A public meeting organised by the Queensland Civil Liberties Network was held at Brisbane City Hall on March 24, the second anniversary of the election of the Queensland Liberal National government.
Speakers included Indigenous elder and long-term activist Sam Watson; union and community activist Bob Carnegie; QLD President of the Australian Lawyers Alliance Michelle James; Sisters Inside activist Debbie Kilroy; Queensland Council of Unions president John Battams and Civil Liberties Council spokesperson Terry O’Gorman.
Watson spoke about the current campaign in support of Sheila Oakley, an Indigenous woman who was blinded after being tasered by police in her own home.
Carnegie said: “[Queensland premier Campbell] Newman won’t be a one-term wonder. The reality is that it is up to people like us to develop a movement that will make these laws inoperable. Unless we develop an organisation that will take on the QLD and Tony Abbott [federal] government, we will end up living in an Australia very different from today”
James spoke about concerns lawyers had about how the Newman government drafted their anti-civil liberties laws, known as the VLAD laws. She said: “Legislation by populism is dangerous.
“Social issues are held up as needing an urgent law and order solution. Hurriedly drafted laws are rushed through parliament with no consultation, due diligence or concern for their implications.
“This misuse of law does not address the social issues, used as a pretext for their framing. There has been a 12% increase in crime since the VLAD laws were introduced.”
Kilroy painted a horrific picture of the harsh treatment of indigenous women in an overcrowded prison system. This was exacerbated by cuts to services and abolition of the Murri court. “Mandatory sentences create more violence.” Kilroy said. “Newman needs to be ousted from Ashgrove!”
O’Gorman said he had thought the bad times of the Joh Bjelke-Peterson years were over. “This return to the Joh era is worse. The only difference is that so far we haven’t seen police bashing of demonstrators. I have real fears for [planned protests at] G20.” O’Gorman said.
“This extremism is worse than Joh’s because it includes attacks on judges and lawyers as a group. There is no easy route to stopping this extremism, but it must be stopped.”
Battams said there were two significant areas which impacted on unions. “This was significant as unions are the only funded organisations who could mount sustained campaigns to defeat the laws,” he said.
“Unions funding of campaigns was impeded by the requirement to conduct a referendum of members every time $10,000 or more was to be used for campaigns. Other changes also virtually abolish the right to strike”
At the conclusion of the meeting a resolution to launch a massive united movement to defeat the laws was passed unanimously.