Sometimes, living in a relatively safe country like Australia, one becomes complacent in expecting one’s government to be out to, you know, do justly by its citizens. (If not its non-citizens; hi, asylum seeker debate!) In March, something rather unexpected happened in the north-eastern state of Queensland, and that illusion of justice could no longer stand.
It was in March that the Labor Party, led by Anna Bligh, who had been rather popular, was defeated by the Liberal National Party, led by Campbell Newman. It wasn’t just a victory, it was a landslide of almost unprecedented proportions, with the LNP gaining the largest majority of parliament seats ever seen in Queensland. The rest of the country was vaguely confused, but we moved on.
Queensland couldn’t move on, because Campbell Newman was out to bring in some hefty reforms that were quite the opposite of what the sunshine state needed. Governments ought to at least try to protect and promote the interests of their most vulnerable citizens, but the LNP has been consistently targeting them. Queensland had just legalised same-sex civil partnerships, for example. Apparently, the LNP felt it was time to turn civil partnerships into some kind of registered relationships thing that totally did not ‘mimic’ marriage in any way whatsoever because supposedly that would be wrong.
That’s one kind of justice by which the LNP government is doing badly, the basic fairness kind. Then there’s the justice system, which is a whole new kettle of fish.
The gay panic defence is still a thing in Queensland. An antiquity, the gay panic defence consists of a defendant claiming they were driven into temporary violent psychosis as a result of being hit on, or perceiving to be hit on, by a person of the same gender. Bligh’s government was working towards making it not a thing, but then Newman’s Attorney-General, Jarrod Bleijie, announced that the status quo was the go as far as they were concerned. And it got a fair portion of the planet pretty concerned, too. In fact, there’s a Change.org petition with over 200 000 signatures aimed at getting the Queensland government to change the law. The petition was started by Catholic priest Father Paul Kelly after a man who murdered another man in Kelly’s church grounds used the gay panic defence.
Or try this on for size: the Queensland government has previously provided $120 000 per year to Sisters Inside, an organisation serving women prisoners, Aboriginal women in particular, as they aim for better lives. Sisters Inside is, in short, fantastic. It has to shut down now, for want of $120 000.
One more thing. Across regional Queensland, local courthouses are about to be shut down. We don’t know exactly how many are going to go, and we won’t know the numbers until September, but the whispers are indicating Queensland will be down thirty courthouses. Not helpful.
All of this would be ridiculous enough were we not to consult a joint statement Newman and Bleijie gave on 4 July. You see, they want to be ‘tough on crime’. And they want to downsize the ‘heavy backlog’ of court cases. We must consider, therefore, how exactly the government of Queensland intend to go about this. It seems to me that being tough on crime is not the same thing as facilitating people defending themselves from charges of murder with the excuse that they’re violent homophobes. Being tough on crime is not cutting support services to marginalised prison populations so that they are more likely to wind back up behind bars. And you don’t get rid of a heavy backlog of court cases by taking away courts.
All in all, it rather seems as though the only crimes on which Newman wants to be tough are quote unquote crimes against his ilk rather than vulnerable members of society. If you consider being, say, a gay man a crime, that is. But then, the unchallenged existence of such populations appears to offend Newman’s and Bleijie’s sensibilities. And it is the profound injustice they are weaving through the justice system that betrays what’s really going on.
Justice, here, is framed in a way that protects the powerful and normative at the explicit expense of those people who really need it. Homophobes, to continue my example, are not in need of protection. They’ve got a lot of support behind them. People being murdered in churchyards are in need of protection. Taking away the material means of justice while proclaiming one’s government to be tough on crime is an exercise in rhetoric that’s worse than empty. It’s openly manipulative, and it’s an attempt to appeal to a base that, or so I hope, can’t possibly be as vicious or clueless as their government seems to think.
Queensland has long been considered to be Australia’s most conservative state, but I don’t think anyone saw this coming. If no one could believe how conclusively the LNP won, everyone can believe all too well what that win is meaning for Queensland. It means that if you’re a vulnerable Queenslander, you’re now a whole lot more vulnerable. And justice administered unjustly is no justice at all.