NSW Government to Search Without Warrants in Latest Drug Crackdown

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The New South Wales state election back in March resulted in the incumbent Berejiklian government maintaining their iron grasp on power. The renewal of their mandate means a third term of stewardship for the Coalition in the state, in what will only prove to be a further continuation of the draconian, misanthropic, ecocidal corporate agenda they are well known for.

Tyrannical Police State

Notably, drug policy was a major point of difference between the parties that ran in this election. Opposition parties, such as The Greens and the Labor party, called for pill testing, detox clinics and more support for the victims of drug use. Meanwhile, the Liberals and Nationals rejected these proposals and instead vowed to crack down on suspected drug dealers, announcing a series of top-down measures designed to target illicit drug markets. With a re-elected Coalition, it is expected that the NSW police will soon be handed unprecedented new powers to search and seize the homes, cars and property of convicted drug dealers. [1]

A week before voting began, the Premier promised to introduce court-issued orders that would allow police to search suspects without warrants. [2] The system would be piloted in four police command zones – Bankstown, Coffs-Clarence, Hunter Valley and Orana Mid-Western – for two years, and could only be used against people convicted of a serious drug offence in the last 10 years.

With the exception of allowing the terminally ill to consume medicinal cannabis, the NSW Coalition government has stuck with authoritarian prohibitions on recreational drugs. In a press release, Ms Berejiklian stated that she wants “…convicted drug dealers to know that they will have nowhere to hide if they want to prey on, and profit from, the people of NSW.” [1]

She practically confirmed her loyalty to the paternalistic expansion of state power in her comments, where she made it explicit that “This is a request put to us by the NSW Police Force.” [1]

New ‘Trial’ is a Denial of Basic Rights

The right to refuse police entry to a home or vehicle without a reasonable suspicion is a long-standing principle of criminal law, and is well recognised by the international human rights community. In the United States, the Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable search and seizures, requiring state forces to produce a warrant for arrest. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the New Zealand Bill of Rights ensures similar protections.

Yet, the Australian federation observes no such laws. Whilst it is common practice for police to procure warrants, Australia technically has no federal Bill of Rights, or any similar forms of protection from search and seizure… which is messed up!

The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) has condemned the NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s plan to give police powers to search people’s homes and cars without warrants.

NSW CCL President Pauline Wright has stated that “The Courts act as a check on the possible abuse of the enormous powers that we give to the police. If there is a reasonable basis for a search, the courts will grant the warrant. If the police can’t show a reasonable basis for a warrant, then it shouldn’t be granted. These new powers are not needed, and offer an unacceptable prospect of being abused.” [4]

“The standard processes for getting a warrant exist to protect us from being harassed in our own homes. They exist so that we can go about our ordinary business free from unreasonable interference by the police.” [4]

“Applying for a court warrant is not a complicated process. It can be done over the phone. It is the job of the courts to ensure that drug dealers are held to account if they continue to engage in drug-related crimes.” [4]

“Whilst these powers are claimed to target drug suppliers, they are likely to have unintended consequences, and to be applied much more broadly. Searches without warrants can be used as a mechanism for harassment. We know that the people most likely to suffer from these kinds of incursions are the vulnerable – young people, Aboriginal people, other racial and ethnic minorities, and people with cognitive impairment. These powers will not target the drug bosses.” [4]

Indeed, the presumption of innocence before being proven guilty – along with a person’s right to privacy and control of their personal possessions – is not some luxury. Rather, it is the hallmark of a liberal, democratic society. These are rights won through thousands of years of struggle, waged to prevent our rulers from sending in their forces to take what they want and arrest whoever they wish. They were won through blood, sweat and tears. Our ancestors’ sacrifices for these rights are simply incommensurable.

The Dangers of Scope Creep

While current Police Minister Troy Grant noted that the new policy primarily aims at the crystal meth and heroin trade, there are concerns that this ‘pilot’ has the potential to extend to all of New South Wales once instituted, and be used for all kinds of illicit drugs. Its application is likely to quickly expand far beyond the initial scope of the proposal.

This may be why former Federal Police commissioner Mick Palmer said he was “quietly infuriated” by the NSW government’s plan. He attentively noted that “drug use is a reality we can’t prevent”.

The Australian police forces already possess significant powers to strip search, hold without charge, tap into communications and more. Our leaders, who are supposedly here to represent us, are either in open support of these authoritarian abuses of power, or are too impotent and self-serving to uniformly stand against their further expansion.

Misreporting of Drug Arrests

Additionally, it was revealed not long ago that drug busts have been mistakenly double-counted in NSW for the past seven years. [3] This exaggerated data has been used to justify these crackdowns on drug users; which in turn, has supported ill-informed policies which curb civil liberties. [3]

NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research director Dr Don Weatherburn admitted his bureau was at fault. [3] He said the drug bust mistakes built gradually from 2010. Cocaine and ecstasy possession reports to police were inflated more than 30 per cent in recent years. [3] Last year in total, there were 13,350 recorded drug use/possession events that never actually happened. [3]

“When we saw they [NSW Police] were doing searches and they were proving positive [drug detection] we just assumed they hadn’t recorded that positive result, so we added it in ourselves. That was a mistake because they were adding it in,” Dr Weatherburn said. [3]

The ‘War on Drugs’ is a Policy Failure

The New South Wales government’s proposals for cracking down on illicit drugs represent a broader attack on the rights of individuals by corrupt institutions, indicating a senseless return to the ‘War on Drugs’ of the 20th Century – an approach which is well known for its sheer ineffectiveness for curbing addiction and drug use, along with the myriad negative impacts these policies have on already marginalised members of our society.

 

In line with their consistent assault on the vulnerable and those in need of help, the Liberals plan to weaponise entire communities against themselves with their ‘Dob in a Dealer’ campaign; a commonwealth-funded initiative where regular people will be encouraged to snitch on producers, traffickers and suppliers of drugs by contacting Crime Stoppers. This campaign will be held in 14 locations across NSW, with the first rolling out in Tweed Heads.

If community safety was really the highest priority of the newly-elected Liberal-National government, they would acknowledge how these policies contribute to the perpetuation of the very same cycles of depravity they say they’re committed to addressing.

Sources Cited:

[1] https://www.afr.com/news/politics/illicit-drugs-divide-politics-in-nsw-election-20190317-h1ch3e

[2] https://www.sbs.com.au/news/nsw-police-launch-dob-in-a-dealer-as-calls-for-pill-testing-intensify

[3] https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/thousands-of-recorded-drug-busts-in-nsw-never-happened-20180906-p5024r.html

[4] http://www.nswccl.org.au/nsw_council_for_civil_liberties_condemns_premier_berejiklian_s_call_for_police_to_search_homes_without_warrants

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