In legal terms, Australians have a right of self-defence. While some states rely on the common law and others have it enshrined in statute, the right itself is never questioned. Moreover, juries consistently refuse to convict those charged with serious offences whenever self-defence is made out.
What we don’t have is the practical ability to exercise that right. Possessing any object specifically for the purpose of self-defence, lethal or non-lethal, is a criminal offence. There are many women, raped and/or murdered, who would have been liable to prosecution had they been carrying anything that might have saved them.
Those agile enough to retreat from an assailant can obviously do so if it is feasible, and it is lawful to use items at hand such as screwdrivers, kitchen knives and beer glasses. But for those unable to flee, insufficiently strong, or with no improvised weapon, there is no option for them but to rely on the police or — if they are lucky — bystanders, to protect them from assault or theft.
Prohibited self-defence items include pepper sprays, mace, clubs and personal Tasers. In some States carrying a pocketknife is illegal and even wearing a bulletproof vest is banned.
The Prime Minister is protected by armed guards at taxpayers’ expense, and the wealthy can hire armed security guards, but the safety of everyone else relies on the assumption that the police can keep us safe. And as the saying goes, when seconds count the police are minutes away.
What this means is that self-defence is not a realistic option for most people, and especially not for the majority of women, elderly and disabled. We have become a nation of defenceless victims.
David Leyonhjelm is the Liberal Democrats’ senator for NSW