Will growth pay the price of security?
Friday, August 24, 2007/
There will be a real cost to business from terrorism – but the insidious impost will come from within.
I had an experience during the week that worried me a bit, although it doesn’t have much to do with growing businesses. It is to do with my past life as a lawyer.
Many years ago I had the privilege of helping a little in the training of a young lawyer. The other day he was appointed a judge of the Supreme Court, so I decided to go along to the ceremony in court when he was welcomed to the bench.
I hadn’t been in the Supreme Court building for years. So I was shocked when I had to queue up at the entrance in line with a lot of distinguished guys wearing wigs and gowns to go through security. Coats, belts, watches, wallets, keys, money and then me. Finally I am through with this great sense of relief.
So, what worried me about this experience? Here I am trying to gain entrance into the one institution above most in the country that is the bulwark of our freedom. The court stands between officious government and the people to protect basic freedoms, and yet we are not free to enter the court.
Suddenly it occurred to me that terrorism had assumed a different perspective. We have been used to airport security ever since the Baader-Meinhof group 1977. Now we can’t get entrance at all to the Commonwealth Parliamentary offices. We have to go through security at Parliament House, and at the various court houses in the city. And we are tracked by surveillance cameras wherever we go. Just take a train ride and we are recorded on camera.
The very institutions that are the embodiment of our free society are no longer accessible. Little by little simple basic rights such as right of entry to public institutions are being eroded. Year by year if not month by month, more laws are passed in the name of protecting us from terrorists.
Soon I will need a permit to catch the bus into the city. People are being arrested and imprisoned without charge and without evidence. But it was turning our Supreme Court into a sort of prison that finally made me ask myself “Where is this all going to end? Will it end with an ever increasing removal of basic rights and freedoms? And if so, what sort of society are we building for our children and grandchildren?”
Do you know, I would sooner run the risk of a so-called terrorist coming up in the Supreme Court building and shooting me than to convert it into a bastion of fear. I mean if a terrorist destroys me or a building I can go along with that, but if they are successful (as they now are) in destroying our institutions, then I think that all of this security stuff is playing into their hands so that one day we will wake up and realise that we are no longer a free society.
So, I have that off my chest. However, in the context of the topic of growth, it dawned on me that going forward in this environment of fear, the obstacles to growth will intensify as the demands for security dominate the public debate. It is one thing to ban cigarette smoking in public places but another to ban freedoms in the public arena.
How small a step would it be to provide government inspectors right of entry to businesses without warrant, ostensibly to inspect GST records to ensure that the business owner was not diverting money to the “enemy”. People would be alarmed if they knew the extent of the powers of public servants to enter premises without warning or warrant and thereby invade the private space of individuals.
So, I walked away from the Supreme Court with this worry of where we are going as a society and at this stage I would have to say that I have deep concerns. I would like to think that we can keep growing businesses in the way we have done so for decades but I can’t help feeling that the landscape is altering rapidly and unpleasantly. Let’s hope I am wrong.
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