Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Don't Steal; the government hates competition

So reads the bumper sticker on my car. Labour's latest policy swing of stealing assets off 'drug barons' and crime syndicates shows how apt the slogan is. No matter that the bumper sticker was made by the Labour campaign team in 1981. It's just as relevant today as it was back then.

Apart from flying in the face of the Bill of Rights (looking more like a doormat every day) and reversing the convention of being innocent until proven guilty, it goes to show how desperate the War on Drugs is getting.

Of course this law, if passed, will be enforced consistently. Not only will police steal off drug lords, the Serious Fraud Office will be approaching Donna Awatere Huata demanding the maybe-publicly-funded staples in her stomach back.

Any lawyer suspected of sucking on a trust fund will have all their assets seized. The SFO will hunt down inside traders and take any assets they suspect have been gained fraudulently. Will companies who use tax havens be mugged in the civil courts by Inland Revenue? It's their job to be feared.

I don't think so somehow. This Bill is unashamedly aimed at 'drug lords' and crime syndicates, not white collar larcenists. So much for equality before the law.

I think Mr Goff is pushing shit uphill to get what he wants out of this. Even if this brutal Bill somehow passes the select committee and is rubber-stamped by the GG into law, it is doomed to failure. If Labour think they've seen judicial activism, wait til they try waving this law about in the High Court. Any judge with half a brain will throw out cases due to insufficient evidence.

In the unlikely event the High Court signs off a judgement based on 'reasonable belief' that a crime was committed, appeals lodged with the Supreme Court will definitely overturn it. The upshot of all this is lots of lawyers getting work at the taxpayers' expense and business as usual for the hedonism wholesalers.

The War on Drugs is an unwinnable strategy. A prohibitive environment doesn't fix the problem. Hard-line tactics, seen in Thailand, the US and Russia, have failed. The US locks away a mind-buggeringly high proportion of its populace (NZ is catching up quickly) while drug use soars. Russian authorities are banning marijuana images on cellphone covers in a futile attempt to stem endemic heroin problems with its youth. Thailand's recent drugs clampdown netted hundreds of dead people and little else.

Meantime in Oz, the harm minimisation program that started back in 1985 has shown that you can fix a problem without pointing fingers or waving sticks. The Dutch coffee shop example showed how to bend rules without breaking them.

While our government is in denial, the black market will continue to sell eager consumers dubious products at inflated prices. Taxpayers will continue to foot the legal, social and economic costs while staggering superprofits from untaxed, unregulated activities continue unabated.

The Proceeds of Crime Amendment Bill seeks to offset these costs and make the police self-funded through traffic fines and drug lord swag. An unfortunate consequence is it may ruin New Zealand's reptutation for low levels of corruption. When money becomes a motivation for police resources, bribes aren't far behind.

There is no good angle to this proposal. If there's any sense in the select committee, this Bill will be stillborn.