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Bikie consorting laws under attack from human rights watchdog, unions, lawyers

Christopher Knaus
The ACT's human rights watchdog has attacked proposed anti-consorting laws, saying the evidence of low level bikie activity in Canberra does not justify such a "serious limit on human rights".

The chorus of opposition to the laws is now growing, with Unions ACT voicing serious concern about the proposal, and the legal fraternity arguing they are unnecessary, will stretch police0 and conflict with human rights law.

Human Rights Commissioner Dr Helen Watchirs said the evidence of low level bikie activity is not enough to justify the ...

Human Rights Commissioner Dr Helen Watchirs said the evidence of low level bikie activity is not enough to justify the anti-consorting laws. Photo: Jay Cronan

The ACT government released its proposed anti-consorting model for consultation on Thursday, strongly indicating it will follow other states and territories and introduce the tough but controversial measures.

The system would rely on "consorting warnings" issued by police or magistrates, which would ban bikies from meeting together or speaking. 

Rebels, the city's dominant bikie gang, would be in the sights of police, if armed with proposed anti-consorting laws.

Rebels, the city's dominant bikie gang, would be in the sights of police, if armed with proposed anti-consorting laws.  Photo: Rohan Thomson

If bikies breached the warnings repeatedly, they would face up to two years behind bars. 

Police would be allowed to unilaterally ban consorting between individuals who have all been convicted of a serious offence, or where intelligence suggests they are about to commit a serious crime. 


Where individuals don't have a criminal conviction, police would need to go to a magistrate to approve the ban. 

They would be able to give secret police intelligence to the magistrate, which would not be available to the subject of the ban or the public. 

But Human Rights Commission president Helen Watchirs said the evidence of bikie activity was simply not there to support such a significant curtailment of rights.

"To have such a serious limit on human rights, you need a very strong evidence base to show that you require that," Dr Watchirs said.

"With low activity and a membership of only about 45 people, I think more needs to be shown to demonstrate why we need such a strong limit on freedom of association, expression, and privacy."

"Other jurisdictions have high-level activity, that's not been shown yet in the ACT, so before I could agree to such a serious limit, I'd want to see more evidence."

She said the scheme's compatibility with human rights law was "very suspect" at this stage.

"You can have limits on human rights if they're proportionate, but there's a series of checks that you go through," Dr Watchirs said.

"It has to be the least restrictive means. I'm not yet convinced of that."

Unions ACT have also voiced serious concern about the proposal, arguing any proposal to curtail rights to freedom of association was dangerous.

Secretary Alex White is understood to be writing to Mr Corbell on the issue. 

ACT Law Society president Martin Hockridge, who was yet to see the detail of the proposal, said he was "dubious" about anti-consorting laws compliance with the territory's human rights legislation.

Mr Hockridge said existing criminal laws, outlawing drug trafficking or allowing the confiscation of assets, can and should be used to target bikie gangs.

"You'd think there'd need to be some demonstrated need for [anti-consorting laws]," he said.

"In terms of dealing with criminals, you need to deal with them in black and white, not this underhanded stuff that gets involved with anti-consorting laws.

"If you then prove appropriately that someone has engaged in criminal activity, then deal with them."

The government estimates there are roughly 45 bikie members, not including associates, split across three gangs.

The discussion paper setting out the government's proposed model concedes bikie activity remains low in the ACT, but said there were signs that it was increasing.

ACT Bar Association president Ken Archer also took aim at the proposed laws on Thursday morning, describing them as "ridiculous".

He said the laws would further stretch police, who would be left following bikies around to simply enforce anti-consorting laws. 

"Police resources would be devoted to following people around to see whether they're having drinks together at the local pub," Mr Archer told ABC radio.

"Isn't the money better spent upping the endeavours of the police force in relation to the confiscation of criminal assets, for example?

"It's just… it is ridiculous."

Mr Archer questioned the necessity of the anti-consorting laws. 

He said the government needed to show there was a demonstrated need to bring in such measures.

"If there are concerns with the activities of bikie gangs, if they're concerned with drug dealing, if they're concerned with their illegal acquisition of assets… laws already exist to deal with it."