New laws undermine civil liberties in QLD

A 'bikie' protesting the new laws at a rally in Brisbane on December 1. Photo: Bill Struthers.

Under the guise of “law and order” — to protect the community from “criminal bikie gangs” and “pedophiles” — Queensland Premier Campbell Newman has rushed through several new laws. These are the Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment Act, Tattoo Parlours Act, Criminal Law Amendment Act and Dangerous Sex Offenders Act.

Together with laws relating to the G20, and, amendments to industrial legislation, these laws have implications for the civil rights of the wider community.

Green Left Weekly’s Margaret Gleeson spoke with Michael Cope, president of the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties about the possible consequences of the laws.

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The Newman Government has legislated to reduce the civil liberties of bikers, workers and G20 protesters under the guise of ensuring public safety. These laws deny rights of association, protest, fair sentencing and the separation of powers of the executive and the judiciary. Why do you think the government is bringing in this legislation?

At this stage I think that it is essentially a political tactic. In pursuing a “law and order” agenda, the government’s political aim is to whip up votes. They are creating a classic situation of moral panic.

It also provides a smokescreen diversion, while ensuring that the passage of other legislation (for example the changes to WorkCover and other changes to industrial law which will outlaw protected industrial action).

It creates the impression that the system is not working and needs fixing.

The problem is that these laws all set a dangerous precedent. It started some years ago with the introduction of anti-terror laws. It is based on criminalising actions which might be undertaken, rather than acts which have already taken place.

It creates a precedent for future use. It also demonstrates to other jurisdictions how far governments can go in bringing in laws restricting liberties of citizens. Other states and the federal government are looking to Queensland to see how this unfolds.

What do you think it will take to repeal and defeat these laws?

While the laws are in breach of international conventions, by and large they are not susceptible to legal challenge. The exception is the Dangerous Sex Offenders Act, there is a likely to be a good outcome when this law is challenged.

As for the rest they can only be defeated by a concerted public campaign. Both sides of parliament are likely to implement these types of laws. The previous ALP government has provided the framework and supported the legislation being passed.

In Queensland there is no restraint on parliament. The committee system which was intended as a review mechanism has proved ineffective. The “bikie” and “pedophile” laws were not even referred to a committee.

The changes to workers compensation law were introduced, even after the committee recommended no changes after a 12-month review. The recent sacking of members of the Parliamentary Crime and Misconduct Commission shows that the committee system can be effectively ignored when necessary.

How does the current situation compare with the Joh Bjelke-Petersen era and what lessons can be learnt from the community’s response during that time?

These legal restrictions on civil liberties are more fundamental than Bjelke-Petersen’s.

The laws then were aimed at strikers and protesters … now the laws are more fundamental, aimed at the very structure of the legal system.

The enhancement of the attorney-general’s powers are an indication of how much worse the current situation is. It systematically undermines civil liberties. It is part of an increasing pattern … an accelerating trend over recent years.

Remember Joh was to a large extent an outsider. But now the other states and the federal government are in sympathy with what is happening in Queensland.

I think that the “bikie” rally on [December 1] which was attended by members of the wider community is a good start to the sort of public campaign which is needed to defend our civil liberties.


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