Bikies have rights, too

Bikies have rights, too

October 27, 2014

For those of us who value liberty highly, the moral panic over outlaw motorcycle gangs is deeply troubling. When the panic subsides, as it inevitably will, we will be left with laws that weaken fundamental liberties and undermine the independence of our judiciary.

The new anti-bikie laws in Queensland do not mention bikies at all. Rather, they refer to “vicious lawless associates”.

Broadly defined, this can be anyone convicted of certain offences (some fairly minor) with current or past association with almost any group. Those classified face a mandatory 15 years in jail (25 years for office bearers) on top of the normal sentence, with no parole unless they become an informer. The normal onus of proof does not apply either; the accused must disprove the classification.

They also refer to “criminal organisations”, declared on the recommendation of the Minister based on any matter he considers relevant. A participant in a criminal organisation present in a public place with two or more other participants is liable for up to 3 years jail. It is also an offence to attend “prescribed” events or places. The accused is similarly obliged to prove the organisation is not criminal.

Police may stop, search and detain a participant for questioning at any time. Refusing to answer questions carries a penalty of five years in prison.

Twenty-six motorcycle clubs have been declared criminal organisations, including one that does not exist. The Queensland Government says it plans to establish a separate prison for convicted bikies where they will wear pink suits and be locked in their cells for 23 hours a day and denied television and exercise equipment.

It has sold the new laws to the public as highly targeted, designed to disrupt and dismantle the illegal activities of outlaw motorcycle clubs. The Premier says police will not harass or intimidate law-abiding riders, but riders have been told to ring a police hotline if they want to ride in groups of three or more in peace.

The reality is non-declared clubs have been raided and there are numerous stories of innocent motorcyclists being stopped and searched without reason. Uninvolved premises have been “prescribed”, members have been forced to give up certain occupations, and cafes and pubs are suffering from the loss of weekend riders.

Those riding in the same location as a group and caught on police video are liable to be marked as a person of interest, even interstate. There are claims such people have had renewal of their firearms licence declined.

What prompted all this was the infiltration of motorcycle clubs by serious criminals on the Gold Coast and a brawl there between two rival clubs. But while the Gold Coast gangster activity is certainly serious (far worse than the brawl), it is no worse than the mafia, triads and other gangs dealing in drugs, extortion and violent crime. Indeed, but for the fact some motorcyclists wear club colours and ride Harleys, these laws would not exist.

What the Queensland laws reveal is a serious failure of policing. Not capable of catching the true criminals among the club members based on what they do, the government has opted to make them all criminals for who they are.

There are already substantial powers to deal with organised crime, including some that are highly coercive and go well beyond Peel’s Principles of policing. In direct conflict with those principles, the new laws are sure to further distance the police from the public.

Those with the power to make and enforce such laws forget they will not always be in a position of authority. One day they will be just ordinary citizens with the potential to be caught by the laws they introduced.

Indeed, a future government of a different political colour could use their wide discretion to imprison Campbell Newman and Jarrod Bleijie as participants in a declared criminal organisation present in a prescribed place. Clad in pink jumpsuits, all that’s missing is a sign over the prison gate declaring “Work sets you free”.