Six months ago Victoria went to the polls and elected a Liberal-National Coalition government, led by Ted Baillieu, with a (slim) majority in both houses of parliament. After more than a decade of Labor government, this was not entirely unexpected. Due to electoral reforms made by the previous Labor government, there will be another three and a half years before another election will be held.
The change in government has led to a drastic change in the tone of governance in Victoria. Three of the changes which particularly illustrate this are a review of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 with a possible result of watering down or even repealing the Act, on the spot fines for “indecent” language and the controversial introduction of legalising discrimination for groups not wishing to employ, service or otherwise interact with individuals with life styles or traits they object to. That last one essentially translates to: some Christian organisations want support for prejudice against single mothers, non-believers, people of different faiths, divorced people and, of course, the entire LGBTI community.
Those aren’t the only things on the agenda, there are assorted other law-and-order policies currently being pushed by Baillieu and Attorney-General Robert Clark, including mandatory sentencing for sixteen and seventeen year-old violent offenders. Still, this is only six months into a four year term. It is clear that Baillieu and Clark are aiming for significant changes to Victoria’s legislative powers before the voters have a chance to oppose them. Perhaps this would be more understandable if the policies presented to the public by the Coalition had included this significant law-and-order focus; but, with the exception of the fairly standard comments about recruiting more police, this was not the case.
It is clear that the Baillieu-Clark agenda, beginning with the reduced emphasis on human rights, is to forge a far more conservative and controlled Victoria. The first step is to reduce the rights previously granted to Victorians. The second step is to introduce law-and-order policies which may appeal to some sections of the community without appearing too controlling to the general punter, but which actually undermine civil liberties significantly. The third step is to provide greater power to certain interest groups at the expense of minorities.
So what can we expect in the future? I expect there will be considerably more similar action in the future. Most likely this will include anti-association legislation, which is normally labelled as “anti-bikie” legislation and which has been adopted in South Australia and New South Wales. Whenever politicians and police discuss legislation like this they are careful to focus on one section of the community, in this case “criminal organisations” and motorcycle clubs, but the reality is that the legislation is never so specific and can be used against any organisation or group of people. Currently the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act prevents such anti-association legislation from being passed in Victoria, but a repeal of that Act or reduction in its scope may open this door.
No doubt there will be more than this in just the next year or two, given the changes pushed in just the last six months. By the time of the next election in November 2014, the changes in Victoria could be tremendous.