New bikie laws 'a serious assault on civil liberties'

November 15, 2012

Dan Oakes

A bikie source says that although there are members of clubs involved in 'shifty stuff', this is also true of many other groups in society.

LAWYERS and bikies have attacked controversial laws that would make ''outlaw motorcycle gangs'' illegal, describing them as a serious assault on civil liberties and predicting they will be overturned.

The Baillieu government introduced the anti-association laws to Parliament on Wednesday and expects them to be passed by the end of the year. They would allow police to apply to the Supreme Court to have certain groups declared ''criminal organisations''.

Once an organisation is declared illegal, the court can then make control orders banning members of that group from associating or participating in gang activities, including riding together and wearing their club colours and emblems. They would also make similar orders from other states enforceable in Victoria.

Individuals who breach a control order will face up to five years' jail and organisations can be fined up to $400,000 and have assets confiscated.

Attorney-General Robert Clark said the laws would strip away the ''pretence of legality'' from outlaw motorcycle gangs and stop them simply moving from one jurisdiction to another to avoid justice.

However, Law Institute of Victoria president Michael Holcroft said the institute was not convinced the laws could be enforced, and the government was introducing ''guilt by association''.

''The new laws will not stamp out illegal activities and will make lawful activities, such as meeting, a criminal offence," Mr Holcroft said.

''Not all members of motorcycle clubs are criminals. Turning otherwise law-abiding citizens into criminals simply because they associate with a group is wrong and an anathema to the rule of law and freedom of association."

A spokesman for Mr Clark said Mr Holcroft's comments were ''baseless conjecture'' that undermined the institute's credibility. He said the claim that lawful meetings would become a criminal offence was ''absurd''.

A bikie source told Fairfax that although there were members of bikie clubs who were engaged in ''shifty stuff'', there were also members of other groups in society who committed crimes.

He said the government, police and media were ''chasing ghosts'' by trying to prove bikie clubs were criminal organisations that had accumulated significant wealth.

''Bikers are such an easy target, and yes we've brought some of that on ourselves. It's very easy from a legal point of view to pick on a biker. They ride loud bikes, drink too much, they'll tell a copper to 'f--k off', but it doesn't mean we're a serious criminal organisation,'' he said.

Similar laws in other states have been successfully challenged on the grounds that judges did not have total discretion over the banning of organisations. But the Attorney-General said the Victorian laws addressed this issue.

The laws also allow judges to decide whether police intelligence should be heard as evidence in a closed court or not.

John Suta, a lawyer who represents Wangaratta bikie club the Tramps, described the legislation as the most fundamental breach of human rights Australia has seen since the Second World War, and predicted they would be overturned on the grounds that they infringed a constitutional right to freedom of political communication and association.

''They're unnecessary, politically motivated and reactionary. But more importantly, those laws will unfairly punish numerous incidental people - friends, family, dependents of controlled persons. It's going to be punishment through preventing normal social interaction, it's going to affect people's livelihoods and jobs,'' he said.

Liberty Victoria president Spencer Zifcak said he would reserve judgment until after reading the legislation, but warned any tendency to assume guilt by association would be an attack on civil liberties.