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Issue #1615      October 23, 2013

Attack on civil rights – Queensland leads the pack

Rival gangs are strutting their stuff, violating hallowed traditions carrying out unprecedented acts of terror and lawlessness on an unsuspecting public. The problem is we’re not talking about a small proportion of members of motorcycle clubs, the one percent who refuse to bend to the law of the land; we’re talking about state governments who are stripping communities of their civil rights at an alarming rate. The drive is being portrayed by enthusiastic allies in the tabloid media as a long overdue showdown with outlaw motorcycle clubs, a do-or-die battle for control of the streets. As usual, the truth is to be found elsewhere.

South Australia and NSW have a strong record in the field but it is Queensland that is leading the current charge to pare back people’s rights under the law. The Sunshine State is a test bed for all sorts of neo-liberal experimentation at the moment from the mass sacking of public sector workers, the slashing of services to the granting of three new casino licences. The last-mentioned initiative is sure to bring a flood of shady money and characters to the country’s north but the Newman government is determined to open the state up to high-rollers whose gambling losses will supposedly subsidise facilities for communities, families in particular.

“It’s time to take off the shackles, think big and actually allow this state to compete in the international market place,” the Queensland Premier said.

Taking the shackles off is expected to worsen a turf war between Jamie Packer-associated Crown Limited and Echo Entertainment.

The shackles will, instead, be slapped on individuals who find themselves in front of secret, star chamber-style hearings of the state’s Crime and Misconduct Commission. Under new legislation, members of targeted motorcycle clubs have no right to remain silent. Two members of the Finks are currently in jail for refusing to answer questions. Another pair from the Odin’s Warriors club have been arrested for entering the clubhouse where their accommodation is located.

The state Attorney-General, Jarrod Bleijie, is proud of the latest scalps. “Punishment is deliberately and unapologetically severe because we want to break the bikies – break their enterprise, break their spirit, break up their groups,” he said.

Tattoo parlours will be have to have licences from next January, requiring police and probity checks. The most significant change in the flurry of new laws and regulations is the mandatory sentencing for members of outlaw motorcycle clubs. The Vicious Lawless Associate Dismemberment Act targets 26 clubs. Raids on their premises are continuing. There will be mandatory jail sentences of up to 25 years for club members for a range of crimes that would carry lesser sentences for others convicted of the same offences.

There will be no discretion allowed to judges or magistrates while sentencing. Gang members could face an additional 15 years of mandatory detention if they were found to be “vicious lawless associates” at the time of the offence and another 10 years if they were an office bearer in a club when the crime was committed.

Legal experts across the country are aghast at the changes. Former NSW Director of Public Prosecutions, Nicholas Cowdery, noted that mandatory sentencing has a bad record in Australia. “Politicians should learn the lesson that mandatory punishment for anything but minor regulatory offences is antithetical to the doing of justice,” he told a gathering at the University of NSW recently, “and I do not know any judicial officer who is content to be an agent of injustice.”

His caution will, most likely, be ignored in the latest corporate media-fuelled moral panic. Bikie-only jails are being contemplated. Premier Newman wants the Commonwealth to enact mandatory deportation for immigrants with bikie links. Criminal gangs are said to be recruiting overseas and the Queensland government wants the “legislative firepower” to deal with the alleged influx of Middle Eastern and Pacific Islander gang members. Stereotypes are certainly pandered to in the rush for police state powers.

There’s no doubting the seriously anti-social behaviour of some motorcycle club members, a very small minority. But the trashing of long-held protections under the law is a matter of grave concern for everybody. Few people would sympathise, either, with sex offenders like Robert John Fardon who may be released from a Queensland jail next month. But that is no excuse for the establishment of a “Governor in Council” comprising the state governor and two cabinet ministers to override the judicial system to ensure the “worst of the worst” never leave jail. Whatever happened to the separation of powers? What became of that fig-leaf of bourgeois respectability that governments like those of Australia used to brag about?

The other problem is that “anti-bikie” laws will inevitably leach into the rest of the body of criminal law as “anti-terror” legislation did before it. Unions have already fallen foul of that process of legislative creep. Anti-coal mining activist Jonathon Moylan is currently facing jail time on charges supposedly devised to catch white collar criminals for insider trading-type offences. No white collar criminal is behind bars but a protester is left battling for his freedom.

As the capitalist economic crisis deepens and protest increases, Australian governments want to have a tidy stack of legislation to adapt to the latest “crisis”. The trap must be disarmed now!

Next article – “Real men don’t abuse women”

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