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Newman Government's crusades against sex offenders and outlaw bikie gangs must be grounded in valid laws

BY ACCIDENT or design, Queensland's Liberal National Party Government is allowing itself to be defined by its crusades against sex offenders and bikies. And, on results so far, it risks being defined by failure.

Its law to allow the indefinite detention of sex offenders basically at the whim of the Attorney-General acting as judge, jury and jailer has been ruled invalid by the Court of Appeal.

On the way to that conclusion, the court found Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie had failed to demonstrate judicial error in the conditional release of serial sex beast Robert Fardon.

And it is entirely possible that its illiberal and incoherent bikie laws will be found invalid when challenges reach the High Court.

The Court of Appeal found the laws, which would have allowed the governor-in-council (effectively Bleijie) to overrule the legal system, eroded the integrity of courts to make decisions and in effect "undermine the authority of orders of the Supreme Court".

That might sound like self-serving harrumphing from the judiciary but it is an important affirmation of the rule of law in Queensland.

This failure to translate the Government's will into reality cannot be blamed on the Opposition, an intransigent Upper House, the legal profession or the courts. It can't even be blamed on Fardon.

Bleijie must shoulder the blame.

Too late, he has announced a review of the laws regarding sexual offenders, something that would have been a prudent first step before lurching into ill-advised action.

He has so far demonstrated the same sort of impetuosity and ineptitude for which ministers in the previous government were rightly pilloried.

And it is entirely possible that the looming appeals against his anti-bikie laws will further demonstrate a lack of competence and experience.

It is reasonable to wonder what sort of advice has Bleijie been receiving and whether he has been listening to it.

Given the legal chatter in George Street, it would be astounding if he didn't receive at least some cautionary advice from his department and Crown law.

If politics is the art of the possible, perhaps ministerial competence is the art of recognising the limits of the possible.

The strange thing is that of all the Government has on its "to do" list - as presented in Premier Campbell Newman's six-monthly action plans - there is no mention of the issues that have come to dominate the headlines.

There is no doubting the Government's sincerity in cracking down on bikies and on sexual offenders and there is no doubting its support in the community. However, that populist appeal could turn to scorn unless it applies itself to drafting workable legislation that can deliver what it promises.

There may be method in this madness as a distraction from other problems, but the posturing of Bleijie is sucking the oxygen out of a government that presumably is serious about addressing the economic and financial issues that brought it to power.

Most ministers have been rendered virtually invisible unless called in from the wings to join the chorus in support of Bleijie's crusades.

All that has been achieved is a bruising of civil liberties in Queensland, a widening gulf between government and the judiciary and a cynically promoted divide between the people and their courts.

And if police can take time out from rejoicing in their new-found powers they might consider where they and their commissioner stand now that a former military officer has been appointed to co-ordinate the anti-bikie campaign.

During all this, the legal profession generally seems to have been stunned into a relative and gentlemanly silence. It is time both the Law Society and the Bar Association stood up proudly and a lot more loudly for the things that really matter and started to fight for the principles that protect us from overbearing and despotic government.

And at the forefront should be Chief Justice Paul de Jersey, who could use what remains of his guaranteed tenure to fight for what he must know is right.

He's had a pretty easy run since he was appointed in 1998 and it is time he stepped up to the plate in the name of Queensland.

Issuing platitudinous calls for judicial critics of the regime to "cool it", welcoming "debate" as if we were dealing with an undergrad diversion and shunning public commentary with a "highly political favour" is a craven cop-out given the Government's oft expressed (but piously denied) contempt for our courts.

The rumoured appointment of Rob Borbidge as governor seems to have put paid to the equally strongly rumoured ambitions of de Jersey for the job, so he has nothing to lose.

We, conversely, have everything to gain.