Thursday, October 17, 2013

Roadblock on path to hard-won rights

According to those who argue for increasing anti-bikie laws, particularly police, eroding fundamental individual rights is fine if you've got nothing to hide.

The Queensland police and government have adopted exactly that argument in defending the harsh consequences of laws against unsuspecting motorbike enthusiasts who have never gone near a bikie.

Queensland's Police Commissioner, Ian Stewart, put it simply when he stated:  "We make no excuses and I'm sorry for any inconvenience to the general public but if they've done nothing wrong they've got nothing to fear from our people."

The raft of new laws targeting bikies across Australia represents an unacceptable assault on individual rights.  The big states have introduced laws that together represent a nationwide attack on the rights of law-abiding bikies.

Under existing state laws in Western Australia, Queensland, NSW and Victoria, bikies are the direct targets of government attacks on their fundamental rights to property, freedom of association, privacy and free speech.

Proposed amendments look set to further erode the rights of anyone associated with a bikie, let alone individuals who own a bike.

Queensland is set to make it illegal for bikies to ride in groups larger than three;  Victoria has banned fortified walls at club-houses;  WA allows for property seizure;  and NSW is soon to follow suit.

It is easy for politicians and police to target these individuals because of this perception of all bikies as automatically criminal, gang-affiliated or interested only in organised crime.

But what's absolutely crucial is the protection of these key rights for every member of society, no matter what group you associate with or the hobbies in which you choose to indulge.

Queensland Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie admits "there will be some disruption to law-abiding motorbike riders".

But the Queensland laws will be more than a mere disruption.  Innocent bike riders will have their right to freedom of association eroded through penalties for simply riding next to two other bike enthusiasts.  The laws would also restrict freedom of speech and individual privacy, with police able to stop, search and photograph anyone in club colours.

It has never been acceptable to monitor and record someone because of what colour they are wearing.  Apparently it's now justifiable because it's targeted at those pesky bikers.  Don't worry about freedom of association, individual privacy or freedom of speech because individuals who like motorbikes don't deserve these rights.

In WA, the Supreme Court has the power to seize property, including cash from bank accounts, if the asset has had "criminal use".  These property confiscation laws were used in a 2011 case against biker Gary White, leading to WA's Director of Public Prosecutions seizing $135,000 from White's bank account.

Substitution laws allow authorities to seize any of an offender's property as substitution for other property used as part of the crime, but owned by someone other than the offender.

White's $135,000 was unrelated to the crime, but due to this substitution law its seizure was upheld by the High Court as valid.  The law provides for an extremely broad interpretation of criminal use of property subject to seizure, allowing the state to seize the private property of individuals who have been involved in the commission of an offence.

Such laws have no regard for the basic human right to own and use property without interference.

Victorian anti-fortification laws came into force last week, significantly eroding centuries-old property rights.  The laws ban any fortified walls or barricades, allowing police to obtain court orders to destroy any fences or walls at bikie club rooms.  These walls are often there to protect the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of valuable bikes within the club.

The laws also undermine the rights of private property owners.  Victoria police state they will not publicly say when they make anti-fortification applications to the court, adding a veil of secrecy to the already authoritarian laws.

To escalate the attack even more, Queensland parliament will next week pass new laws granting its Crime and Misconduct Commission new powers compelling bikies to appear before its star chamber.

Under star chamber rules, individuals can be sentenced to mandatory jail terms for refusing to answer questions.

The forced appearances for bikies destroys these individuals' right to silence and provides a clear example of government use of all possible avenues of power to target individual rights.

This range of targeted laws throughout Australian states demonstrates a concerted effort to erode the fundamental rights of anyone who enjoys riding a motorbike.  If an individual breaks the law, they should be liable for it.

There is no suggestion bikies should be allowed to engage in criminal behaviour.  Equally, however, every individual must have their rights to property, of association, to silence and privacy upheld and not be subject to laws attacking these basic human rights.  The laws blatantly undermine the fundamental legal principle of "innocent before proven guilty" and represent an indiscriminate attack on law-abiding individuals purely due to association.

Given the current trend, the erosion of rights is on track to get even worse.

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