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Why is 'get tougher' the politicians' default response to every crime issue?

By Lee Rhiannon - posted Wednesday, 5 November 2003

It’s a war zone out there. But the battle isn’t in Sydney’s south-western suburbs. It’s out the back of the New South Wales Parliament House, where the Carr Government and the Opposition are fighting a bitter war of words.

The subject is crime, and both parties are vying to be the toughest cop on the block. The real losers, however, are the people of south-western Sydney.

Since the most recent killings in Greenacre, the battle has reached fever pitch. Premier Carr has called for “border controls” to prevent an influx of handguns, and has suggested that criminals should be deported. Meanwhile, Shadow Police Minister Peter Debnam has issued a fatwa against “urban terrorists”.


It might sound like hysteria, but it is very calculated hysteria. Border security, unwanted immigrants, terrorism – this is the linguistic and political territory of John Howard.

Mr Howard’s electoral success has politicians everywhere taking a leaf from his book – not least Mr Carr, who knows the value of an inflammatory and racist remark.

Making references to ethnicity and talking tough on crime are guaranteed to satisfy the talkback radio listeners for whom both major parties appear to be competing.

These days, however, Mr Carr’s attention seems more focussed on pulling these linguistic triggers than on actually tackling the substantial issues of gun violence.

A cheap but widely reported remark seems to have more resonance than a genuine attempt to tackle crime and stem the tide of guns in this State.

The Greens wrote to the Premier and to Opposition Leader John Brogden several months ago, calling for a gun summit along the lines of the highly successful drugs and alcohol summits. We have been ignored.


Instead, we are to get more and more draconian legislation in Macquarie Street, and more and more police squads in Sydney’s west.

This has already been tried – and it has failed. Between 1999 and 2002, the Carr Government initiated and passed 77 pieces of law-and-order legislation, or nearly 20 a year. Most other states get by on about seven or eight new crime laws per year – and are no safer or more dangerous for that.

Policing is important but you can’t put a police officer on every corner. Adding another 40 police to an area that is home to more than 2 million people is likely to do little more than give Mr Carr a favourable headline.

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About the Author

Lee Rhiannon MLC is a former Greens member of the NSW Legislative Council and is running in the 2010 Federal Election as the NSW Greens Senate candidate.

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