From Cranks and Nuts (University of Melbourne Engineering Students magazine), 1965.

We all seem to just accept without question the old cliché “innocent until proven guilty,” but in Victoria and in other States of Australia this is just not so.

The Police Offences Acts 1957, Part II, Section 70, Subsections (i), (ii) and (iii) state (briefly) that any policeman may arrest without warrant any person he suspects of having no lawful means of support, and any person so arrested who fails to prove to the court that he has sufficient lawful means of support is liable to 12 months gaol. The fact that a person so arrested owns any amount of property is not to be taken into account, the tacit assumption behind this being that in the absence of visible lawful income, the defendant must live on crime. The law doesn’t seem to recognise that many are quite willing to support other people on no more concrete a basis than that of friendship. (Indeed, according to a recent census, only 30% of Australians earn their own living.)

A similar responsibility to prove his own innocence is placed on any person found in the same house as a person convicted as above, or any person charged with “intent” to commit felony or any person found wearing or carrying any “article of disguise” (Fancy getting upset about a pair of disguised feet!)

This is tough enough for a male to contend with, but woe betide a female. A girl who walks or stands on a footpath (on private or public property) for any length of time may be arrested by an enterprising young policeman looking for promotion or merely wishing to break the monotony of the day.

The end result of this is that Australia places itself in the almost unique position of being the only land where it is an offence to be poor. Indeed, for some people, myself included, it is jolly, and certainly harmless, to venture out to other parts of the country (or even stay in Melbourne for that matter) without a substantial amount of money with them or a definite place to stay “lined up.” (And who, at any time, has “adequate” proof of having lawfully obtained his pocket money and every article of clothing he has on him, etc., etc.)

Mind you, if fear is penetrating the fibres of your body for the possibility of being arrested, there is not too much cause for alarm, for policeman are not perfectly indiscriminate in their arrests; they arrest only pacifists, Saviours, students on holidays and other weird people who may look a little unusual (e.g., they might have Long Hair instead of Police Cadet short-back-and-sides, or may have a Beard!)

But, nevertheless, the police force is a necessary element in our state — I do not advocate a regression to anarchy by any means. This is quite obvious: police are needed to restrain suiciding motorists from maiming each other and landlords from collecting rent from unwilling tenants. They are needed to prevent young girls from being attacked by men (?) at night (and by day, too). One only has to read “The Sun” to see how essential the police force is, if only for the above duties.

However, if a girl happens to look sort of “odd,” and if she looks a bit if she might be, you know, that type (maybe she “lives with” some man!), the poor sweet thing has to have a number of trustworthy, collaborating eye-witnesses to sustain a legitimate rape charge and ensure her acquittal from the alternative charge of soliciting.

If the girl happens to have run away from home at the age of twelve (say), because (for instance) she is not “understood” at home, and if her father is sufficiently concerned (or envious perhaps) to enlist police aid in returning her to her permanent abode, then she has thenceforth (unto death) a Police Record. Now, in this case, the girl would need not only eye-witnesses, but a little influence in the right quarter (and maybe infra-red photos of a few crucial incidents) to enable the wheels of justice to turn a little more smoothly.

However, I cannot propose any cure. One cannot hope to have these laws revised, or the police controlled, for indeed, the function the vagrancy laws were intended to serve is a real one. However, I feel that to place such responsibility in the hands of the police force is too naive for a practical legal structure. A police force akin to Plato’s Guardian class would be needed to justly administer these laws. I feel also, that it is as much a part of an Australian’s nature to tolerate an irresponsible police as it is to tolerate the existence of those members of our community whom the police will not tolerate. It does, however, strike me as being strange that despite mounting totals of unsolved crimes (over 3,000 were awaiting attention in Victoria in April this year), the police are spending time chasing young kids who are trying to lead their own lives (even if they might be rather unusual, decadent, or positively unsavoury existences). This, coupled with a consideration of the number of police cleaning out pubs at six, interfering with university rags and censoring literature, etc., makes one wonder!

Anyway, enough morbid nonsense; who’s for the road? Thumbs only, of course!

— A.B.