This week the NSW government introduced, passed and gazetted legislation it claims is necessary to control the activities of “outlaw motorcycle gangs”. It was prompted by the brawl at Sydney airport in which a motorcycle gang member was murdered, and broadly based on similar SA legislation.
The government had claimed the legislation was too complex to introduce before June. Then it introduced it at such short notice that most MPs had just a few hours to review it before voting. Yet the only ones to vote against it were the socialist Greens. The Liberals, Nationals, Christian Democrats and both Shooters Party MLCs voted in favour.
The legislation introduces a mechanism for declaring organisations to be criminal so that restrictions can be placed on the activities of their members.
Organisations are declared by a Supreme Court judge on application from the police. The grounds may be secret “criminal intelligence” and evidence by “victims”, and can occur without notifying the organisation. There is no right of appeal or review. The police then apply for control orders on designated members of the organisation and the cancellation of their licences (as bookies or bouncers, handling cash at casinos, driving tow trucks, and firearms). Again, this can occur without their knowledge. The affected individuals are then served with notice of the control orders, advising them they may not associate with each other. There is an opportunity to appear in court after the orders have been served, with limited grounds for appeal. However, the consequences of the control order have immediate effect.
Those consequences are horrendous. As the Police Minister said: Old friends will no longer be able to meet or even talk on the phone. Some people will have to quit their jobs in a time of increasing economic pressure. There is a presumption against the granting of bail and the penalty for breach of an order is two years jail in the first instance and five years subsequently. The New South Wales Crime Commission can move to seize their assets.
Speaking in the Legislative Council, the Police Minister said: The legislation avoids “the need to include a list of the types of organisations that cannot be declared, such as political parties. After all, who wants to see a future government trying to declare an opposing party or a troublesome lobby group unlawful?”
He then added: “Members should examine what has happened in South Australia. The bikie gangs have formed a political party, ostensibly to oppose the repressive legislation. However, it is obvious that it is really a device to get around the law by using a political party exemption.”
The New South Wales Law Society said the bill is unnecessary as police already have wide powers to fight organised crime. There is no objective evidence to support the need for the proposed new offences. The proposed legislation will criminalise a person’s associations and interactions rather than their conduct. The Bill constitutes a denial of the fundamental right of freedom of association.
The Bar Association said that police resources would be better used fighting actual crime rather than people’s associations. The legislation will not achieve anything other than to drive these organisations underground and make it more difficult to detect their existence and any associated criminal activitie. It said it was concerning that control orders can be made based on confidential police “intelligence” rather than any publicly proven criminality. How could a person adequately challenge the making of such an order without access to the information on which it is based?
There is a tendency in NSW for a major event to send the superficial media into a frenzy and for the Government to hysterically overreact, beat the law and order drum and rush through a new law that either replicates an old law or has great potential for misuse.
The government regularly says the police need special powers to respond to special circumstances. Yet bikie violence is not new. The 1984 Milperra bikie massacre occurred in broad daylight at a suburban tavern and led to the deaths of seven people including a 14-year-old bystander. Despite all of these laws, criminal activities expand—drug importation and manufacture grow and police corruption spreads. These laws do not offer a path to a safer and more law-abiding society; they are a path to an oppressive state and an oppressed society.
Let’s imagine that a future Labor government survives with the Greens holding the balance of power. Let’s also suppose a couple of vicious criminals join a well known hunting club and engage in some high profile violence involving guns. The media goes into a frenzy about gun nuts sneaking off in to the bush in groups and demands action. Under pressure from both the media and Greens, the government tells the Police Commissioner to do something. As a result, based on “criminal intelligence” (in reality simply a disgruntled member) the club is declared a criminal organisation. Relying on the same source, control orders are issued against many of the club’s committee plus Robert Brown MLC, who is an honorary member. Speaking to each other is now a criminal office, their firearms licences have been cancelled and their firearms seized. Coincidentally (or not), all are members of the Shooters Party.
Those who would deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves.