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anti-consorting laws targeting bikies look certain for ACT
Christopher Knaus June 9 2016 - 12:00AM
Bikies would face two years behind bars if they repeatedly defied consorting bans under tough new laws being considered by the ACT government.
Police would also be allowed to give evidence in secret to magistrates to convince them to prevent association between certain individuals, and could avoid the courts altogether and issue their own bans, including to those without a criminal conviction, in limited circumstances.
ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell is considering tough new anti-consorting laws, which would make it an offence for ...
ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell is considering tough new anti-consorting laws, which would make it an offence for bikies to associate. Photo: Jay Cronan
The government released its proposed model for anti-consorting laws on Thursday, a move strongly suggesting it will introduce the controversial measures here in some form.
Anti-consorting laws are designed to dismantle and disrupt bikie gangs by preventing members from meeting or speaking.
Controversial, tough anti-consorting measures to dismantle bikie gangs have been proposed for the ACT.
Controversial, tough anti-consorting measures to dismantle bikie gangs have been proposed for the ACT. Photo: Paul Harris
But the measures have attracted strong criticism, particularly in Queensland, because they target individuals who have no criminal convictions, and clash with the human right to freedom of association.
The ACT has nowhere near the level of bikie activity as the more populated states, and the government estimates there is a total membership of 45, not including associates, split among three gangs.
The government's proposed anti-consorting model would rely on "consorting warnings", effectively a ban on communication that would include the name, address, and photograph of the person they must not speak to.
Those warnings could be issued to individuals in one of two ways.
Where police want to ban consorting involving someone who is not a convicted criminal, they'll need to go to court and get a magistrate to order it.
In court, they would be allowed to produce intelligence in secret to the magistrate, and would be kept from the subject of the order and the general public.
But police would be able to avoid the courts altogether and issue their own ban in cases where the targets all have criminal convictions for serious offences.
They can do the same where they have intelligence that suggests the individuals involved are planning a serious violent crime or an indictable offence.
The bans would last two years, although they can be challenged in the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
If the subjects breach the consorting ban on two or more occasions, they would face up to two years behind bars.
Attorney-General Simon Corbell said a range of safeguards had been put in place to prevent the laws from being improperly used.
Those under 18 cannot be targeted, and the laws do not include "coincidental contact".
Defences will be available if the consorting were "reasonable", including where it involved speaking with family members, in the course of lawful employment, training, education, the provision of legal advice, or while in lawful custody.
The proposal comes after recent indications that three bikie gangs exist in the ACT – the Rebels, Nomads, and Comancheros.
That has not led to a substantial rise in bikie numbers, but defections to rival clubs, known as "patching over", have shaken the Rebels' long-held status as the city's sole gang.
The ACT government, in its discussion paper on the proposed new model, has said the level of bikie activity in the ACT remains low.
But it pointed to "signs that it may be increasing", particularly with the splintering of the Rebels into other gangs.
The release of the discussion paper on Thursday coincided with the introduction of new serious and organised crime laws, which clarify move-on powers, give a new bail review power to prosecutors, and make it easier for judges to issue non-association and restriction orders.
Mr Corbell said the proposed anti-consorting laws draw from the NSW experience and a model most recently recommended to the Queensland government.
"The picture of organised criminal activity in the ACT is not the same as in other jurisdictions, and these groups are flexible and adaptable," he said.
"It would be unwise to simply introduce a legislative scheme in the ACT that simply copies what has been done in other jurisdictions.
"This is why the government has worked closely with ACT Policing and commonwealth law enforcement agencies to ensure that these laws are tough, targeted, proportionate, and workable."