourselves as superior to our ancestors, but as I look at Australia’s unexplained wealth laws I venture to disagree.  The laws have empowered police to confiscate the property of the innocent without a trial, and they have been introduced in every State, every Territory and federally. Indeed, in New South Wales, the Coalition is promising to increase their scope in the run up to the election. Punishment without a trial is a process that is equivalent to a medieval witch hunt.

All of your property—gone. Unexplained wealth laws empower law enforcement officials to permanently confiscate your property without being convicted of a crime. If you’re suspected of committing a minor criminal offence, the police are empowered to confiscate everything you own. In Queensland, it can be as trivial as recreational marijuana possession. There is no need to even accuse you of having committed a crime in obtaining the property; no need to charge you with a crime; no need to bring your trial; and no need to prove you guilty. Punishment without a trial or due process is the agenda. It’s up to you to defend yourself in Court against the allegation that you obtained the property unlawfully.

Absurd law, absurd results. In one instance, recreational marijuana possession was in fact used as the pretext for the confiscation by police of almost $600,000.00 of cash belonging to one man, Mr Henderson, and his siblings in 2002. [1] Mr Henderson proved in Court that he obtained that money legitimately from the sale of a family heirloom belonging to himself and his siblings. But the money was confiscated anyway, for the absurd reason that he could not prove that the family heirloom was legally acquired by his now-dead parents. Police did not offer any other explanation as to how the property was acquired. They did not produce a victim claiming the heirloom was his, or even a police report. They did not allege that Mr Henderson or his property acquired the property illegally. They weren’t required to. Mr Henderson was a member of the vulnerable underclass which unexplained wealth laws seem to target and victimise.

That money sure looks suspicious. Unexplained wealth laws also empower the police to permanently confiscate specific items of your property on the suspicion that it was acquired illegally. Again, the onus is on you to get it back.

Carrying cash is a crime? Thus in another case in Western Australia, police targeted a man, Mr Morris, for carrying around his life savings of over $100,000.00 in cash in a plastic bag.[2] It was suspicious. So when police pulled him over while he was driving back in 2011, they took the cash. He kept his savings in cash because he was suspicious of banks; he had lost his meagre savings due to a bank failure in the 80’s. He was planning to use the money purchase and open a fitness training centre. Police did not allege that the man had committed a crime of any kind. They simply suggested that he had obtained the bag of money from a friend. This single suggestion was the entirety of the prosecution case. Mind, they had no proof of it. No witness came to the stand in their favour. Nor did they offer any evidence the man’s friend had gotten the money illegally.  Mr Morris got his money back, but the case took two years to be disposed of—a punishment in time and money in and of itself. If Mr Morris had been subjected to the traditional process of criminal procedure, this would never have happened at all. The police could not and did not charge him with the “crime” of carrying around a bag of money. But with unexplained wealth laws, they confiscated it anyway. This is not justice.

No evidence of effectiveness. Witch hunters could only practise their trade because witchcraft was popularly thought to be real and dangerous. Similarly, our modern day law enforcement officials confiscate on the premise that they are combating organised crime. The dangers of organised crime are no superstition, of course. But then again, neither were the diseases witches pretended to cure. And much as peasants never asked witch hunters for evidence, few people seem to ask for any evidence that these laws do anything to combat organised crime. There’s a reason for that. There is none. Unexplained wealth laws are designed to catch people who haven’t been proven guilty of a crime. That does nothing to assist police in their investigation of actual crimes.

A wider net catches more innocent people. It is more likely than not that some of the people caught by police will be innocent. Some indeed might be guilty of something, but if they are subject to unexplained wealth laws then we often cannot be sure what they are guilty of, if anything. With unexplained wealth orders, there need be no convictions or sentences, nor even any reported crimes to justify a confiscation. The accused and the prosecution can simply consent to an order being made against the accused for his property to be confiscated. Nobody knows what they are accused of or whether the punishment is in proportion to the crime.

Disproportionate, draconian punishments. We should not assume that the punishment is just simply because the accused did not contest it. The accused may not have had the funds or the time to contest the accusations against him. While he may have been guilty of some offence that might justify confiscating the proceeds of crime, it does not follow that law enforcement officials should be empowered to take everything that person owns. The punishment has to match the crime. The typical punishment for a marijuana user is a counselling session or a small fine—not the confiscation of all of their property.

