It is difficult to feel any sympathy for bikie gangs,
but Queensland's laws, which deem it a criminal offence for members of
motorcycle gangs to associate with each other, should cause us to pause
and ask if this is really how we want law enforcement conducted. The
Newman government's latest move, the Vicious Lawless Association
Disestablishment Act, is intended to prevent crime and increase public
safety and security by disrupting and detaining people who associate
with criminal gangs.
The question is whether this is a legitimate and
effective way of maintaining law and order or whether it represents a
draconian and dangerous form of government overreach. We believe it is
the latter. The Newman government claims ''there is no alternative way
to achieve the policy objectives''. We say that is nonsense.
First, Australia has numerous, long-standing laws that
control interaction between people (such as an intervention order), but
limitations on cherished freedoms should only be imposed when it is
deemed absolutely necessary to preserve the safety and security of the
community - and, even then, it should be done in very limited and
tightly proscribed circumstances, and with judicial oversight.
The Newman government did not seek outside advice on
these laws because, in its view, there was a pressing need ''to respond
urgently to the significant public threat these associations pose in
Queensland''. We do not doubt for one minute that some members of bikie
gangs represent very real and serious dangers to the community. The
gangs foster and enforce loyalty in extreme ways. They harbour violent
members who commit unconscionable acts of violence, including murder.
Several gangs, including the Rebels, Hells Angels, Bandidos, Comancheros
and Gypsy Jokers, have demonstrated consummate disregard for the safety
of others in public settings.
Separately, law enforcement agencies believe bikie
gangs have developed highly organised, quasi-corporate structures to
facilitate extensive criminal activities, including the manufacture and
distribution of illicit drugs and weapons trafficking. Raids on bikie
gangs in recent years have uncovered caches of high-powered firearms and
other weapons, drugs, stolen property and significant sums of cash.
For all that, however, Australia's law enforcement
authorities have, in the past 30 years, been given a wide range of
surveillance methods to track criminal gangs and their individual
members. They can tap phones, conduct covert surveillance, raid premises
and seek court orders to freeze assets. Some investigating agencies,
including the Australian Crime Commission, have extraordinary coercive
powers of interrogation.
Tony Fitzgerald, QC, who headed a ground-breaking
anti-corruption inquiry in Queensland two decades ago, recently
described the Newman government's crackdown as a short-sighted effort to
garner ''redneck support''. Similarly, a former NSW director of public
prosecutions, Nicholas Cowdery, QC, believes the existing suite of
federal and state criminal laws are sufficiently robust to deal with the
threats posed by bikie gangs and their members. The Age agrees.
Legislators should aim their arsenals at offences that
cause actual harm, or which threaten to seriously endanger the
community. Introducing extra laws to harass people who have committed no
offence, other than the concocted one of associating with someone else,
may attract praise from some quarters but it is a dangerous exercise of