Community campaigns to defend civil liberties

Police stop and check motorcyclists on the Queensland/New South Wales border.

Brisbane activists, academics and unionists have resolved to launch a broad community campaign to fight the Queensland Coalition government’s attack on civil liberties.

The decision was made at a forum organised by Green Left Weekly on November 12. Dr Mark Lauchs from the Queensland University of Technology, Queensland Council for Civil Liberties president Michael Cope, and assistant secretary of the Queensland Electrical Trades Union Peter Ong spoke at the well-attended meeting.

Lauchs said “bikie culture” arose after World War II when returned soldiers wanted to recreate the camaraderie, danger and excitement of the military — and sexist treatment of women — which was missing from civilian life.

Bikie clubs demonstrated elements of military culture such as structure and dress codes. “Outlaw” groups were the 1% who breached the rules of the Motor Association.

Lauchs said these groups were not criminal organisations, although individual members may have been involved in organised crime. “What we are seeing is not criminal organisations, but organisations of criminals within organizations, not unlike the NSW branch of the Australian Labor Party.

“The legislation does not even mention bikies.”

Cope said bikie organisations were instead listed in a schedule attached to the legislation. “This means that the law can be applied to any organisation at any time by the government by executive fiat.”

He said the “bikie laws” were not only unnecessary, but disproportionate to the issue the government claims it is responding to — such as drug dealing and affray. The laws also paved the way for police corruption and further restrictions of civil liberties.

The introduction of the laws at this time was “a political device to boost the popularity of the government and provided a useful cover for the introduction of other attacks on civil liberties.” Legislative changes to workers compensation law were introduced on the same day as the bikie legislation.

Trade unions are also concerned the laws could be used to prevent them from representing workers. Ong said: “Under these new Queensland laws, which can be applied to unions (who are the only type of organisation mentioned in the legislation) I could be sentenced to 15 years jail for organising a picket.”

Ong said trade unions were used to governments legislating against them. What was needed was to resist and fight these laws and build a strong community campaign to wage resistance.

Socialist Alliance member Margaret Gleeson chaired the forum. She said the laws were less about “law and order” and more about striking at the the heart of freedom of association, and strengthening state powers to stifle dissent.

“The powers given to the executive arm of government (bikie laws, the increase of police powers in the lead up to the G20 summit in 2014, and indefinite sentencing of sex offenders) could be used against any progressive social action groups: neighbourhood groups opposing developments, environmental groups campaigning against coal seam gas, coalmining expansion, port developments [or] environmental impacts on the Great Barrier Reef, not to mention the protest movement against the G20 Summit, refugee rights activists.

“These laws provide the legal pretext for the government to arrest and detain and declare criminal any organisation which it opposes.

“Instead of increasing police powers and jail sentences, the government should increase funding for services for drugs and alcohol, mental health, and rehabilitation.

“Unjust laws must be resisted, challenged, and opposed. What is needed, in the face of the mass media hype, is a broad community campaign including community groups, civil liberties activists, social movement activists, those targeted by the legislation, unions and political parties, churches to fight for the repeal of these laws and to defend the right to freedom of association and of dissent.”

A resolution calling for a broad community campaign to fight the attacks on civil liberties was passed unanimously. It was agreed that an open organising meeting be held within two weeks to plan such a campaign. The speakers on the panel pledged support for this campaign.

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