petard [pi-tahrd]

1. an explosive device formerly used in warfare to blow in a door or gate, form a breach in a wall, etc.

2. a kind of firecracker.

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3. (initial capital letter ) Also called Flying Dustbin, a British spigot mortar of World War II that fired a 40-pound (18 kg) finned bomb, designed to destroy pillboxes and other concrete obstacles.



4. hoist by or with one’s own petard, hurt, ruined, or destroyed by the very device or plot one had intended for another.

Western Australian police minister Rob Johnson was born and raised in England, so he might well be familiar with British explosives. If he wasn’t before this year, he is now.

The Barnett government’s attempts at populism have blown up with a glorious detonation this week, the most glaring example of which has been a Perth doctor losing the use of his $200,000 Lamborghini for a month after his mechanic decided to take it for a 160 kmh spin and get busted for hoon driving.

Under amendments rushed through last year and taking effect two weeks ago, police no longer have any discretion in the impounding of cars involving in hooning. So the doctor loses his car, the mechanic loses sod-all (barring a fine) and the police minister loses the plot.

After saying that he would under no circumstances be changing the law, he was standing firm and the doctor could, bugger him, afford to hire a car, the minister is now reversing at a dangerously unsafe speed. One suspects his political “reverse hoon” has come all of about seven minutes after receiving his media talkback summaries and a call from the Premier.

It seems a waste of column centimetres to point out the obvious; this is what happens when you remove discretion from the law in order to bellow and grandstand and govern by newspaper headline. This is the automotive equivalent of the Liberals’ other glittering judicial failure, mandatory sentencing for assaults on police — the first two prosecutions, predictably, involved defendants suffering from mental illness whose cases were subsequently dropped after community concern about the impact of six months in jail on an unwell person.

The list of foolishness goes on and on … stop’n’search laws, for one. No discretion, no appeal, no idea.

Memo to governments — the difference between a press release and a law is vast. Try getting the latter right, would you?

It would be nice to pin all the stupidity on the police minister — this is, after all, a man who regards acquittals in a court of law as “disgraceful”,  and runs into car parks to escape journalists — but that would be a convenient untruth for the Liberal Government.

Johnson’s colleague Robyn McSweeney justified her axing of funding for pauper funerals last year by remarking that “dead people have no future”. Peter Collier called a press conference last year to pledge — six times — that the government would guarantee entitlements to 500 coal workers employed by the struggling Griffin Coal; only to have his pledges “clarified” into irrelevance by the Premier hours later. He at least was better than Donna Faragher, whose press appearances proved so disastrous that the Premier was forced to answer questions for her. Saves on the clarifications, I suppose.

Barnett is, at the least, a competent manager, but he must sometimes wonder at the position in which he finds himself. The position of WA Premier is rapidly degenerating to resemble that of the headmaster at a special school … not so much “Land of Hope and Glory” as it is “Big Red Car”.

And for much of this nonsense, he only has himself to blame. Half his ministry might be certified intellectual pygmies, but that’s state government for you. More seriously, Barnett has allowed the sort of populist nonsense that rabble-rousers such as Johnson spouted in Opposition to become law in government — a failure of judgement that was always going to end in tears.

The political chicken entrails are predicting a cabinet re-shuffle very soon, but it’s not clear where any better talent is coming from on the government side. And it’s equally as murky as to whether the government can shove the genie of bad legislation back in the bottle — if it can’t, expect a steady parade of ordinary West Australians from here to the next election lamenting their misfortune to live under growing stench of the Barnett regime … and looking up the etymology of petard in Websters’ for themselves.

1590–1600;  MF, equiv. to pet(er) to break wind.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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