Good news on the asset forfeiture front: "Asset confiscations fall to six-year low," according to The Age (Victoria). That would seem to be good news, right? But, no … not in this day and age.
We're constantly assaulted by legislative initiatives we could never dream of. We spent a good deal of time in our grade school history classes absorbing the inevitable march of freedom. Society, we learned, is always freer tomorrow than today – and certainly freer than yesterday.
And yet we come to this statement in The Age:
The release of the report comes after the state government announced proposed sweeping new laws this year that would increase police powers to seize assets. Attorney-General Robert Clark said the report demonstrated the importance of the Coalition government's reforms.
"New confiscation laws have recently commenced under which those convicted of trafficking in large commercial quantities of drugs will forfeit almost everything they own, regardless of whether or not it was lawfully acquired," he said.
We were so surprised by this last statement of Clark's, above, that we went researched the judicial stance on the presumption of innocence. Here, from the government´s own postings:
The Australian legal system is based on a fundamental belief in the rule of law, justice and the independence of the judiciary. All people—Australians and non-Australians alike—are treated equally before the law and safeguards exist to ensure that people are not treated arbitrarily or unfairly by governments or officials.
Principles such as procedural fairness, judicial precedent and the separation of powers are fundamental to Australia's legal system.
The common law system, as developed in the United Kingdom, forms the basis of Australian jurisprudence. It is distinct from the civil law systems that operate in Europe, South America and Japan, which are derived from Roman law. Other countries that employ variations of the common law system are the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Malaysia and India.
So what's going on? Where does this end? According to the article, "Another bill before the Parliament would create an 'unexplained wealth scheme', under which people reasonably suspected of criminal activity would have to prove their assets were obtained by legitimate means."
And Mr. Clark is fine with this. He is happy to elaborate: "The onus will then be on the person concerned to have property released from the restraint by showing that it has lawful origins … Where they cannot do so, the assets will be forfeited."
Did Clark skip the part in law school about "innocent until proven guilty"? Who exactly is going to determine "reasonable suspicion"? It used to be the job of the judiciary. But now it seems that police officials will deem a person innocent or guilty. The trial apparently is an afterthought.
Presumably his countrymen are fine with this as well. Or maybe not. Reports of emigration can be found in numerous 'Net posts with titles like, "Why are so many Britons leaving Australia?" and "More of us leave the Lucky Country for good."
These articles cite economic and cultural issues as sparking emigration. But perhaps it's not the whole story. Even in the early 2000s, there were 'Net reports of a post-9/11 drift toward authoritarianism including intelligence agencies arresting people and holding them incommunicado. Domestic wiretapping and espionage expanded considerably.
Such activities parallel those in other Western countries, including the US, where an exodus has already begun and is building. As Ebola and the "war on terror" call forth increasingly authoritarian responses from Western governments it is likely that emigration will increase in numerous countries.
The trend toward living "abroad" is surely expanding as a result. Second homes will increasingly be purchased in developing countries around the world, chief among them countries in Latin America. Many have homes in Southern Mexico, Panama City, Ecuador, Uruguay, Argentina and, of course, my favorite – Colombia.
I wrote about this just last week.
Freedom's diminishment in the West is a trend, not a mistake. I accept the trend. It's not going to be reversed any time soon. I also believe that in this Internet era, people have the ability to inform themselves and take thoughtful "human action." More and more are presumably doing so.
I would suggest that you, dear reader, consider taking action, too. Unless you approve of events like a potential reversal of "innocent until proven guilty" …
Editor's Note: A previous version of this article misidentified the location of The Age, which is published in Australia.