Unintended consequences

Jesse Arthars of the Broncos reacts during the round four NRL match between the Brisbane Broncos and the Sydney Roosters at Suncorp Stadium on 4 June in Brisbane. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

The Broncos’ 59-0 loss to the Roosters in Australia’s National Rugby League competition sent Brisbane’s fickle fans into apoplexy, with calls for the sacking of everyone from the coach to the person who slices the half-time oranges.

While I am no fan of the Broncos, this seems a little harsh, and the outrage is overshadowing another factor in the margin of defeat – the law of unintended consequences.

The resumption of rugby league after the COVID-19 inspired break came with a plethora of rule changes – changes which were not subject to the scrutiny they would have attracted in normal circumstances, and which were implemented in haste. One of these is that when defending players deliberately infringe to slow the play down, instead of giving a penalty the referee simply re-starts the tackle count.

This change was intended to speed up play, and it has, but it has another consequence which was not intended – it means once a team falls behind it will probably stay there. Anyone who has played rugby league will tell you defence is the hardest aspect of the game, and that the aerobic effort involved can make the muscles of even the fittest athletes burn and churn.

The new rule means that, instead of the normal six tackles, a defensive team can face 12 or 18 tackles without a break. Once that happens a couple of times, it will continue to happen as the team on the back foot tires and gives away more infringements.

The intention of the rule change was to create a faster, more watchable game, but it has also created an increase in boring blowouts. The lack of scrutiny applied to the rule changes had unintended and negative consequences. The same thing can happen with laws passed by government – and this is where Queensland Law Society steps in.

When new legislation is proposed, QLS’ volunteer policy committees apply their expertise to the laws (often within short time frames and in relation to complex and far-reaching changes) to alert government to possible unintended consequences and other shortcomings. Those committees are assisted by the Society’s policy and ethics teams in an effort to ensure legislation is just and workable.

The policy solicitors then work with the President to put forward comprehensive submissions in relation to proposed Bills, and attend parliamentary committee hearings and other forums to advocate directly for good, practical and fair laws. In a state which has no upper house, parliamentary committees represent the last chance to avoid unintended consequences and legislative over-reach.

Unfortunately for Broncos fans, there is nothing we can do about NRL rule changes. For Queenslanders as a whole, however, as legislation and other regulations change rapidly to respond to COVID-19 and the new normal it has created, we will continue to provide expert review of proposed legislation, and advocate for good law, good lawyers and the public good.

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