Two things have recently got me thinking about the issue of social freedoms in relation to the current government. Yesterday No Right Turn drew attention to a piece of anti-graffiti legislation that, if passed, will allow people to be convicted for carrying materials that could be used to mark a surface (see here for the Law and Order Committee report).
A few weeks ago, AndrewE asked Helen Clark via the standard's "ask the leaders" series "I’ve always voted Labour (was even a member of the Party) but this year I’m planning on voting National as I’m very concerned by the erosions in our freedoms that have happened under your watch. Why am I wrong?" and got an answer that wasn't one: "I know of no erosions of freedoms which have occurred on our watch. Any such assertion is sheer spin from the National Party and its friends. If the writer is perchance referring to the legislation on disciplining children, he might reflect on the fact it passed through Parliament on a vote of 113:8 with the National Party voting in support of it!"
The current government has passed a substantial quantity of socially progressive legislation (I listed some of it here) but it's also passed laws that restrict social freedoms, most obviously in relation to opening political activity against the state. These include three pieces of anti-terrorism legislation. A recent example is The Suppression of Terrorism Bill 2007 (see here for a Global Peace And Justice press release) which increases grounds for arrest while protesting politically and takes its lead from US-lead policy.
While I don't believe that the EFB, for example, is going to substantially affect freedom of speech, and I'm comfortable with s59's outlawing of violence to children within the family, it's apparent that even though this government has been one of the most socially progressive we've possibly ever had, it's also certainly the most proscriptive that we've had in recent times. I'm saddened that Andrew's question wasn't used as an opportunity to address the issue of social freedoms. I suppose that would have been asking too much since no astute politician will volunteer to raise specific contentious issues if they can get away with not doing so.
Setting aside the issue of anti-terrorism, the idea that anti-graffiti legislation will soon mean carrying a spray can or a felt-tip is a criminal offence is ridiculous to me and it gives the police, (a group whose "discretion" I harbour perfectly reasonable doubts over since a gratuitous batoning incident I witnessed at close hand in 1993, augmented by Louise Nicholas's story and associated cases) far too much choice about how to enact the law. It could easily be argued that s59 gives the people in blue too much discretion also, but in reality it's much harder to police stuff that goes on inside the home unless someone actually calls them in. Anti-graffiti laws, by contrast, will probably create more necessity for police to stop and question people and assume that that they're criminals. We get deeper into territory where looking "dodgy" and being in the wrong place at the wrong time are almost crimes in themselves.
This is not to say that I'd advocate a swing to the right. National are not looking attractive as policy-makers at the moment. But, at least for me, it's time to start considering in more detail the policies of the Greens and the Maori Party. I may also cast a jaundiced eye over New Zealand First and United Future, but only because it's good to be fully informed.