Murder’s okay, just don’t let off crackers in the ACT
Canberra just got a whole lot more boring.
With their Jedi Council-like wisdom, the ACT Government has banned the social evil that is fireworks from private sale and use in the capital.
While this decision kills off one of the few uniquely Canberran outlets of fun, it’s a pretty interesting ban from a Government that presides over laws that have enabled nobody to be convicted of murder in the last 11 years.
More about murders in a second, but first let’s look at the fireworks decision.
According to the ACT’s Industrial Relations Minister John Hargreaves fireworks are all fun and games until somebody loses an eye:
“Fireworks are about celebration, but unfortunately for many in the community they are about damage to property, distress and injury to animals, and public nuisance.”
Oh the horror, the horror.
To understand this decision you have to understand the strange kind of suburban middle-class psychopathy that flourishes in Canberra.
It is characterised by obsessiveness over lawns, where new bike paths are going to be built, where dogs are allowed in nature reserves and, of course, those damn kids who let off fireworks.
Canberra is a city where the issue of fireworks dominate local talkback radio from time to time, with many asking that the ban extend not just to fireworks sales but to public displays:
“You should hear Bella cower and whimper when those blasted things start. I honestly don’t think she can take another Canberra Festival season.”
As someone who grew up in Canberra I admit to the odd letter boxing or two with firecrackers in my youth.
Mind you these were usually done with illegal small explosives, but I also accept that these are more readily available under the counter in places where legal fireworks are sold.
The decision also brings Canberra into line with all other parts of the country, except for the Northern Territory, which have banned the sale of fireworks.
But so what?
Fireworks were something that you were able to do in Canberra for a long time, and its citizens lived pretty good lives that weren’t endangered on a daily basis by errant Catherine Wheels and small plastic parachute men falling from the sky.
In a city ruled by the aforementioned suburban psychopaths, the ability to buy a packet of UFOs for $20 was an incongruous freedom in a place so boring and anally retentive that its annual tourist draw card is a big flower show.
This has been a long-time coming in the capital and no doubt that are a small army of joyless owners of large dogs and ornate letter boxes who will have an extra cup of herbal tea and go to bed before Lateline in celebration of a well run campaign.
I’d be interested to see if Canberra actually had higher rates of petty vandalism or fireworks related letterbox destruction (I couldn’t find the stats), I’d wager not but it doesn’t really matter anway.
The ban is an insight into the weird psychology of many people in Canberra who will invest their time and energy into campaigns like this when they ignore the more obvious problems with the way the city is operating.
It has been 11 years since anyone was convicted of murder in Canberra, a fact recently well documented in a column by The Daily Telegraph’s Alison Rehn.
This is not because people aren’t murdering each other in Canberra, it’s actually a pretty regular occurrence, it’s because the law in Canberra currenlty constrains judges to convict of murder.
Canberra teenager Glen Porritt was found to have stabbed his mother 57 times but was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to just 5 years in prison, he ended up serving 22 months.
ACT Supreme Court Chief Justice Higgins who presided over the decision said at the trail: “I observe that, for this territory, intent to cause, or reckless infliction of, grievous bodily harms is insufficient for murder.”
The constraints of this law were also brought up in the case of Darren Lee Cassidy who bashed four-year-old Trinaty Howarth to death. He was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to a non-parole period of fours in jail.
While Canberra is a perfectly lovely place to live and grow up, its good fortune can often distort a normal view of the world where any impingement on your extremely good quality of life - like your dog being upset for an evening - becomes some kind of breach of your human rights.
It’s a kind of Twilight Zone of the suburbs that extends power to the weird pseudo Parliament of the ACT Legislative Assembly, where Chief Minister Jon “Diamond Joe” Stanhope can obsess over laws relating to fireworks while people literally get away with murder.
The ACT Assembly is looking at bringing its murder laws into line with those in NSW at some point, but fortunately it has its priorities right and has already taken action to prevent the violent mayhem of the upcoming fireworks season.
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