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Queensland’s Slippery Slope With VLAD

Photo: Real Media One Group, Aaron Watson

Photo: Real Media One Group, Aaron Watson

First and foremost Real News One believes in the rule of law, we believe that laws should be made for the betterment of society and the creation of equality and to be just. Laws should not be made that treat groups differently from each other for doing the same thing or that infringe on people’s rights.

Recently the people of Queensland have been looking at the calendars to see if it really is 2014 or if it is really the 1930s with a European dictatorship in charge! Queensland has enacted a law that is called the Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment Act 2013 (VLAD). The Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment Act 2013 is an act of the Parliament of Queensland to “severely punish members of “criminal” organisations that commit serious offences”. The Act was passed on 16 October 2013, and went into effect immediately.The relevant Minister is required to review the Act after 3 years.

The law has caused major issues and discontent within the population of Queensland. Under the act if a person is declared to be a “vicious lawless associate”, the Act mandates a further 15 years imprisonment on top of the sentence for the crime for members of the organisation, and 25 years imprisonment for office bearers of the organisation.

While it is important to protect the population of Queensland from organised crime and organised crime should always be prosecuted, the true target group of this law isn’t necessarily bikies – it is anyone whom the government feels fits the description at the time that suits them. Publicly the government has declared a war on bikies and they are using this law to target them, for the governments own PR purpose. At the end of the day it is a phoney war.

Firstly, it should be noted that not all “bikie gangs” are involved in criminal activities and those that are should be shut down and prosecuted. There are good elements and bad elements in all organisations; look at political parties. This news service has no qualms in criticising and condemning any party that is in power, however, there are some members of the Liberal-National Party who sincerely believe they are doing the right thing and who don’t commit criminal offences. However, there are – and it has been shown- some who do commit crimes. The same can be said for the Labor party.

Secondly, when it comes to the amount of crime committed by criminal bikie gangs, statistics show that outlaw motorcycle gangs are responsible for about 0.6% of overall crime. This percentage shows that they are not committing that much crime compared to others. The difference is they commit it in broad daylight. Unlike corporate crime which is rampant and behind closed doors.   What about the other 99.4% of crime.

Additionally, the laws reverse the burden of proof, forcing those accused of being “vicious lawless associates” or “office bearers” of the association to prove that they are not participants in criminal associations. This severely undermines the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Furthermore the new offences include three or more members of a criminal gang as targeted by the new laws, being together in a public place. One of the many major issues with this legislation is, it is too broad. The law could end up being used to target trade unions, religious groups and community groups. Effectively this law states that if you belong to a bikie gang or a targeted group and you and two others from the group go to McDonalds for lunch together, for example, you are breaking the law. This is wrong. This is infringing on your right of freedom of association.

Another complicated issue related to the VLAD laws is extensive mandatory sentencing. Six months to 25 years upfront for committing a crime if you belong to a group targeted by this law. “The laws passed are aimed at cracking down on ‘outlaw bikie gangs’ but potentially affect a wider group of people, including those that aren’t affiliated with bikie groups, something the Queensland government has failed to acknowledge,” said Michael Hayworth, Amnesty International Australia spokesperson.

An essay on the ABC Online correctly points out “The Newman Government’s proposed mandatory terms of imprisonment for members or associates of bikie gangs are utterly antithetical to the purpose of punishment in a society that supposedly subscribes to the rule of law – that is, fairness and certainty.”

In a letter the leader of the Labor Party in Queensland said, “The Labor Party maintains its opposition to mandatory sentencing, and its support for the presumption of innocence and the independence of the judiciary. They have consistently expressed their positions on these matters both within Parliament and in public, and would be repealing these elements of the Newman Government’s legal changes when Labor returns to government.”

The website “Guest Lawyers” states “the extensive mandatory detention powers in the VLAD Act are not limited in any way to alleged “criminal bikie gangs”.  You do not have to be a member or associate of one of the 26 motorcycle clubs which have now been declared as criminal organisations to be classed as a vicious lawless associate. The declaration of these 26 clubs as criminal organisations and the resulting new criminal offences and increased penalties for their participants (such as the prohibition on 3 or more alleged bikies being together in a public place, an offence for which a person must now spend at least 6 months in custody if convicted) are part of a separate legislation scheme contained in the Criminal Law (Criminal Organisations Disruption) Amendment Act (“CLCOD”).  The ambit of the VLAD is in no way limited to members or associates of these clubs.” 

The Newman Led Government has sold the VLAD Act to the public as a highly targeted piece of legislation, designed to destroy criminal bikie guns. “Guest Lawyers” mentions “The incredibly broad drafting of the legislation and the fact that the onus of proof is on the defendant to prove that the association does not purposefully conduct illegal activities means that the Act will apply in a whole host of circumstances which were never envisaged by the government, and individuals, who are by and large law abiding citizens, could find themselves behind bars for up to twenty-five years as a result of committing relatively minor offences.”

The law also creates a situation in a democracy where groups are being treated differently in the eyes of the law. An example of this is, remembering that this is a hypothetical scenario and doesn’t mean it definitely happens,  if you belong to group A and you commit an offence you may be sentenced to 3 months imprisonment, however, if you belong to a bikie gang and commit the same offence you get 6 months upfront.  The law states in some instance 15 years mandatory imprisonment on top of the sentence imposed on you; and if you hold an official position in the organisation you get another 10 years imprisonment on top of the 15 years.

Legislation which allows government to crush the rights of individuals in one context is easily used in another. 

There are examples of innocent groups of riders being pulled over by police and questioned. Police have suggested that groups of riders should register their trips with police so that they’re not confused with criminal bikies.

The purpose of state laws in some instance is to punish criminals, but when the law punishes groups of criminals totally disproportionately to each other it is a very slippery slope in a democratic society. Guilt via association is a poor element of democracy.  This law and the attack on its current target group, bikies, is a distraction from the major issues concerning Queensland. The government is trying to look tough but it is not washing with the people. 

Since the LNP came to power in March 2012, the threat posed by criminal bikie gangs has escalated, more visibly. However, despite several serious events, including the shooting of an bystander at Robina shopping centre in 2012, the LNP failed to respond appropriately . The Premier has failed to deliver the extra 100 police promised for the Gold Coast before the election. Instead, these extra police have been spread across the Gold Coast and Logan. Responding to a very small group of criminals in such a way is undermining the justice system in Queensland.

People are concerned about this law, that it infringes on people’s freedom of association, a Facebook page  entitled “People against the anti bikie laws” has been set up. Real News One was contacted by people connected to this page and they have stated that rallies are being planned for Australia Day and there is huge concern about the mental health of prisoners who have been sentenced under the new law. 

This particular topic is not being addressed by the mainstream media. They were informed that one prisoner had done 31 hours in lockdown without visits. They also state that apparently some prisoners are being medicated due to severe depression. These events were not reported.

While it is important to disestablish associations that encourage, foster or support persons who commit serious offences; and increase public safety and security by the disestablishment of the associations the VLAD laws in Queensland are far too broad and need proper consultation.