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We all have the right to protect ourselves from harm

By David Leyonhjelm - posted Monday, 2 July 2018

We have become a nation of defenceless victims.

In legal terms, Australians have a right of self-defence. But we are denied the practical means to exercise that basic right.

Australia’s ban on practical non-lethal means of defence such as pepper sprays, mace and personal tasers sets us apart from most other countries in the world. In NSW even wearing a bulletproof vest is a criminal offence.


Only the police, it seems, have the right to practical self-defence, and even then only when on duty. Supposedly on-duty police are so well distributed in the community that the rest of us do not need to take personal responsibility for our safety.

But as the saying goes, when seconds count the police are minutes away. Or, in the country, hours.

The elderly, disabled and women are particularly vulnerable. We cannot know what the outcome might have been if Eurydice Dixon or Jill Meagher had been carrying a pepper spray, taser or even a pocketknife on the night they were brutally attacked, raped and murdered.

Based on the experience from overseas, contrary to the assertion that weapons are frequently turned against those who carry them, there is a good chance they would have been able to fight off their attacker. At least they might have been able to temporarily debilitate them long enough to flee.  Even if they had failed, fairly obviously their fate wouldn’t have been made any worse.

Australians may never embrace the use of guns for self-defence (although I doubt they would oppose off-duty police being permitted to carry them), but I do not believe they ever agreed to or accepted being rendered virtually defenceless by their government. If asked, I believe most would unequivocally demand the right to practical self-defence, at least using non-lethal means. Yet in the Senate yesterday, this very question was overwhelmingly rejected by the major parties.

A motion by Queensland Senator Anning called for the Government to allow the importation of pepper spray, mace and tasers for individual self-defence. His motion also called for state governments to legalise and actively promote the use of such items by women for their personal protection. The motion was defeated by 46 votes to 5.


This is shameful. When we finish in the Senate late at night, my senate colleagues and I disperse into the cold dark Canberra night via our taxpayer-funded Comcars, with our security-trained drivers. No running the gauntlet of a deserted carpark, car keys at the ready, for any of us.

In a perfect world no human being would assault, rape or murder another human being. We do not live in a perfect world.

It is obscene for law enforcement agencies to tell women to remain vigilant about their personal safety while at the same time preventing them from taking any practical steps to preserve that safety. This amounts to obliging women to modify their behaviour. Unless they are willing to become victims, what other options do they have?

To deny women access to protective measures to ensure their safety because men shouldn’t be violent in the first place (as Greens Senator Rice asserted) is making the perfect the enemy of the good and dangerous in its naivety.  We need to accept the reality that there are violent men who need to be stopped and take the appropriate measures, not just wish such men did not exist.

Things should never have reached this stage. Only an authoritarian society would treat its citizens as victims, with the government masquerading as a guardian angel.

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This article was first published in the Australian Financial Review.

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About the Author

David Leyonhjelm is a former Senator for the Liberal Democrats.

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