Monday, November 14, 2005

Society Standards Slipping

Well, my Monday was certainly a lot less interesting than my Friday last week! None the less, i still had a thought provoking day. Much discussion was on a recent case in Sydney and how society's value system may perhaps be eroding.
THE survival of acceptable standards of community behaviour in Australia is hanging by a gossamer thread. The future of public decency is at the whim and discretion of a New South Wales appeals court.A 27-year-old Canberra man, Rufus Richardson, may have the dubious honour of being responsible for the death of proper and decent public behaviour. From now on, anything goes.
The story unfolds that about 12.10am on July 18, a police bus, part of a street crime operation, was parked outside a hotel in the popular Rocks area of Sydney. An apparently drunk Mr Richardson walked towards the bus.
A statement of fact tended by police in Sydney's Downing Centre local court said: "The accused then stopped and looking inside the bus ... then proceeded to knock on the window of the bus and yell 'Youse are f...ed'. He also held up his middle finger in an offensive fashion towards police seated in the bus. This was observed by members of the general public as they left the hotel."
Police apprehended Mr Richardson because, as the statement said, they "deemed the behaviour of the accused offensive, given the number of members of the public within view of the incident". Which seems fair enough. But Sydney magistrate Pat O'Shane threw out the charges and awarded Mr Richardson $2600 in costs.
Ms O'Shane said she was "not sure that there is such a thing as community standards any more" in relation to such behaviour. She said that type of language was to be expected on George St at that time of night.
In dismissing the case without hearing further evidence, Ms O'Shane criticised the arresting officers for detaining and charging Mr Richardson. Police have given notice that they will appeal against the decision. If that appeal fails, a precedent in law will be established across Australia for public behaviour.
It will presumably be acceptable to insult and abuse police in public using vulgar obscenities and rude gestures without risk of prosecution. Politicians and police have long claimed that the visible presence of police officers reduces crime. Police, they claim, command respect.
An officer on the beat automatically enforces community discipline by their mere presence. Not any more. If the O'Shane ruling stands, it will be within the law for defiant street thugs to swear at police officers and taunt them with rude gestures.
If they are arrested, they will be able to fall back on the "O'Shane defence" – there are no longer such things as community standards. If police lose their appeal, what is the point of having police walking the beat or patrolling the streets in cars? They will become the target of crude gibes and abuse. Ridiculing police will become an after-dark sport in the rougher streets and entertainment venues of Australia.
And what is the point of teaching our children the basic manners, standards and values of a decent and law-abiding society?
I can vaguely sympathise with Ms O'Shane. Standards of society behaviour have slipped to frighteningly low levels.
Outrageous and offensive language is as commonplace in Hindley St after midnight as the revving of car engines.
But that doesn't mean it has to be accepted in law.
If the NSW police lose their appeal against Mr Richardson, decent Australians will put to rest the last remnants of an acceptable standard of community behaviour. It can only be replaced by anarchy.


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