The Queensland Labor government has betrayed those who hoped that Campbell Newman’s oppressive Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment (VLAD) laws would be scrapped. Instead, Labor has decided to retain them for another two years, and implemented sweeping new powers for the police and courts with the Serious and Organised Crime Amendment Act.
The Newman government introduced the VLAD laws in 2013. They brought in mandatory sentences of between 15 and 25 years’ imprisonment for anyone convicted of a range of offences – from fighting in public to drug trafficking – if the police argued that the offender was a member of any association whose purpose was criminal activity. The definition of “association” under the legislation was outrageously vague, meaning any group of three or more people, and the onus of proof lay with those charged to prove to the court that the purpose of the “association” was not criminal.
Since 2013, 100 people have been charged under the VLAD laws; only 20 of them have been members of criminal organisations as defined by Queensland regulation.
Alongside the VLAD laws, Newman’s Liberal National government gave the attorney-general dictatorial power to declare organisations to be criminal, with members then unable to meet in public with two or more other members, and prevented from entering prescribed locations. These anti-association laws, combined with VLAD, easily paved the way for government repression against unionists and dissidents. Rather than repealing them, Labor voted for them to be retained for a two-year transition period.
Labor’s new laws ban the wearing of motorcycle gang “colours” in public, and introduce a mandatory sentence of seven years for members of criminal organisations who commit a crime, depending on the offence committed. While the new laws will eventually replace the current anti-association laws that ban all public gatherings of three or more members of a criminal organisation, there is a new offence of “consorting” with two or more people who have been convicted of a serious indictable offence.
Besides embracing a punitive approach to law and order, and new restrictions for bikies, most concerning is new powers to be given to the Queensland police. These involve the introduction of “public safety orders” that enable the police to ban any number of individuals for up to seven days from a location or event.
Orders issued by police for less than 72 hours’ duration are also not subject to appeal. Breaching a public safety order will land you with a maximum of three years’ jail. Police will also have the power to declare any location “restricted premises” on suspicion that “disorderly activities” have taken place at the location for between six months and two years.
This gives police the power to search any nominated location without a warrant and to search any occupants. “Disorderly conduct” on any “restricted premises” will land the owner/occupier 18 months’ jail for the first offence and three years’ for each offence thereafter.
Yvette D’ath, the attorney-general, justified the new laws by saying that “the VLAD laws had proven ineffective at securing convictions”. This statement shows just how little difference is to be found between Labor and the Liberals when it comes to “law and order”.