The United Motorcycle Council has taken the Queensland government to the High Court to challenge the Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment (VLAD) Act.
Introduced last year, the laws make it an offence for more than three members of an outlawed group to meet in public. Penalties include six months to three years in solitary confinement for being “associates” of a designated motorcycle club.
Government lawyers confirmed that if a group of three or more members of groups designated under the VLAD laws attended the High Court hearing, they would face being arrested and placed in solitary confinement for six months.
Outside the courthouse on September 2, a lawyer representing the motorcyclists, Zeke Bentley, said: “The very people that these laws are affecting can’t watch the very hearing that they paid for.”
The laws are targeted at members of motorcycle clubs, but there are fears the law could be extended to any organisation with the consent of the premier.
The Queensland Council for Civil Liberties (QCLN) said in a statement: “The right to association is vital for any modern democracy and represents a fundamental civil and human right, as recognised by Article 20 of the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
At a rally opposing the VLAD Act, Paul Keyworth from the Motorcyclist Australia Party said: “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance as Thomas Jefferson once said. Somewhere along the line we took our eye off the ball and elected these people that supposedly represent us.”
Bentley said: “I never thought Australia would have anything like this. It’s such an innocent country that we’re allowing these things to happen, and we really should be more concerned. We should look at what happened with Pinochet in Chile. We should look at what happens in any country where a dictator takes control and they try to crush opposition, because that’s when association laws get passed.”
The High Court case follows a discussion about whether the VLAD Act is legal within Australian and Queensland law. Lawyers representing the government have the opportunity to show cause as to why the laws are within the legal framework in front of a panel of seven High Court judges.
The QCLN statement said: “While the High Court has previously ruled that there is only a limited implied right to freedom of association in the Constitution, this case highlights the need for us to secure a Bill of Rights that can prevent against transitory legislative acts that seek to curtail our rights.”
The governments of other states and territories are watching the case closely. The Courier-Mail reported on August 31 that the Federal Attorney-General and Attorneys-General of NSW, Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory have thrown their support behind the case to defend the laws.
The hearing has finished and a decision is expected to be reached soon.