16 April 2011

A rhetoric of justice

A recent post questioned the facile Australian Crime Commission report on organised crime, long on emotive statements but - alas - short on facts, coherent analysis of dangers and nuanced strategies for responses to those dangers.

The crime-fighting rhetoric is evident in yesterday's media release from the Minister for Home Affairs & Justice - 'Launch of Organised Crime in Australia 2011 report -
If there was a 'how to' manual written on waging war against organised crime, then the content of Organised Crime in Australia 2011 would surely comprise the first and most important chapter.

Because this report helps us to know our enemy and that is the principal step needed in any campaign against them.

Organised Crime in Australia 2011 is compelling reading. It is not an academic exercise of assembled facts and figures. It is a profile of organised crime - the characteristics of those involved; what drives them; and the spread of activities in which they're involved.

It gives government, business and people in all walks of life the information they need to enable them to better respond to the threat of organised crime now and into the future.

Quite simply, an educated and informed public makes for a safer community.
Indeed. The profile provided by the "compelling reading" is, unfortunately, superficial and the document is an inadequate "'how to' manual". We might question the viability of characterising law enforcement as "waging war against organised crime" (and indeed unpack what we mean by "organised crime") before engaging in a bout of self-congratulation about receipt of "the first and most important chapter". (The second chapter presumably features more funding, lots more funding, for law enforcement personnel and for the production of similar documents, alas at a time when the Government has slashed funding for the Australian Law Reform Commission and for the Australian Institute of Criminology).

The Minister went on to comment that -
As both the Minister for Justice and Minister for Privacy and Freedom of Information, I am in a unique position to drive the Gillard Government's agenda for openness and transparency.

By having an understanding of the existence of organised crime in Australia, the community and the sectors affected will be able to more fully engage with the Government on the issue as we seek to ensure the continued security and prosperity of the country.
Understanding requires more than warnings that baddies are bad, big, bold and everywhere. The "agenda for openness and transparency" might more appropriately be driven through some hard data, a recognition of difficult choices, an acknowledgement of costs and care in characterising offenders.
... between 10 to 15 billion dollars every year is lost as a result of organised crime.That is quite hard to even imagine. But if you look around you, at the size of this venue we are at today. Now imagine this area filled with $100 notes - from where we are standing, back to the entrance - that is $15 billion in stacked notes - that would fill a space just over 16 000 cubic metres in size. ...

To put it into perspective, if we could recover the money lost to organised crime over the last four or five years, we could return to a budget surplus, without doing anything else.

Every dollar stolen through organised crime activity is a dollar that cannot be spent on education, health or any number of services. In this way, organised crime steals from every Australian citizen every day.

And this is why we must concentrate our efforts to take back the billions of dollars that wealthy criminals remove from the legal economy and rightfully return it to Australians.
Let's not acknowledge that not all participants in "organised crime" are "wealthy criminals". Let's not provide other points of reference, for example that piling the money spent by Australians on pet food and veterinary services each year would occupy almost as many cubic metres.