August 20, 2006

Crocodiles are fish in Australia

an Australian crocodile

The press is making much of the Australian government's redefinition of crocodiles as fish in the Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Legislation Amendment (Export Control and Quarantine) Bill 2006, as if this were on a par with the stupidity of the attempt by Indiana legislators in 1897 to redefine π as 3.2, 3.232, 3.236, or 9.24 (all in the same bill!), or the nefarious silliness of the Reagan Administration's redefinition of ketchup as a vegetable in school lunches. As the digest of the bill explains, the purpose of this is to ensure that the law regulates the export not only of fish in the usual sense but of prawns, clams, mussels, and crocodiles.

The relevant portion of the bill amends the law to include the definition:

fish means aquatic vertebrates and aquatic invertebrates but excludes mammals and birds

The purpose is perfectly sensible, but the mechanism seems perverse. Why not just define the scope of the law as "aquatic invertebrates and aquatic vertebrates excluding mammals and birds" and thereafter refer where necessary to "the regulated organisms" or whatever? The way legislators write and amend legislation seems to me very similar to the way inferior computer programmers develop software.

Posted by Bill Poser at August 20, 2006 06:38 PM