Apropos of which...
On the 15 October this year the Queensland Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie introduced three acts into the Queensland Legislative Assembly, and they were passed the same day.
The Criminal Law (Criminal Organisations Disruption) Amendment Bill 2013 gives the Minister power to declare an organisation a criminal organisation through the Criminal Code (Criminal Organisations) Regulation 2013. This regulation, which was declared as soon as the law was passed, contains the list of supposedly illegal bikie clubs and a list of places they are said to frequent. More can be added and existing ones can be removed. The bill also changes various other laws relating to such organisations.
The Tattoo Parlours Bill 2013 makes it illegal for bikies to own tattoo parlours or wear their club colours in pubs.
The Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment Bill 2013 creates a number of new classes of crime related to members of criminal organisations, the basic effect of which is to make it illegal to take part in any kind of activity related to an outlaw motorcycle club and ensure that members of these clubs are punished more harshly for various crimes than other offenders.
This story has dominated our various news media for the past month, since a huge brawl involving members of two bikie gangs erupted outside a Gold Coast restaurant on September 27. Each day there is a new incident, new footage of tattooed blokes on Harleys, police in bulletproof vests, grim-faced politicians, outraged judges. The debate around these bills, if you could call it that, has lurched from hysterical to absurd. Bikies, it seems, are the major threat to law and order in the state of Queensland, threatening the safety of every man woman and child.
Police have been sent to raid various bikie clubhouses. The government has promised to turn Woodford Prison into a separate bikie prison in which inmates are forced to wear pink. The Premier has attempted to bully judges into refusing bail to suspected bikies. The judiciary has hit back by claiming the government is interfering with the operation of justice. The Premier claims these laws are comparable to the Fitzgerald Inquiry and its aftermath 25 years ago. Tony Fitzgerald responds that the laws are outrageous.
Premier Campbell Newman has claimed he is just doing what the people of Queensland demand. He is, or course, telepathic. I don't recall anyone ever asking. Who exactly is demanding this and why? How is that bikie gangs, which have been operating in basically the same way for the past 50 years, are suddenly an urgent problem which requires the government to override courts and parliament and introduce draconian new laws in an all-night sitting? What is it that makes crimes committed by blokes with tattoos, Harleys and colourful leather jackets more serious than those committed by blokes in jeans and t-shirts, or suits and ties?
The answer is of course, that no-one is demanding these laws, this is not an urgent problem and if you are beaten up it hurts just as much whether the people who did it are bikies or not. We are watching a piece of misdirection. While we, and half the state's journalists, are enthralled with each episode of the bikie drama, we are failing to notice other things.
Here are a few other pieces of legislation that have landed in the Queensland Parliament in the past few weeks and been buried in the landslide of bikie stories.
The Criminal Law Amendment (Public Interest Declarations) Amendment Bill 2013, introduced into Parliament on 17 October and passed the same day, allows the Governor in Council (that is to say, Cabinet) to detain someone indefinitely if they deem this to be "in the public interest". This law was prompted by the Supreme Court's decision to release serial violent offender Robert Fardon on parole, and the failure of the Attorney-General's appeal to change this decision. The government now no longer needs to worry about pesky judges because it can make the decision itself. Evidence, natural justice and impartiality be damned.
The Industrial Relations (Fair Work Act Harmonisation No. 2) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2013 was also introduced on October 17 and referred to committee. It includes a number of changes which restrict what can be covered in industrial awards and enterprise agreements, allow employers to refuse to deduct union fees from workers' pay, and change the way the industrial tribunal will work. In other words, it will now be easier for employers, especially the government, to screw their workers.
The Workers' Compensation and Rehabilitation and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2013, introduced on 15 October and passed on the 17th, makes major changes to entitlements for workers' compensation including creating a threshold level of disability before compensation can be claimed, shifting the basis of compensation from "work-related impairment" to "permanent impairment", increasing the burden of proof for psychological illness or disability, and allowing prospective employers access to previous compensation records. For comment, see previous paragraph.
The North Stradbroke Island Protection and Sustainability and Another Act Amendment Bill 2013, introduced on that same busy day and sent to committee, reverses the previous government's decision to phase out sand mining on North Stradbroke Island, extending leases on the two main mines to 2035 and 2040. The Quandamooka people (traditional owners of the island) and environmentalists are outraged but what does that matter when the mining company spent $90,000 in early 2012 sending out letters urging people to vote for Campbell Newman?
Some of these things have been reported in the news media, some have not. All of them have far-reaching effects on large numbers of Queenslanders. All of them except the first provide significant benefits for rich people and significant restrictions or reduced benefits for poor people. All have slipped through the current parliament, with its huge LNP majority, quickly and with minimal debate. None have been subject to intense media scrutiny or public outcry. All the media scrutiny, and all the outcry, has been redirected to the bikie sideshow.
It is likely that the bikie laws will eventually be ruled unconstitutional by the High Court. I certainly hope so. They are blatantly discriminatory and fly in the face of the basic principles of the Australian justice system. They are so badly drafted and poorly researched that many of their clauses are nonsensical, they outlaw organisations that don't exist and proscribe places where bikies have not hung out for years. The government will end up looking a bit silly, which is only fair.
In the meantime these other laws will be here to stay, robbing the poor to pay the rich for years to come. We may possibly come to view Jarrod Bleijie and Campbell Newman as the political equivalent of Penn and Teller, but I think it is much more likely we will think of them as the Artful Dodger and Fagin.
Apropos of which...