A pointless, hysterical distraction from punishing real criminals. Finger pointing hysteria may sweep up a lot of innocent people together with the guilty. But there’s no evidence that organised crime is likely to suffer as a result. Indeed, unexplained wealth proceedings will distract police from the actual task of investigating real crimes and real criminals. They will be too busy investigating loosely hypothetical possibilities that might warrant a confiscation order to worry about any real criminals. Therein, I suspect, lies the appeal. Police and politicians can look like they are doing something about crime without doing much at all.

Reversing the presumption of innocence undermines our liberal society. The Coalition like to market themselves as tough on crime, but unexplained wealth laws punish suspects, not proven criminals. Punishing suspects means punishing more innocent people. The traditional, conservative view of law enforcement sees the presumption of innocence as the cornerstone and a distinguishing feature of the English legal system. It is as old as the English Treaty of Magna Carta:

“No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.

Or as famous English jurist Sir William Blackstone put it:

“It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.”

People must have confidence that the legal system will not unfairly target or persecute them. With the introduction of unexplained wealth laws, the Coalition, the ALP and the Greens have renounced their commitment to this fundamental principle of liberal society. They have undermined a core, embedded principle of our legal system and our society. This is a remarkable and troubling tri-partisan consensus indeed. The only politician to have spoken against these laws to date is David Leyonjhelm of the Liberal Democrats. Leyonjhelm has separately pointed out that reversing the presumption of innocence is tantamount to accepting the “just world fallacy”:

The just-world fallacy holds that a person’s actions always result in fair and fit consequences, and it exists because people are uncomfortable accepting [that] suffering is random and that sometimes bad things happen for no reason at all. It is common to believe people must have done something to deserve what they get, including being accused of a crime. The argument goes: if bad things only happen to those who deserve them and I am a good person, then I can be sure nothing bad will ever happen to me.”

Unfortunately, the world is not fair, and law enforcement officials are not perfect. They are fallible human beings. They are capable of making mistakes. They are capable of persecution, not merely prosecution. Judging people guilty before proven innocent is tantamount to a sacrilegious worship of law enforcement officials as nigh-infallible human beings. Unexplained wealth laws turn them into the witch finders of our modern day witch hunts.

Revenue raising gone mad. Add to the mix the fact that confiscations generate revenue for the government and you will see a dangerous combination at work. Police who return more money towards government coffers than they put in will naturally be in line for more funding. Politicians will be more inclined to give it to them. It is not hard to see how law enforcement officials might be more inclined to prosecute law abiding citizens when their pay packet is on the line. That’s the experience in the United States, at any rate, where law enforcement officials get every penny they confiscate back into their own local police department. Then they spend it on holidays, nice cars and other like perks, as the Institute for Justice, an American civil liberties law firm, has recorded. If law enforcement officials get their way we could witness much the same here. It is a comfortable revenue stream indeed.

Would you do it to your neighbour? A final thought. If you took your neighbour’s property and refused to return it to him, without even telling him why or caring to prove that he acquired the property illegally, what would that make you? A thief. It’s one thing to confiscate the proven proceeds of crime, but unexplained wealth laws are something else entirely.

Vladimir Vinokurov is a solicitor and a deputy Victorian State director of the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance. The views expressed here are his own.

Vladimir Vinokurov is a solicitor and a deputy Victorian State director of the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance. The views expressed here are his own.

[1] See Henderson v Queensland [2014] HCA 52.

[2] See Director of Public Prosecutions v Morris [2010] WADC 148. (Note: you will need access to a subscription service such as LexisNexis to access this decision).

A new era in the Senate

download (4) Senator-Elect David Leyonhjelm discusses his upcoming role as a Federal Senator, and his fight to put the Godzilla of big government back in its cage:

The first of July 2014 will be my first day as a Senator, representing NSW and the Liberal Democratic Party. I hope history will say it was the day we got to work putting Godzilla back in its cage.

Godzilla is that blundering monster that our governments have become, with their hands in our pocket and noses in every room of our house.
I am the first politician elected to an Australian parliament on a purely libertarian platform, with a mission to lower taxes, remove regulation, and put an end to the nanny state.

