Fortunately for democracy it appears that some politicians still can resist the temptation to increase police powers. The WA Nationals have knocked back legislation that would have enabled police to stop anyone and search them regardless of whether the police had any grounds for suspicion. Whilst the power was to be “limited” to certain places and times, once such a law exists extending it is easy.

The politicians who rejected the legislation found that the police currently had powers to search anyone that they felt may be a threat and that no case had actually been made as to why more powers were needed.

The justification used by the police minister, who was of course outraged that the bill was defeated, was that the law would have “saved lives”. The police union president claimed that if there were an attack or death then these politicians would have “blood on their hands”. Preesumably a random person would have been found with a weapon under these laws and that this person would have committed a crime. This person can be stopped now if police have suspicions.

What emotive nonsense. The term “saving lives” sounds great and is used to deflect arguments without actually addressing the issues. In reality it is a meaningless term. We will all die so lives cannot be saved. At best death can be deferred.

Now I do not want to be attacked on the street and die prematurely. Neither do I want to be stopped for no reason and searched. There is a real problem with “law and order” politicians who think that tough talk and more powers for the police are the answer to crime.

Any offense whereby a person is harmed is already illegal. The police have the power to apprehend or search people where there is reason to believe that they are a threat. How does randomly searching citizens help? It does not. If anything it chews up police resources that would be better spent looking for actual criminals.

And therein lies the real rub. It is cheap to talk tough and relatively cheap to pass laws. Enforcement is more expensive. If crime were really out of control then the solution would be more police and more effective policing. There is not a shortage of laws. Passing more does not add to the safety of the community. As I noted above crimes against people and property are already illegal.

The saving lives card is also played at airports. Now I do not want to be blown out of the sky by a terrorist but does pulling old ladies aside and scanning them for traces of explosive really make my trip safer?

And the old chestnut is road safety where it is all about saving lives. Excessive speed is a contributor to fatalities but if it was as simple as that no one would come off a motor racing track alive. It is also notable that despite booze buses and speed cameras, the number of people being “caught” is going up but the road toll is static.

The justification for doing more of the same will be to “save lives” yet there is no evidence at all that it makes a difference.

Ultimately we all want to live in safety but risk is not avoidable. It can be managed but not eliminated. Individuals, not governments are best placed to judge situations and respond to them.  Ceding more and more power to governments does not make us safer.

The next time you hear “saving lives” as a justification for government action or increasing state powers, be very questioning and highly suspicious.