Ah, well, it seems to be ``rambling story day'' today, apologies if this is not your scene...
police in the Australian state of New South Wales will now have the power to seize houses suspected of being used for dealing drugs. How these "drug houses" will be defined is not mentioned, however [...] houses can be confiscated [...] whether drugs have been found on the property.
Before I start in, bear in mind that the USA already has similar (in fact, more far-reaching) legislation either in place or mooted.
``A government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take from you everything you have.'' - Gerald R. Ford
Today, one of these lovely laws bit me. A week ago, I got a letter from the CSA (Child Support Agency, and branch of the ATO - Australia Taxation Office) explaining that they'd just (two weeks earlier) ordered my bank (NAB, the National Australia Bank) to remove over $500 from an account owned by an incorporated business of which I am proprietor. This is actually illegal, because I don't own that money, and have a duty under corporate law to protect it. The bank is between a rock and a hard place because it also has a legal obligation to obey the CSA order (a Form 72A, for the curious).
On that day (22March), I paid my rent by cheque, being sure to leave the required amount of money in the account.
Today, a week later, my real estate agent rang me to say that the cheque had bounced, and could they have some cash please because they'd written out and sent another cheque from that trust account to the owners, which would also bounce.
So I ring the NAB. No problems with the account, it has well over a grand in it cleared, also more than a grand waiting to clear, and no record of any cheques being presented, and no stops. A supervisor checks again, and lo and behold, there is a special debit stop (named, what a coincidence, F72A) on the account after all! What can the bank do about it? Nothing, they say. It's illegal, I say. So is disobeying the ATO, we are following policy, they say. They won't even give me a direct telephone number for the branch concerned.
It seems fairly clear by this point that the bank staff have no room to manouvre, no authority, no backbone and are as acclimatised to their situation as a sheep would be to being herded.
So, ring the CSA. CSA officer (one with brains, hoorah!) explains that they did not order a stop, they ordered a withdrawal. Rings NAB, talks to NAB, sends fax telling them to stop being stupid. NAB rings me, says stop is off account.
So far, so good. Off to local bank branch to withdraw cash for real estate agent. Sorry, account has a funny stop on it, can't give you cash until confirm with head office in Melbourne (Eastern States, two hours ahead, long gone home by now). [whack forehead]
NAB now has a please-explain fax from CSA and will shortly have a bill from me for three, possibly four cheque bounces, time, stress, loss of financial reputation, yadda yadda. If we're all lucky, not a bill for finding me a new house and moving me into it.
But what started this circus? The CSA (any branch of the ATO) can effectively (never mind what laws are involved) remove money from accounts not owned by their clients and without notice. The NAB (any bank) can turn accounts off without notice and in a pinch claim legal justification for so doing. Does that make you feel safe?
-- part 2 --
While we're examining stupid laws, when the CSA first stuck their collective nose in I was earning about $Oz9,000 a year. Big bikkies... not! CSA decided that I was earning $82,000 a year and started billing me for $38,000 a year (!) in child support fees. And could not be dissuaded. It was the law.
At the time, I was doing about 25,000km a year to exercise my daughter's access (now ``contact'') rights. The cars I used weren't too flash, but if you budgeted at the then-standard rate of 37c/km, that's, oh, let me see... $9,200 a year in travel costs (there are others), which CSA weren't interested in factoring in. I'm glad my vehicles weren't interested in budgets.
My ex wife subsequently took me to the Family Court to get the contact cut down even further, supposedly because it was interfering with said daughter's schooling. They succeeded, and said daughter's school results have promptly gone downhill. Now that was really worthwhile, why don't we undo it? Fat chance.
But in the process they spent well over $10,000 in legal fees, possibly as much as $20,000. I had to represent myself. If they can waste that much money, why do they need my support?
But wait, there's more! My ex-wife has now re-married, and so have I. She has a new child, and I have two. The CSA's motto is ``Helping parents manage their responsibilities''. Ex-wife now has zero dependents - being a dependent herself - and I have four (wife, daughter and 2x new children). How does ripping $500 out of a business account without warning help me to manage my four responsibilities?
In the Australian Family Courts, after a separation (also without warning, need I add?) physical possession of the children is nine tenths of the law, in practice if not in theory. The other tenth appears to be the possession of breasts. This despite what the law says, and what the Court officially says. On the other hand, there's no getting out of your ``responsibilities'' if CSA reckons you owe them. So in practice, fathers usually have their children taken from them, and are then fined for it.
The Family Court officially has a policy of not assigning blame in separations. Think about that. You can be as much of an asshole as you like and it doesn't matter. The ex-wife thought that 2 hours on a Saturday afternoon once a month was ``reasonable'' contact. The Magistrates's Court could see that this was lunacy, and acted accordingly, but it didn't count for anything to a Family Court Judge.
I could go on and on, bore you to tears with the messy details, but you don't have to look very hard to find a massive separation between the law as she are wrote, the law as she are officially interpreted, the law as she are actually interpreted - and the reality to which these three different bodies of law supposedly apply.
-- conclusion --
However, this new style of law is special. This new class of laws will make the practice of Family Law seem downright reasonable and rational, because they are unfair up front. You don't have to work on them at all to create abuse, it's practically built right in. All for the good of ``the State.'' And what is ``the State?'' In theory, you and I. Not in practice.
There is never a clear mandate for putting the State ahead of any individual. There is always a mandate for putting many individuals ahead of one individual (``The liberty of the individual must be thus far limited; he must not
make a nuisance of himself to other people.'' - John Stuart Mill), but not in general, and never a State, only other people - and only if nothing else works.
Which leads me to the reasons given for doing these things, for making these stupid laws.
The first reason is almost always because the crime that the law is overtly aimed at is so dreadful and widespread. The second is almost always that criminals cheat on the laws, so we have to do something to catch up. The summary is that ``the end justifies the means.''
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it doesn't.
Outlaws, by definition, don't obey laws. It's the old, tried and true ``if guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.''
That's a cliche, but absolutely correct, and proven so many times. One example: when Hitler invaded parts of Europe that had gan laws, the invaders simply took a copy of the gun register and went around asking for the weapons by serial number. If they weren't produced, the family's children were shot, one by one, then the wife, and if there were still weapons missing, the husband was shot and the house burned to the ground. The end really justified the means there, didn't it?
If you sieze drug houses, the dealers will simply rent them from unsuspecting landlords. All the criminal loses is the bond, and what's a few hundred dollars against the cost of a house?
And if you hate someone, plant drugs on their porch and then ring up and dob them in. Let your fingers do the porking.
The chosen means just caused more problems. But even if it worked often, you could not fight injustice with injustice. The best way to fight injustice is to remove the reason for it and let it die a natural death.
The tougher and more arbitrary you make the laws, the more collateral damage you're going to cause. It may catch or hurt a few more criminals, it may not. But it will certainly make victims of a lot more innocent people.
If at first you don't succeed, try a shorter bungee