Queensland bikie laws trample civil rights

October 24, 2013

Cairns police arrested two people under Queensland Premier Campbell Newman's new anti-association laws on October 18. A search was carried out on their clubhouse and the two men, Peter Johnston and Mark Filtness, have been charged with being in a criminal organisation and entering a prescribed place. They were both granted bail.

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

The new laws include mandatory sentences of 15 years for serious crimes committed as part of gang activity on top of the normal penalty, a ban on wearing club colours and patches, and new powers granted to police including the power to stop and detain people and to search them without a warrant.

Police have been warned to enforce the laws or face the sack.

Which organisations are declared criminal is decided by the parliament or executive and is not subject to review by a judge.

As part of the laws, members of bikie gangs are banned from owning, operating or working in tattoo parlours.

The owners of a Cairns tattoo parlour say they are proudly bikie unaffiliated, yet police now frequently park outside their businesses in marked cars and question local tattoo artists. Police are also asking customers for identification when they leave the tattoo parlours and have the power to search the shop.

Queensland Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie said similar laws could be passed targeted at driving bikers out of other industries, including security, gyms and second-hand car dealerships.

Mark Lauchs, a law lecturer at the Queensland University of Technology, said in the Conversation on October 23: “[The] definition of this association is loose and allows opportunities for innocent people to be caught by the legislation. In the end, the statement that law abiding motorbike riders have 'nothing to worry about' cannot be claimed with any certainty.”

The laws are already having an effect on innocent people. On the weekend of October 19 and 20, the village of Kuranda near Cairns celebrated 125 years with a festival. The Kuranda festival was organised by Tourism Kuranda and was proudly supported by The Tablelands council, The Kuranda District Chamber of Commerce and state emergency services.

One of the events programmed to be held at Kuranda Festival was a motorbike and vintage car display as a chance for people in the community to show off their pride and joy, the bikes and cars they have lovingly restored and looked after.

LNP backbencher Michael Trout, who had agreed to open the festival, backed out of the family-friendly event due to the new laws.

Only a few kilometres down the road the police set up their blockade for the motorbike riders attending the event, to flex their new powers. At least 10 police pulled over every bike rider coming from the Kuranda festival and searched them.

Newman is pursuing bikies and likening them to terrorists. A new bikie-only prison at Woodford, north of Brisbane, will be built for those charged and convicted under the laws. Prisoners will have most of their basic human rights stripped including being locked in their cells for 23 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Inside the prison there will be no gym facilities or TV access, phone calls are to be monitored (except from lawyers), inmates' mail will be opened and censored, and bikies from other state prisons will be transferred to Woodford.

Terry O’Gorman, a spokesman for the Queensland Council of Civil Liberties said the new laws are “ludicrous and unjust ... They are the most extreme laws introduced to Queensland.”

The Queensland government has spent a little under $30 million on the anti-biker blitz in two weeks and $793,349 has been spent on advertising alone.

It can be quite easy for most people to distance themselves from the anti-bikie laws, but if the government is allowed to attack the rights of bikies to associate, they can extend those laws to other groups they do not like.

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”.

It has been suggested that the government could use these laws to stop other groups it does not like, such as environmental groups campaigning against coal seam gas, unionists striking over job cuts, or activist groups protesting the G20 conference in Brisbane next year.

Numbers of recreational bike enthusiasts coming together on weekends have dropped greatly and can only leave people asking: who will be next to have their human rights taken from them?

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