The Newman Government's proposed bikie laws shred
the rule of law. It's dangerous stuff but the question that must
concern us all is, why stop at bikie gangs? writes Greg Barns.
National Party government of Queensland Premier Campbell Newman
as part of its 'war' on bikie gangs that might make even Russian
president and renowned authoritarian Vladimir Putin blush.
And because the Newman government dominates
the state's Legislative Assembly, and there is no upper house to
scrutinise proposed laws, the dark image of Queensland as a
repressive state, engendered by the excesses of the government
of Joh Bjelke Petersen 40 years ago, is well and truly alive
Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie yesterday introduced into the
Parliament the Orwellian named
Vicious Lawless Association
Disestablishment Bill which the
government says is "designed to severely punish members of
criminal organisations that commit serious offences".
Essentially it means that if you are
associated with a bikie gang and commit a crime "for the purpose
of participating in the affairs of" that organisation you will
be declared a 'vicious lawless associate' and you get a further
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.
The manifest horrendous injustice of these
proposed laws is borne out by these examples.
A member of a bikie gang commits a theft by
stealing a car. If that person had no prior convictions they
might only get three months jail. But the court will have no
choice but to impose at least 15 years imprisonment on that
person. Similarly in the case of a person who is found in
possession of drugs. No magistrate or judge should be asked to
participate in such cruel outcomes.
Oh and you only get parole if you cooperate
with police! Since when has the parole system been about
becoming an appendage of law enforcement?
Then there is the
Tattoo Parlours Bill
which the Newman Government wants to use to close down tattoo
parlours because it thinks that bikies use such establishments
for criminal purposes. Like other pieces of legislation built
on the premise of prohibition this one could lead to police
taking bribes in exchange for turning a blind eye.
And finally the Criminal Law (Criminal Gangs
Disruption) Amendment Bill which again discriminates against
members of bikie gangs by increasing penalties for them if they
commit certain offences.
If you are convicted of affray and you are a
member of a bikie gang you get a mandatory six months
imprisonment, irrespective of your role in the fracas. You get a
mandatory one-year prison term if you are convicted of seriously
assaulting a police officer. But what if the officer assaults an
This Bill also creates new offences, carrying
a mandatory one month jail term, concerning bikie gang members
associating together and promoting or recruiting their
And where is the
Newman government going to put all of these individuals once
they are convicted? In a
bikie gang only jail
where prisoners will be locked in their cells for 23 hours a
day, and given no rehabilitation.
Such conditions of detention offend against
Australia's international human rights obligations such as the
Minimum Standards on the Treatment of Prisoners.
Furthermore, persons held for 23 hours a day
in their cells suffer enormous psychiatric and physical harm and
the Queensland government will rightly face legal action by
prisoners for that damage.
The Newman government's shredding of the rule
of law is dangerous stuff indeed. Why stop at bikie gangs? Why
not amend the relevant legislation – or better still bypass the
Parliament by simply introducing regulations - to include
members of environmental NGOs, trade unions, community groups,
Some will say that this notion is farfetched.
They are wrong.
Legislation which allows government to crush
the rights of individuals in one context is easily used in
In countries like Malaysia and Singapore old
colonial laws designed to stop the locals from getting uppity
have been parlayed by contemporary governments to jail
opposition leaders. In the UK the former Labour government of
Gordon Brown used anti-terror laws to freeze the assets of
Icelandic banks during the GFC.
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.
As the former High Court Chief Justice Gerard
Brennan observed; "Criminal sanctions are purposive, and they
are not inflicted judicially except for the purpose of
protecting society; nor to an extent beyond what is necessary to
achieve that purpose".
To jail a person for 15 years simply because
when convicted of an offence they are a member or associate of a
bikie gang, could never be said to be purposive.
Queensland has never been a bastion of liberty
but the Newman Government's 'war' on bikie gangs has taken a
truly sinister twist with yesterday’s announcements.
With a rubber stamp parliament and a supine
media being facts of life in the sunshine state, the only force
that stands against these proposed laws is the legal
profession. It is up to it to at the very least find creative
ways to protect individuals from an out of control executive
Greg Barns is
a barrister and a spokesman for the Australian Lawyers Alliance.
View his full profile