Draconian bikie laws bring backlash

By Greg Ansley

Campbell Newman.
Campbell Newman.

Campbell Newman, the former army major who has become Queensland's most repressive Premier since the notorious years of the late Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, is rapidly racking up a powerful coalition of enemies.

Campbell's rhetoric and draconian anti-bikie laws have infuriated the state judiciary, the federal Human Rights Commission, civil libertarians, veterans' groups and recreational motorcyclists.

His laws, watched closely by other states equally keen to hammer outlaw motorcycle clubs, now face a High Court challenge that will invoke constitutional safeguards and international treaty obligations.

The court has upheld similar challenges against South Australian and New South Wales legislation. Critics claim the Queensland laws are even more repressive because their broad scope could also embrace a government's political opponents, protesters, and any other group it wanted to smother.

State Attorney-General and Justice Minister Jarrod Bleijie said that since their introduction last year more than 485 criminal gang members and their associates had been arrested on 1000 charges, including extortion, assault and drug offences.

"Misinformation that our legislation will capture innocent people is unfounded," he said in an open letter in response to criticism on APN Australian Regional Media websites by online news editor John Parker.

"They target only criminal gang members and associates who are also involved in their criminal ways."

The laws are contained in three acts - the Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment Bill, the Tattoo Parlours Bill and the Criminal Law (Criminal Laws Disruption) Amendment Bill - and impose harsh penalties. They target members and associates of 26 outlaw clubs.

The laws grant extra powers to the state's Crime and Misconduct Commission, and include the mandatory addition of 15 years to normal penalties for crime committed as part of a gang activity - with a further 10 years for club officials - and reduced prison privileges and visiting rights.

Any group can be named a criminal organisation without the need to prove the allegation.

Association with other gang members in a public place attracts a mandatory six-month sentence, and extends to meetings in other states. People charged under the laws are held in solitary confinement until Queensland's Chief Magistrate can hear their case.

Convicted bikies will be held in a special bikies-only prison. Pubs and bars face heavy fines for serving anyone with "visible signs of membership" of banned outlaw clubs.

The Government has also given itself the power to override judges.

It argues that the laws, rushed through Parliament after a mass brawl on the Gold Coast, are needed to clamp down on bikie gangs described by the CMC as "high-threat criminal networks" and by the Australian Crime Commission as major players in drug and firearms trafficking, serious fraud, money laundering, extortion, prostitution, property crime and corrupting officials.

But legal and human rights organisations reject the claims that innocent groups will not be targeted and say the laws could be used against anybody. The Vietnam and Veterans Motorcycle Club, which is not an outlaw gang, was recently raided, and other recreational riders say they have been stopped and "harassed" by police.

The Human Rights Commission warned that they breached international agreed freedoms - enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights - and the rights of specific groups in Queensland.

The commission also criticised the way the laws were pushed through Parliament without any form of committee oversight or public consultation, which it said "carries with it serious human rights ramifications".

The laws also targeted people on the basis of whom they associated with, rather than for something they had done.

Tony Fitzgerald, whose inquiry into official corruption triggered the Bjelke-Petersen Government's downfall in the 1980s, joined critics in an opinion article in Brisbane's Courier Mail.

"Although free societies provide opportunities which criminals can exploit, in totalitarian states the worst criminals are commonly those in power." he said.

And Campbell alienated the state's judiciary and lawyers when he attacked judges for criticism of the laws and their alarm at his power to override the courts.

Claiming judges and magistrates lived in ivory towers, Newman said: "Queenslanders are sick of these people who get appointed into these jobs who then are totally unaccountable."

But the Queensland Law Society said the move meant arbitrary detention would be at the sole determination of the executive.

"These are ill-considered changes that would send Queensland back to its colonial roots when offenders were held in custody at the Governor's pleasure," the society said.

- NZ Herald

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