Civil liberties need to be defended

Issue 
New powers granted to police include the power to stop and detain people and to search them without a warrant.

Under the guise of “law and order” and protecting the community from “criminal bikie gangs” Queensland Premier Campbell Newman has passed new laws that have implications for the civil rights of the wider community.

The Liberal-National Party used their majority to rush the laws through parliament on October 17. The Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment Bill, Tattoo Parlours Bill and the Criminal Law Amendment Bill specifically target bikies.

The new laws include mandatory sentences of 15 years for serious crimes committed as part of gang activity, on top of the normal penalty and a ban on wearing club colours and patches. New powers granted to police include the power to stop and detain people and to search them without a warrant. Normal bail conditions do not apply.

Magistrates have met political interference when they have granted conditional bail to defendants who are alleged members of bikie gangs. This has put the government on a collision course with the judiciary and the legal fraternity.

The parliament or executive has the power to decide which organisations are declared criminal, and this is not subject to review by a judge.

Under the laws, members of bikie gangs are banned from owning, operating or working in tattoo parlours. Queensland attorney-general Jarrod Bleijie said similar laws could be used to drive bikies out of other industries, including security, gyms and second-hand car dealerships.

The government has also announced that it intends to isolate those incarcerated under these laws. Prisoners will be kept in a separate high security prison, locked in cells for 23 hours every day with no access to gym, TV or education, with limited visiting rights. These gulags will not only deny basic human rights, but are likely to spark increases in prison violence.

Laws to cover serious crimes committed by bikies already exist, there is no need for these far-reaching powers to be granted.

Under these laws, the definition of an association is “any other group of three or more persons by whatever name called, whether associated formally or informally and whether the group is legal or illegal”.

The LNP government’s attack on civil liberties has extended to other areas. Legislation has been introduced in relation to the G20 Summit to be held in Brisbane in November next year, preceded by a meeting of G20 finance ministers in Cairns.

The laws grant extension of police powers, including extra powers of search and arrest, creating a restricted zone (taking in a large section of the CBD), and the forced relocation of residents deemed criminal.

The Dangerous Sex Offenders Bill allows the Attorney- General to recommend indefinite jail for serious sex offenders, in effect declaring the government the judge, jury and executioner.

Changes to workers compensation law have trampled on workers rights, limiting compensation claims made through the courts, and removing the right of workers to sue negligent employers.

This “tough on crime” crackdown was supported by the Labor opposition and has received overwhelming media support. It appeals to a perceived fear within the community, whipped up by media, that “criminal bikie gangs” and pedophiles pose a real danger to the community at large and can only be dealt with by these “tough” laws.

The real solution to these social problems lies in targeting the causes, not restricting civil liberties. Legalising the manufacture, distribution and use marijuana and other recreational drugs would stop the lucrative activity of criminal bikie gangs, not to mention police corruption.

These laws should be repealed and government funding should be increased for community and mental health and drug and alcohol services.

Just as the Newman government’s wholesale privatisation and cuts to public services has been a template for other states, so this “law and order” fueled attack on civil liberties is providing grist to the mill of other state governments, particularly Victoria and New South Wales.

A broad mass movement, akin to that which existed during the repressive Joh Bjelke-Petersen era is needed now to fight the attacks on civil liberties. Such a movement would combine community groups, trade unions, students, churches, academics, the legal fraternity, civil liberties activists and political parties.

There is broad sentiment for such a movement. Green Left Weekly is hosting a public forum to discuss these issues on November 12: speakers include Michael Cope, President of the Qld Council for Civil Liberties, Dr Mark Lauchs QUT legal academic, and, a representative of the ETU.

The first union mobilisation will be a Rally for Rights on November 19 at 5:30pm outside Parliament House.