To see the challenge I face, you only need to stand at Canberra’s War Memorial and look down Anzac Parade. From there you can look towards the modest building that was once our Parliament House and on to new Parliament House. Continue reading

Reconciling a farmyard brawl

David Government intervention has created an unnecessary and costly miners-vs-farmers battle, writes David Leyonhjelm:

The tug of war between farming and mining is in danger of becoming a zero sum, winner-takes-all contest. One side argues that if mining prevails, Australia will run out of food. The other side says that if farming wins, Australia will go broke. Governments and the public are being asked to choose a side.

If the issue were subject to market forces it would sort itself out. Where land was more valuable for farming, mining would not occur. If mining generated more profit, it would take priority. If food production fell, prices would rise and encourage production in other areas. And in many cases a combination of farming and mining, with due consideration for each other, would yield the highest overall profits. 

The reason the market cannot operate freely is that around 150 years ago state governments passed legislation claiming mineral rights for themselves. Farmers and other landowners merely own the surface of their properties. 

Prior to that, under common law, landowners retained all rights beneath their land including mineral rights except for gold and silver. In the US that remains the situation, although it is now virtually unique. Most countries have taken the same approach as Australia. 

To farmers, the result sometimes looks like a zero sum game. Although there are rules for negotiating access, exploration and mining can occur on their property whether they like it or not. They are entitled to compensation for any loss of value of their farm or enterprise, but receive no benefit from anything extracted. They may be partially or completely put out of business for a long time or indefinitely. Moreover, while compensation is typically adequate, there is a risk it may be non-existent if a mining company goes broke or causes widespread disruption such as harm to a subterranean aquifer. 

Miners, not surprisingly, point to the economics. Mining dominates the economy in a way that agriculture did a century ago. It is mining, not agriculture, that pays for schools, hospitals, roads, bridges and numerous other government funded services. Mining is what saved Australia from the GFC and is the reason our economy is holding up compared to the rest of the world. Moreover, coal seam gas has the potential to free Australia from reliance on imported oil. Locking mining out of farm land would be economic suicide. 

The notion that some farm land is too precious or productive to allow mining under any circumstances is utter nonsense. Australia produces more than twice the food it requires for its own consumption. Furthermore, while some farming land is obviously more productive than others, most land can be used for farming, given water and fertiliser.

It is nonetheless understandable that farmers resort to such emotive arguments – they have little else to rely on. And unless governments come up with an acceptable method of reconciling the competing interests, they will continue to find themselves under assault from both sides. Ignoring the issue will not help. 

Despite what the law says, a system in which land owners are automatically entitled to a share of anything extracted would be a step in the right direction. In the US, landowners are able to weigh returns from farming against the potential of mining. There is simply no need to seek to quarantine highly productive land – it would not be worth sacrificing for mineral extraction unless it generated more in royalties. 

If lifestyle considerations were more important to the landowner than economics, extraction that was compatible with continued farming, such as coal seam gas, might generate lower expectations of royalties than an open cut mine. 

It is no accident that the US has half of all the world’s oil wells, and that its coal seam gas industry is considerably more advanced than ours. A key difference is that landowners have skin in the game – ownership of mineral rights is a primary motivator for exploration and extraction.

For governments, the solution is to create an environment in which a market based approach can emerge. It was government actions preventing such an approach that created the current problem. More government tweaking will not help. 

But for that to occur, a more rational approach to property rights is needed. Already there are separate titles for land, water and mineral rights relating to the same property. If and when the carbon farming initiative is implemented, there will also be titles for carbon credits. At the very least, the transparency of a single registry is essential if conflict and confusion are to be avoided. 

It also requires the right incentives so that it never becomes a zero sum game. Farmers need to have an interest in mineral rights, as in the US, but should also retain an interest in any water rights or carbon credits linked to their property. Miners may need a stake in the water rights and carbon credits associated with their area of activity, so there is an incentive to preserve them. In some cases an interest in the farming enterprise itself may be warranted, so there is an incentive to protect it. 

Owners of water rights might need a stake in mineral and carbon rights so they are never in conflict, while owners of carbon credits certainly need to have a stake in any water rights. 

