Anti-bikie gang laws: wrong and dangerous
Every week it seems as if a new law in NSW is passed which rolls back civil liberties. This time it is "anti-bikie" gang laws which, despite assurances, can be used against any sort of organisation, including activist or pressure groups. Other states have said they may copy the laws.
Organisations may be banned and control orders issued against the members. It will be an offence "to associate" with other members on the police list. That list can be hundreds or thousands of names long.
Unlike the South Australian anti-bikie laws, the NSW law has no protection for political parties. A political party can be banned under the new law.
Completely peaceful activist groups may be caught up in the laws. Many Greenpeace members, for example, were put on the excluded persons list during the APEC protest in Sydney.
An April 2 article in the Daily Telegraph was the first some MP's heard about the legislation before it was put before parliament. But it was rushed through parliament and passed into law within a single day.
Reading the parliamentary minutes is chilling. In breach of normal rules for urgent legislation, MPs did not have 5 days' notice.
One MP was already on his feet speaking about the legislation before he had a copy of the government paper supporting it in his hands.
Several MPs, even Liberal opposition leader, Barry O'Farrell (an ex-copper), complained that they were voting for the legislation "on trust" because they had not had enough time to properly read the proposed law. Many MPs did not receive the usual briefing made for important legislation, because of the lack of notice.
The anti-bikie law has been opposed by civil libertarians, academics and journalists. The government has refused to listen, and has allowed no opportunity for public consultation.
A first offence for "associating" with a listed person — a phone call will do — allows for a maximum of two years imprisonment, with five years for subsequent offences.
But why the new laws? What exactly was missing from existing laws against violent crime?
Bashing someone to death (allegedly) at Sydney airport is already illegal. Plotting with others to break the law is already illegal (it's called the law of conspiracy). And with greater legal powers in relation to surveillance, telephone and email interceptions, undercover cops and paid informers, the police have all the powers they need.
And that's not to mention the wider question. If drug dealing is the basis of bikie gangs' criminal activity, perhaps it's time to question a war on drugs which has failed for the last 60 years.
The idea of banning organisations and issuing control orders is borrowed directly from repressive anti-terrorism laws. Civil libertarians and other defenders of human rights were afraid this would happen — the over-policing law-and-order brigade said it could never happen.
Already, there is a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a $22,000 fine for "trespassing" at the Opera House to take part in a protest.
Anyone can get five years in prison for refusing to cooperate with ASIO on a questioning warrant, even if not suspected of an offence.
Laws passed in NSW in March allow police to secretly search your home and not tell you about it for years — for suspected offences as minor as growing a couple of cannabis plants.
Videoing of all people at a political protest — regardless of how quiet, respectful and peaceful it is — is now a routine matter.
The Rees government's anti-bikie laws are just the latest in a growing list of attacks on civil liberties in Australia. Like the others, these new laws are wrong and dangerous.