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Alias (5735)

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Journal of Alias (5735)

Tuesday April 04, 2006
11:21 AM

Some context for what you see my government doing...

[ #29213 ]

It seems lately that most of the time the Australian government hits the technical news headlines, which in deference to this site's creator we'll assume to mean slashdot, they seem to be enacting some crazy law.

So I thought I should take the opportunity briefly to explain the situation here.

For starters, Australia has a fairly unusual combination of things

    - Large parts of this country are both mostly empty and mostly untamed

    - Lots of things here want to kill you
        (which where I live becomes a genuine problem about once a decade)

    - We have no land borders, which makes it hard for bad people to get in
        (and thus also really hard to run from trouble)

    - 6% of everyone born here is living/working in another country

    - 25% of all people living HERE emigrated from somewhere else
        (the highest in the world)

    - Most of the population is concentrated into the capital cities

    - We have no groups you could class as a "major minority".
        (meaning something in the range of 10% or larger)

I'm not entirely sure what it is about this combination, but for the most part the country seems to have a layer of sensible overlaying most things.

We don't seem to have any major corruption, we have some fairly strong agencies to protect us that are truly non-political, and as a national community we seem to have notably little problems with freeloaders (since there's no borders to hop, there's nothing similar to the Gypsies in Europe, or illegal immigrants in the US).

And seeing as you are so concentrated in one major city for most of your life, anyone you meet in business or life you are highly likely to meet again later in your life. So I think this leads to a situation in which we naturally try to play nice with others. Because you burn someone, and it's most definitely going to come back and bite you later. This also leads to a strong streak of "tall poppy syndrome" and a strong aversion to people abusing their power, because we don't see a lot of that sort of thing most of the time.

This seems to create an effect whereby most people, for the most part, just get on and do their own thing. We don't sweat the niggly laws too much, because most of the time they don't impact us too much.

Two perfect examples of this are free speech and copyright.

Australia has no right to free speech, and abysmal copyright laws, oh and no intrinsic right to privacy :)

It's always been illegal here to record a television program. The entire country is technically full of criminals. Yes yes, I know, I've heard that joke a thousand times, shut it.

But despite the fact there is no right to free speech, nobody really cares, because we can still hold civil protests, say what we like in the media, or stop people in the street to make a point. And for the most part, the government has never done much to abuse this situation. We don't have much of a history of the government abusing the people in non-trivial ways at all.

Likewise, we have no right to even record television, and yet we don't see situations like the RIAA suing people for things, and things seem to just work fine. In fact, since DVD region encoding has been ruled as anti-competative, and the ACCC has serious teeth, you can quite happily legally buy region-free DVD players, or break the encryption on DVDs entirely legally.

So really, although things might sometimes seem crazy, most stuff has little to no impact. The first anti-porn law meant that every porn operator moved offshore, and while only slightly effective, hasn't hurt anyone.

The same thing applies to many other things. The new DCMA law we are having forced on us is looking much tamer, with the legal exceptions looking much much more flexible than (for example) in the US. Some of this may come from letting other countries (*cough*US*cough*) go first, make the mistakes, and watch those guys abuse each situation, and then try and factor that out in our version of things.

So although we now have some fairly nasty new wiretapping laws, I'm not particularly concerned, because these things tend to not get abused very badly, if at all. And even if they did, the ICAC (an independant anti-corruption agency somewhat like the Spanish Inquisition) would take care of it :)

And I for one wouldn't trade this type of live-and-let-live attitude for the alternative.

As one quite sane politician put it "All that a Bill of Rights would mean is that some judge and a bunch of lawyers get to work out what you can or can't do, instead of letting the normal political process take care of it".

And lets face it, if theoretically your rights could be taken away at any time, you stay pretty alert to anyone even thinking of taking them away. And you don't sweat wiretapping laws, because it doesn't erode your rights, and it won't set a precedent for anything legally.

So while slashdot might get in a huff, most of these things do just work they way they are supposed to, and won't get abused for the most part.

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