Although these are issues of property rights with three out of of four created by government, that does not mean the government’s role cannot be limited. Intellectual property was also created by government, yet its market functions efficiently without intrusion by bureaucrats or politicians. 

A bit of smart thinking now could avoid any need to choose between mining and farming and could get an increasingly fractious monkey off the government’s back. 

David Leyonhjelm is the Treasurer of the Liberal Democratic Party. David works in the agribusiness and veterinary markets as principal of Baron Strategic Services and Baron Senior Placements. This article was originally published in Business Spectator and is reproduced with permissoin

The real beef with Indonesian exports

David It would be foolish to ban live cattle export to Indonesia, writes David Leyonhjelm:

Will it make any difference to the cruelty in its abattoirs if Australia stopped exporting cattle to Indonesia? 

If the slaughtering methods shown on the Four Cornersprogram were to occur on Australian territory, those responsible would be sent to jail. But Indonesia is not Australia, and neither Australian laws nor its cultural values (including concepts of cruelty) apply outside its borders. Moreover, as the response of the Japanese to Australian concerns about hunting and eating whales shows, Australia’s fondness for lecturing other countries has little impact. 

Refusing to sell our cattle to them may make some people in Australia feel better, and it might save some Australian cattle from cruelty, but there will be no overall benefit to cattle in Indonesia. There are plenty of others that can take their place, from countries that do not share Australia’s sensibilities. 

Australia’s cattle industry needs Indonesia more than Indonesia needs our cattle. It was only a few months ago that imports were suspended as Indonesian producers sought to exert greater control over the market. Indonesians also do not believe we have anything to teach them about culture or values. They are willing to listen and learn from us, but only if we show appropriate respect in return. 

The $300 million live cattle export industry underpins the entire cattle production system in the north of the country. Suggestions that cattle should be slaughtered in Australia and exported to Indonesia ignore two facts – there is no abattoir north of Townsville, and in any case the Indonesians want to create employment for their people by finishing the cattle in their own feedlots and slaughtering them themselves. 

If more than feel-good hypocrisy is to emerge from this, a more intelligent approach is needed. The objective ought to be the adoption by all of Indonesia’s abattoirs of humane slaughtering practices, whether the cattle are Australian or not. 

Within the limitations created by Australia’s minor status there, the Australian meat industry has been attempting to achieve that. The restraint crate shown on the documentary was intended to limit animal movement prior to slaughter, so that death was more likely to be quick and painless. It was also funded by cattle producer levies (ie not taxpayer funds). 

For some time the industry has been attempting to introduce stunning into Indonesian abattoirs. Many are already using it, but obviously not those featured by Animals Australia. 

And that raises the question of whether the documentary showed the situation as it really is. Obviously that’s an important consideration if the government is relying on it to guide policy. 

In fact, the abattoirs shown in the Animals Australia documentary are not typical of Indonesian abattoirs generally. They may not be up to our standards, but most are much more humane than that. Indeed, Animals Australia would not have shown the humane ones. It is a radical lobby group, dominated by those who want to stop exploitation of animals of all kinds. That includes farming them, eating them, wearing leather shoes or keeping them as pets. Its aim is to shock Australians into conforming to its view of the world.

But Australians on the whole do not support its agenda. They like to eat meat; they wear leather shoes, appreciate leather upholstery and love to keep pets. 

However, they also want to know that the slaughter of animals for their benefit does involve needless suffering. A ban on cattle exports to Indonesia will put a lot of northern Australia’s cattle producers out of business, but it will not achieve that. Protecting Australian cattle from cruelty is not the same as reducing cruelty itself.

David Leyonhjelm is the Treasurer of the Liberal Democratic Party. David works in the agribusiness and veterinary markets as principal of Baron Strategic Services and Baron Senior Placements. This article was originally published in Business Spectator

On the NSW Criminal Organisations Control Act

David Menzies House Contributor and Candidate for the NSW Legislative Council David Leyonhjelm made the following speech at the NSW based United Morotcycle Council: 

There is something rotten in the state of NSW.

I’m not just talking about a government that will do or say anything to get elected. Or only looks after its mates. Or constantly changes premiers and ministers. 

