Occupy Sydney support the call put forth by Mackay Queensland Biker Activists for National Protests on Sunday, December 1st 2013 outside every State Parliament in Australia and calls for the immediate repeal of all such laws.
Why the anti-association laws are so bad
By Professor Mike Head, University of Western Sydney
We should never consent to laws which apply only to a particular section of the community.
The Queensland provisions mark an escalation of a series of criminal association laws passed by state governments, Labor and Liberal alike, since 2001, eroding basic democratic rights, including free speech, freedom of association and the right to remain silent, on the pretext of combatting bikie gangs.
The alarmist terminology of the Queensland laws, such as the Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment Act, is designed to whip up hysteria against bikies, as the pretext for overturning basic legal rights.
Under this act, anyone convicted of committing a declared serious offence while a participant in an association (which includes taking part in one event), will be declared a vicious lawless associate, unless they can prove that the association does not have a purpose of engaging in, or conspiring to engage in, declared offences. This not only reverses the burden of proof for a criminal trial, but such proof may be impossible.
These associates will face a mandatory 15-year jail term, on top of any sentence imposed on them. Association office bearers face another 10 years imprisonment, on top of the 15 years. Parole will also be denied, unless a prisoner turns informer. For example, an office bearer who would have been released on parole after three years, will be imprisoned for 28.
Before being convicted, the normal presumption in favour of bail is also reverseda provision borrowed from anti-terrorism laws.
Criminal Organisations Disruption Act sets mandatory prison terms for alleged members convicted of lesser offences, such as affray and assaulting a police officer, and jail sentences of up to seven years for new offences, such as associating together or promoting their organisation. A third bill, banning owning or working in tattoo shops, and authorising closures of parlours, will soon be joined by similar laws in other industries, including security and car sales.
The government has declared that inmates will be held in a bikie-only maximum-security facility. Isolated for 23 hours a day, they will be denied access to television and gym equipment. Their phone calls and mail will be censored, while visitor contact will be restricted to one hour a week. What theyre proposing is a standard of incarceration that is pretty much equal to Guantanamo Bay, motorcycle lobbyist Russell Wattie told ABC television.
Far from being confined to bikie gangs, the legislation could be used in the coming period to outlaw a range of organisations, including political parties regarded as a danger to the political establishment. The laws extend the scaffolding already created by the previous state Labor governments Criminal Organisation Act.
Passed in 2009, that legislation permits groups (which can now consist of just three people under last weeks laws) to be banned on the basis of secret criminal intelligence that the group and its lawyers are barred from viewingopening the door to unchecked victimisation.
An organisation can be banned if it represents an unacceptable risk to the safety, welfare or order of the community and exists to engage, or conspire to engage, in serious criminal activity. Such activity is defined to include political offences like sedition and riot. Groups can be outlawed based on mere allegations by police agents that some members may plan such activity in the future.
So far, 26 motorcycle clubs have been declared criminal organisations, banning members from meeting in public, and giving police powers to stop and search suspected members without warrants.
The way was cleared for such laws in March. Urged on by the federal Labor government, the High Court, Australias supreme court, ruled that the 2009 Queensland legislation was constitutional. This created a framework for the states to side-step earlier High Court rulings striking down various anti-association laws.
In March also, Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard called on the state governments to refer constitutional powers to Canberra to outlaw groups. Now the Abbott government is taking up where Labor left off, but relying on the states to pass the legislation.
In Victoria, the Criminal Organisations Control Act, which commenced in March, allows the police chief to apply to the states Supreme Court to make a group a declared organisation, if it is satisfied the group organises, facilitates or supports criminal activity. Further anti-fortification laws, introduced this month, permit the demolition of property.
The Victorian police have not yet applied to use these laws, however, complaining that they are too complex compared to the Queensland laws.
Instead, Victorian police used existing search warrant powers on October 10, when more than 700 officers, some in commando gear and armoured vehicles, and federal police and customs officers, raided around 60 properties said to be associated with the Hells Angels. Victorian police sought to justify the operations on the ground that they were searching for military-style weapons, but none were found.
Two days later, about a dozen army personnel were involved in a raid near Melbourne. The Queensland government has indicated its readiness to follow suit in enlisting military support for such operations. These antidemocratic initiatives violate the centuries-old principle against the domestic use of the military against civilians.
The corporate media hailed the Victorian raids. A Melbourne Herald Sun editorial declared: This is exactly what Victorians want to hear after drive-by shootings by bikies who have no regard for the rule of law. The police are faced with what can be fairly described as urban terrorism.
This likening of club members to terrorists points to how authoritarian powers, first imposed under the cover of the fraudulent war on terrorism after 2001, are being extended throughout the legal system. A so-called war on bikies is now being coordinated by the Abbott government.
Federal and state attorneys-general convened for a summit on October 10-11 and issued a communiqué that noted the new Queensland laws and backed the Abbott governments commitment to establish a new Standing Council on Law, Crime and Community Safety to bring together lawmakers and law-enforcers and to sharpen the national focus on fighting crime.
Amid mounting social tensions generated by worsening inequality and the decimation of working class jobs and conditions, this is a deliberate attempt to divert public discontent behind a crime gang scare campaign while further boosting the powers of the police and state apparatuses. Wide-ranging measures to ban lawless associations and jail their supporters are part of preparations being made to suppress major social and political struggles against the bipartisan austerity program being intensified under the Abbott government.
Michael Head is an Australian academic and lecturer at the University of Western Sydney. Dr Head obtained a Masters degree in law from the Columbia University in New York. Having initially taught law at Columbia, Adelaide and ANU, Dr Head began teaching at the University of Western Sydney in 1999. His main areas of study have been civil liberties, democratic rights, public law and legal theory. He has written numerous books on these topics.