Friday, 1 November 2013


Misdirection is a technique used by people such as stage magicians and pickpockets to distract their audience, or their victim, from what they are actually doing.  They might make a loud noise, wave their hands or their wand flamboyantly, talk fast, have an accomplice distract you, while they perform their trick.  If they are a magician you will be amazed.  If they are a pickpocket you won't notice a thing until sometime later when you discover you are unable to pay for the coffee you have just drunk.

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...



Hermit said...

It may be an exercise in misdirection, but it is at huge cost to some people I know. Some have lost their jobs, their businesses, and can't go into their own sheds. Although the laws will probably be struck down eventually, in the meantime people are going to go to prison for non-offences. I sincerely hope the government looks more than a bit silly when the dust settles. Thanks for writing about this.

Christine Ellison said...

@ hermit
Very sorry to hear about your mates, it's not right that people lose their jobs, I am sure many people are affected in similar ways, like the hinterland cafes that lose customers (bike riders). Frankly, I am outraged by these laws, and as an ordinary citizen, feel for the bikers. XX

Anonymous said...

I'm in victoria and i know of two separate bikie turns yesterday where the police were about in force, showing their presence, it's not right that these people can't have a good time without being made to look bad, i feel for the bikies they are getting a rough deal and hopefully it will all be proven in the courts, these guys are normal everyday people who ride bikes, they also drive cars, and some even trucks what's next do they lose the privelidge, to drive their cars and trucks for being bikers, they are just like everyone else they have family friends, they work, they own ligit buisinesses and are very big on charity, which over the last year or so are being held up with their charity runs, and may i add they get stuff all in interupting their day, time to leave them alone, in 30 years of hanging around bikies i have seen nothing in the way of violence from them, i have seen plenty going out to pubs and clubs which i only did for a short time as i don't like violence, that in itself says a lot to me, i have never felt scared in the company of bikies and will keep being around them, but i won't go to pubs and clubs, i'd like to see the stats on equal crimes of violence, between so called normal people and bikies, i bet i know who will be the worst, wake up to yourself government and police, and give them a break, if my brother was a murderer would that make my whole family murderers i think not, thankyou to you for putting some general public opinion out there, a lot of people feel the same thankyou

Anonymous said...

The Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment Act actually applies to any club, organisation, league or group of 3 or more people, even if gathered informally - it is NOT restricted to just the declared 'bikies'. This is the scariest mistruth from the Government. Here is a good summary of how VLAD can be applied to any group:

Despite repeated calls for the media to print the truth, they are sticking to Newman's line that only bikies will be affected, when that is quite blatantly wrong. Any member of the ordinary community could end up with a mandatory 15 year sentence.

Jon Eastgate said...

I agree with you, Hermit, it's misdirection but not at all harmless. Bikers are a convenient target because they are an unpopular minority.

Re Anonymous's comments, organisations do have to be declared for the laws to apply to their members. At the moment only particular bikie clubs have been declared, but other organisations could be in future.

frognosticator said...

You say that The Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment Bill 2013 specifies a list of bikie gangs that are now illegal and a list of their premises that are now proscribed .... I can find no list of bikie gangs ... what page can I find the list

Jon Eastgate said...

Hi frognosticator, if you look again you'll see I've fixed that now. The Criminal Law (Criminal Organisations Disruption) Amendment Bill 2013 includes power for the Minister to list organisations by regulation, and the Criminal Code (Criminal Organisations) Regulation 2013 contains the list. Apologies for mixing up the acts and causing confusion!

Neil said...

Hi Jon, The Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment Bill 2013 refers to "relevant associations" but gives no definition or information about what a "relevant association" is, or where a list of them could be found. While there is a list in another Act, this Act does not refer to that list. It also fails to specify who decides what is relevant or what is it relevant to.

Jon Eastgate said...

Yes Neil, fair point. the drafting is so sloppy that it's not clear what it means and it doesn't refer to the criminal code. Not sure what any court would make of it if it ever got there.

Anonymous said...

The affects to the entitlements to Workers Compensation are much worse than you indicate. Queensland had quite a robust and financially profitable system prior to changes, with the 2nd lowest premiums in the nation and allowing all workers injured due to the negligence on their employer to claim compensation for future loss of income and future medical treatment.

Firstly, the 5% whole person impairment caps to apply to each injury individually meaning that you could have suffered multiple injuries due to accident at work, with each injury being 5% WPI each and only be entitled to a small statutory lump sum for general damages and no future loss income or future medical. That is, even if you are no longer able to work at your job or any job you are trained or educated for due to the injuries. This is important because there are certain injuries that are assessed at lower WPI % disproportionately affect certain workers (for example, a 2-4% WPI foot injury can stop a manual labourer from ever being able to work more that part time without being in pain and laid up all weekend resting the foot. Or a 5% neck on a computer worker).

Further, say you are a manual labourer with a 5% WPI lower back injury and a minor psychological injury of 6% WPI. You are only entitled to claim future damages for the psych condition, which has a minor effect on your work ability. However the back injury means you are not able to work in your job at a fulltime level ever again, well stiff because you are not entitled to claim future loss of income for your back only the psych.

What this means is that every injury that would normally be entitled to future damages, that does not meet the threshold WILL be appealed to the Medical Assessment Tribunal in order to get a better result, as well, lawyers will need to be involved earlier to ensure that the claim is managed properly. The amount of times I have seen Workcover issue a an incorrect Notice of Assessment or the workers has been shafted through low payment of wages or non payment of medicals in the statutory part of the claim (A lot of people do not fully understand that they actually are suffering a recognised psych condition). Previously these issues could be ignored and you just fix them later, however now you will need to appeal everytime to fix them all. This is going to cost a huge amount.

Secondly, the entitlement for employers to know your workers compensation history includes asking the worker in writing for the full history and if the worker fails to disclose it, or omits an injury (even one that was a report only, with no time off work or compensation claimed) the worker is therefore excluded from making a claim for an injury the future.

What this is is a move by the state government to push the burden from insurers, who's primary reason for existence is to cover workers for damages caused by negligent workplace accidents, to be either out of pocket themselves and have to rely on the federal government assistance through medicare, centrelink and the NDIS. It is not saving taxpayers money like they claim, because the system was profitable before and now the money will be eaten up in appeals process, and taxpayers will shoulder the burden through the federal taxes.

What it does do is make the Workers Compensation insurer look more profitable (when you exclude the appeals process as that is another department) and makes the insurer look like a nice public asset to sell off to the highest bidder.

The problem is that most people don't care about workers comp insurance until they are the ones injured or they know someone who is injured. The legislation was rushed through because it was an "emergency" to stifle debate and stop the changes being discussed with people that might be affected. Because apparently a profitable system and the 2nd lowest premiums in the nation means it is an emergency.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for providing the additional legislation changes as posted. I was not aware of any of those changes.

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