Or the fact that high taxes and lack of roads, railways and ports in NSW is holding back the economy. Or that taxpayers own National Parks, but can’t go in them. Or that marine parks are strangling recreational fishing.

I’m talking about really, deeply rotten.

More than speed limits that are too low and just used for revenue raising. Or getting pinged in school zones when there are no flashing lights and you don’t know when it’s a school day. Or motorbikes getting charged the same as cars for tolls and CTP green slips, with nowhere to park. Or the fact that we can’t ride our bikes in the bus lane on the M2.

Or even that you are harassed by the police just because you drive a modified car or have a P plate, or you wear colours.

I’m talking about the rottenness that can make you a criminal, just for who you are.

The anti-association legislation.

They told us the Criminal Organisations Control Act was aimed at criminals in bikie gangs. But they lied. That’s not what it is.

It could just as easily apply to a boxing club, an RSL club, the Australian Journalists Association, or the Outdoor Recreation Party. 

The law allows a tame judge to declare an organisation, in secret. Members can then be ordered not to associate with each other. If they do, they are liable for 2 years jail, or 5 if they continue to meet.

That’s without having committed any crime, in the normal sense. Just meeting for a cup of coffee to discuss the weather.

Those subject to control orders are excluded from certain occupations. If they worked as a mechanic or in a bottle shop, for example, they would have to give it up.

The Act came in despite the objections of a lot of people who were worried about preserving a free and democratic society. Objectors included the NSW Bar Association and the NSW Law Society.

It came in despite the fact that there is already legislation specifically aimed at dealing with criminal groups.

But when it came to the vote, the Labor Party, Liberal Party and National parties all voted for it. So did all but one of the supposedly independent independents. Clover Moore was the sole exception.

In the Legislative Council (upper house), it was supported by the Shooters and Fishers Party, Christian Democrats, Labor, Liberals and Nationals. The Greens were the only ones to vote against it.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

In this election, how do you make sure you don’t reward those who would take your liberty? And make sure they have neither liberty nor political safety?

In the lower house the options are limited. Perhaps vote for Clover Moore if you are in her electorate. Vote as you see fit, or don’t vote at all if you prefer.

But in the upper house, you have the potential to make a difference.  You could vote for the Greens, but they support speed cameras and locking up national parks, and marine parks. And the only motorbikes they approve are solar powered electric ones.

Or you could vote for the Outdoor Recreation Party. We were in parliament from 1999 to 2007 and we want the seat back. If we win, there is every chance we will hold the balance of power.

But what can we do about the anti-associations legislation? Several things.

One, we can bring in a private members bill to repeal it. If I am elected, I pledge to do exactly that. I will also use any leverage I have with the government to try to force it to agree to pass the bill.

 Second, we can publicise the issue so the public knows what a threat it is. We can use committees, inquiries and any other means possible to put pressure on the police and bureaucrats to stop them harassing innocent people.

Australians don’t like their governments getting too big for their boots. If they understood this law better, I believe they would get cranky.

When something is rotten, it should be cut out. A vote for the Outdoor Recreation Party in the upper house gives us a chance to cut out the rottenness.

 Please, make your vote count. 

David Leyonhjelm is the Outdoor Recreation Party’s candidate for the Legislative Council in the NSW state election in March. Menzies House wishes to stress that it does not endorse or officially support any candidate or political party. 

Let The People Decide How Much Safety Is Enough

David David Leyonhjelm discusses how our 'speeding' laws ignore the evidence, and are out of step with community values:

"When speeding laws say one thing and a large majority of people demonstrate they have a different view, it’s time to recalibrate".

Early each year we often see media stories about how many people were killed in road accidents over the holiday season and whether this is higher or lower than previous years.

The source of these stories is usually one of the government agencies responsible for road traffic issues, such as the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority, and invariably includes claims about excess speed, idiotic drivers and the obvious need for further measures to compel drivers to slow down.

The tone is typically patronising. If only drivers would be more responsible or, like naughty children who refuse to behave, they must be caught and punished. There are often lectures by police officers who tell us it’s all for our own good, while governments run advertisements trying to frighten us into slowing down with gory pictures of accidents or warnings of lifelong injuries.

