Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Queensland presses on with anti-bikie laws despite Victorian veto

Queensland Attorney-General Cameron Dick (pictured) denied today that state and territory jurisdictions had backed down on a national approach to anti-bikie laws. At a meeting of federal, state and territory Attorneys-General in Canberra last Thursday, Victoria and the ACT refused to support the uniform adoption of laws aimed specifically at bikie gangs.

However Dick told Woolly Days today he was satisfied he had achieved “a solid national response” on the issue of criminal activities of outlaw motorcycle gangs. “The clear message from last week's meeting is that there will be no safe havens for bikie gangs in any state or territory in Australia,” he said.

The amended approach will not focus specifically on motorbike gangs but will target all forms of organised crime. The state Attorney-General said the agreement provides a framework for Queensland to ensure its proposed legislation will be “effective and supported nationwide”. “I am very pleased that the work we are undertaking here will be supported in all other jurisdictions,” he said.

The proposed national laws allow for the confiscation of crime proceeds, coercive questioning powers, and will give police the ability to engage in controlled operations. However, Victoria Attorney-General Rob Hulls baulked at national provisions that would have allowed criminal bike gangs to be outlawed. Hulls refusal gave the Opposition spokesman Robert Clark the opportunity to use a colourful phrase: “the risk of Victoria becoming Australia's soft underbelly of bikie crime has become even greater."

In any case Queensland is independently developing legislative options for anti-association and anti-consorting laws for cabinet's consideration. Dick said today he would be speaking to the Police Minister Neil Roberts to discuss “any additional areas which need to be considered in order to meet the requirements of this framework.”

South Australia was the first state to introduce anti-bike laws when it passed The Serious and Organised Crime (Control) Act (pdf) in 2008. The laws give the state Attorney General wide discretionary powers to deem organisations 'criminal' (but do not adequately define organised crime) and there is no appeals process for organisations branded under the legislation. There is also a ‘guilt by association’ provision and convictions carry a maximum period of imprisonment of five years.

NSW followed suit last month when it rushed in laws in the wake of a violent brawl at Sydney Airport in which a 29-year-old man was bludgeoned to death with a metal pole. Its laws were even tougher than SA’s as there was no system of warning that charges would be laid if targeted bikies continue to associate with each other. Queensland, WA and the Northern Territory have also said they would introduce similar laws.

However critics say the laws are absurd and unfair. Last weekend the newly formed United Motorcycle Council of Queensland (UMCQ) said the proposed laws were discriminatory. The council which represents 17 clubs says the laws will target innocent bikie members. Meanwhile Greg Barns in Crikey said last month the laws were “largely unenforceable, cement in law the concept of guilt by association and would do nothing to lessen the problem of bikie gangs’ violence because they completely miss the point - which is that bikie gangs thrive on our refusal to decriminalise drugs.”

Here at Woolly Days, I also argued recently that the laws were a moral panic and they only dealt with a perception while “the real bikie problem will only be driven underground.” Even with Victoria’s refusal to play ball, nothing I have heard since the Attorneys-General meeting causes me to believe any different. I sincerely hope I am wrong.

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