don’t care how these people go to jail,’
Queensland Premier Campbell Newman
declared. He was defending
his attorney-general’s unprecedented attack on civil
liberties, which was publicly announced last week and rushed
through parliament in less than 24 hours.
This is the sort of bogeyman story you
tell to scare kids who don’t know better. It’s not a
rational explanation of laws which could prove dangerous
to anyone, whether bikie gang member or not, whether in
broad daylight or when the darkness of the evening comes
over … [Outlaw bikie gangs] are vile. But there is
nothing they do which is not already covered by existing
law. They are not inventing new crimes; they are
committing the old ones.
laws are the latest in a series of state government attempts
to circumvent civil rights, which can be traced back to a
NSW law aimed at
jailing a named individual.
Through some creative interpretation, the High Court imposed
a limit on how much the separation of judicial, legislative
and executive powers could be blurred. Because the
Commonwealth constitution allows federal judicial power to
be vested in state courts, those courts must meet a minimum
level of judicial integrity. The NSW law was ruled invalid.
full extent of this
ill-defined, and the states have been experimenting with
different formulas to see how far they can push. But so far,
the core principle has held up reasonably well. In Victoria,
laws drafted to be consistent with the High Court’s rulings
haven’t been used by the police, because they are required
provide a court with evidence
to support their claim that a group is a criminal
Newman government, unconstrained by an upper house or a
is prepared to adopt a more aggressive approach. The
unconstitutional laws will be enforced until individuals
fight to have them overturned. Already police are being
threatened with the sack
after questioning the legality of some of their orders under
the bikie crackdown.
of surprise legislation is a
‘Legislation will be challenged; in some cases it may be
overturned. But we will keep trying. We will come back again
and modify it. We will try different approaches, every
Throw enough shit at the wall and some of
it will stick.
Queensland laws have been drafted in scatter-gun fashion.
None of the legislation is limited to bikie gangs. The
Vicious Unlawful Association
for instance, includes references to ‘any other group of 3
or more persons by whatever name called, whether associated
formally or informally and whether the group is legal or
illegal’. The Queensland Law Society notes this could
sporting groups and book clubs;
the onus will be on the accused, rather than the state, to
prove that ‘the relevant association is an association whose
members do not have as their purpose, or one of their
purposes, engaging in, or conspiring to engage in, declared
on ‘declared offences’ is a concern. The initial list of
crimes includes ‘unlawful sodomy’, which, thanks to the
homophobic age of consent laws,
includes sex that would be legal in any other part of
Australia. A group of young men who meet for sex would be
liable to an automatic 15 years’ jail, with no parole and no
of listing ‘prescribed places’ is similarly flawed. Most
addresses specify unit numbers, while others are nominated
broadly so as to include not only clubhouses but also nearby
flats. The first two bikies arrested under the new laws were
reportedly arrested after they
arrived at home.
Their flats were allegedly prescribed places, there is no
grace period to allow them to retrieve belongings and make
alternative living arrangements, and they now face mandatory
imprisonment with no judicial discretion.
the Finks’ clubhouse on the Gold Coast
isn’t on the list,
despite their relationship with the US Mongols club being
given as one of the reasons for the rushed legislation.
the government will correct that oversight. These lists of
declared offences and prescribed places are not fixed. They
can be altered without parliament’s input, and there is no
limit as to the nature of what is included. It is trite to
but he was right: while the operation of the laws will be
tested on scary bikies, they can be quickly and quietly
extended to other groups. The Newman government’s planned
on G20 protests shows its disdain for civil liberties is not
limited to criminal organisations.
should also be worried. Bleijie is also in charge of
anti-union laws so egregious that even the IPA has condemned
them. It is not fanciful to suggest he might adopt similar
tactics in his battle with two groups he despises, or that
other conservative governments might take up the new weapons
he is developing. Liberal Party propaganda is already
linking unions to bikie gangs.
The application of anti-bikie laws to unions is a real
One area to
watch is the extension of ‘star chamber’ powers to break
down solidarity within targeted groups. Bleijie’s Crime and
Misconduct Commission will have
to jail anyone who refuses to answer questions – even if the
commission is not investigating a crime, but merely
‘gathering intelligence’. The ABCC had weaker coercive
powers – abused by
John Lloyd and Nigel Hadgkiss,
Abbott’s picks to
head the revived agency
— and it is certainly possible that Bleijie’s model will be
adopted by the federal government.
community is incensed. The
says the laws are ‘going back to our colonial days’; the
Council for Civil Liberties
notes Bleijie ‘was a conveyancer before he went into
Parliament – that lack of experience is clearly showing’.
Even the lawyer who moved Bleijie’s admission to practice
his protégé’s authoritarian tactics: ‘What’s on the agenda
after bikies? Who else will be for the truth serum?’
These are bad laws even when they are
aimed at bikies, and they must be overturned now, before
they are normalised and used against the rest of us. But, as
the Queensland government knows, polite outrage from civil
society won’t change the laws, and neither will High Court
challenges prevent all the intrusions into judicial power.
Ultimately, this is a political problem
created by the collapse of the Left in Queensland electoral
politics, and it won’t be rectified without grassroots
organising to rebuild.
The best defence of your freedom of
association is to use it.