There are two problems with all this. One is that speed is nowhere near the cause of road casualties it is made out to be. Second, the overwhelming majority of drivers know this and, through their actions, indicate they do not believe exceeding the speed limit is inherently dangerous, that they are at fault when they do so, or that enforcement measures are merited.

Speed limits are much the same as they were 40 years ago, yet road traffic deaths have declined dramatically. Just in the last 20 years they have approximately halved, notwithstanding increases in car numbers and distances travelled.

The reasons for this decline have little to do with speeds, which mostly go up whenever enforcement is not apparent, but to improvements in vehicle safety (eg brakes, tyres, airbags, seat belts and electronic stability control) plus better roads.

This is confirmed by the fact that much larger declines occurred in many other countries over the same period, including some where speed limits are higher than in Australia. That includes Germany and the UK, which also have fewer fatalities per 100,000 people.

The RTA claims speed is a key factor in over 40% of road deaths, but the data behind this is very flimsy. Speed is often blamed by accident investigators whenever an alternative explanation is not apparent, even when lone drivers commit suicide by crashing into a tree at high speed.

Other countries tell a different story. Official British road casualty statistics for 2006 show "exceeding speed limit" was a contributory factor in 5% of all casualty crashes (14% of all fatal crashes), and that "travelling too fast for conditions" was a contributory factor in 11% of all casualty crashes (18% of all fatal crashes).

Similar results were found in a study published in 2008 by the US National Highway Safety Traffic Administration. Based on early and detailed post-accident investigations of 5,471 accidents, it concluded that driving too fast for conditions or too fast for a curve accounted for just 13.3% of them. (More than a third of accidents were found to be related to an intersection.)

In the absence of a speed camera or other enforcement, probably three-quarters of all Australian drivers would exceed the speed limit when they felt it was safe to do so. Anecdotally, that includes most off-duty police officers as well as the journalists who write the stories discussing lack of compliance with speed limits. At certain times, a car crossing the Sydney Harbour Bridge would hold up traffic if it travelled below the speed limit.

This has led to enormous cynicism about the enforcement of speed limits and their contribution to state government budgets. There is something inherently absurd about being told that travelling at 5 km/hr above the limit is dangerous while it is safe at 5 km/hr below it.

That raises an interesting question. When the law says one thing and a large majority of people demonstrate they have a different view, which prevails? If the law is supposed to reflect the values of society, as is supposedly the basis of the common law and a key expectation of democracy, the law is clearly wrong. Only in a dictatorship do we expect the ruler to insist the people are wrong.

The way some public servants and politicians talk, you could be forgiven for thinking that the policy objective of traffic laws is to reduce accidents and deaths to zero. Yet that is clearly nonsense – accidents causing death and injury are inevitable at any speed above walking pace. The road toll could be immediately stopped by reducing speed limits to 10 km/hr or by banning cars.

Clearly, there is a trade-off. Explicitly or not, we accept a certain level of accidents as the price of convenient travel, as we do in numerous other activities. What is apparent from the fact that so many drivers disobey the speed limits when they have the opportunity is that the trade-off needs recalibrating. And rather than public servants deciding what it ought to be, the community as a whole should do it.

There is an internationally recognised method by which this can be achieved, known as the 85th percentile formula. In essence, it involves the temporary removal of the speed limit while speeds are monitored. At the conclusion of the period, a limit is reimposed at or slightly above the speed at which 85 percent of drivers travel.

The concept is based on the assumption that the large majority of drivers are reasonable and prudent, do not want to have a crash, and wish to reach their destination in the shortest possible time.

It is supported by statistical evidence, which shows that those who exceed speed limits based on the 85th percentile are substantially more likely to cause accidents (as are those who travel below the 15th percentile). Enforcement directed at these drivers thus has a positive impact on road safety while enjoying community support and avoiding perceptions of revenue-raising.

If the formula was applied to Australian roads, speed limits would certainly be increased on our major highways, probably to European levels. There may also be increases on some dual carriageways in metropolitan areas, although it is unlikely most suburban streets would change. Given that most drivers are indeed reasonable and prudent, there might even be a few reductions.

Notwithstanding the flawed assumptions about speed and road accidents, an increase in casualties cannot be ruled out. But if there was to be an increase, it would reflect the community’s choice of trade-off. Moreover, unlike the current situation where public servants and politicians set speed limits and are blamed for any increase in casualties, there would be nobody to criticise. With choice comes responsibility.

It is high time governments stopped treating motorists like naughty children and a source of additional revenue. Australia’s speed limits are not only lower than the rest of the world, but are out of step with community values. In a society in which the government serves the people, they should be updated.

David Leyonhjelm is the Outdoor Recreation Party’s candidate for the Legislative Council in the NSW state election in March.  He is also the Registered Officer of the federally registered Liberal Democratic Party This article was initially posted on Online Opinion, and is reproduced with permission. 

The Futility of Gun Control

David David Leyonhjelm makes the argument that "gun control" laws don't work, and go against liberal values.

 When former Prime Minister John Howard said, “We will find any means we can to further restrict them because I hate guns. I don’t think people should have guns, unless they are police, or in the military or security industry. … We do not want the American disease imported into Australia”, he probably reflected the thoughts of many Australians.

There were three assumptions in his comment. – that strict gun laws lead to gun control, which in turn leads to reduced violence; that the “American gun culture” is something to be avoided, and that it is OK for the government to have all the guns and for ordinary people to have none.

The first two of these are factually incorrect. The third infers a relationship between individuals and the state that most liberals find uncomfortable.

In 1996 following the Port Arthur massacre, Howard forced the States to sign up to an agreement to introduce highly restrictive gun laws. More changes followed in 2002 after the murder of two people at Monash University.

The laws made it difficult and complex for sporting shooters and hunters to participate in their sports. They also removed all remaining rights to own a gun for self-defence.

Since 1999 there have been a series of academic studies of the impact of the Howard gun laws. All used ABS cause of death figures. Perhaps the most authoritative was by Baker and McPhedran, which showed no effect of the gun laws. Based on the paper, the head of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, Dr Don Weatherburn, said:

"I too strongly supported the introduction of tougher gun laws after the Port Arthur massacre.

The fact is, however, that the introduction of those laws did not result in any acceleration of the downward trend in gun homicide. They may have reduced the risk of mass shootings but we cannot be sure because no one has done the rigorous statistical work required to verify this possibility.

It is always unpleasant to acknowledge facts that are inconsistent with your own point of view. But I thought that was what distinguished science from popular prejudice."

This should not have been a surprise. It has been no different anywhere else. There is no country in the world where strict gun control laws have led to a decline in violent crime.

Malaysia has one of the strictest gun control laws in the world including the death penalty for illegal possession of a firearm. Britain banned pistols in 1997 following the Dunblane tragedy. In 1974 Jamaica banned the private ownership of firearms and ammunition. The Republic of Ireland banned virtually all firearms in 1973, requiring their surrender within just three days. In not one of these did the rate of violent crime fall. In most of them it rose.

Perceptions of America’s gun culture are mostly based on movies rather than reality. With the exception of murder, rates of violent crime in the US are considerably lower than in Australia. OECD statistics for 2000 show the US had less than half the rate of general assaults, sexual assaults, burglaries, robberies and car thefts.

Britain also has a higher crime rate than the US for all major crimes except murder and rape. Also, 53 percent of English burglaries occur while occupants are at home, compared with just 13 percent in the US where burglars admit to fearing armed homeowners more than the police.

Gun laws vary enormously between the US States, from virtual prohibition to laissez faire. Federal laws also severely restrict ownership of firearms such as machineguns. Since the early 1990s there has been considerable relaxation, with 40 States now issuing permits to carry firearms for self-defence. Yet there has been no resulting increase in crime. The US national murder rate in 1991 was 9.8 per 100,000 but fell to 5.6 in 2006. Other violent crimes also fell substantially, with the biggest reductions in States that issued the permits.

Those who believe in gun control tend to maintain that belief irrespective of the evidence. If there were another mass shooting in Australia tomorrow, we would inevitably hear a crescendo of calls for even stricter gun laws.

But the reality is, gun control is futile. It does not reduce crime; it leaves citizens defenceless; it costs a fortune in bureaucracy. And it gives all the power to the government.

On gun control, Howard was profoundly wrong. 

Leyonhjelm is the Treasurer and Registered Officer of the
Liberal Democratic Party