Devils, bikers and the National Press Club
What a sin! The National Press Club actually had the temerity to invite bikers and, an even worse devil, an academic, to address their members! After decades of weekly rants from pompous politicians and bloated businessmen they broke from tradition and dived into the dark side.
Even worse the bikers and academic questioned the wisdom of politicians making stupid laws. As if our moral and upright legislators would ever push the “lock them up and throw away the key button” just to win over the law and order vote.
But make no mistake the South Australian and New South Wales laws are particularly stupid. Forget about the blatant violation that these laws bring to the justice system and just think about their consequences.
They will drive biker groups underground, make them less able to be scrutinised by police forces and undoubtedly push them more towards violence.
Look at the Canadian experience; in 1997 the Quebec government introduced C95, the “participation in a criminal organisation” legislation that the Australian laws mirror. Ten years later the Royal Canadian Mounted Police reported that there have been 85 murders and 92 attempted murders relating to Quebec’s biker wars as well as 129 arson attacks and 82 bombings. Hardly a great success story.
Sure, earlier this year the cops arrested 156 bikers, most from the Hells Angels. But no one is suggesting that the club or other so-called “outlaw” biker gangs are out of business. Instead, their activity has changed becoming displaced and more submerged. Anyone who believes that individuals or groups in this country will not adapt to the draconian association laws in the same way as their Canadian counterparts has simply not studied the history of organised crime.
As Sydney lawyer Phillip Boulton SC perceptively noted if people are already killing and shooting each other then any new laws will not stop them meeting “and having a beer together”.
Admittedly our biker groups are pussies in comparison with their Quebec brothers. Recent figures presented to the Joint Parliamentary Committee to Review the Australian Crime Commission’s Serious and Organised Crimes Act by Dr Art Veno and Superintendent Scott White of the New South Wales Police are revealing. They show that gang-related violence generated by street, ethnic and biker groups represents just 0.6% of all crime with Biker-related violence estimated to account for 0.3% of crime in total.
No one, let alone me, suggests that some bikers in some clubs aren’t involved in drug-running and violence. But do we really want to pour millions and millions of extra dollars into policing the relatively small amount of crime they commit when rampant political and police corruption, drunken youth street violence and major white collar crime that devastates the lives of thousands of Australians are still serious problems?
Indeed a strong case could be made for association laws for these groups rather than for bikers or, for that matter, churches that hide paedophile priests or law societies that fail to take action against crooked lawyers.
David Penberthy mocks the possibility of these laws being used against groups other than bikers. Has he forgotten the attempts by Menzies to bring such laws against the communist party in 1950? Sure, the Methodist Ladies Temperance Union might not be a target but some groups in the sex industry may be at risk and also some radical unions or religious groups labelled as “extremists.” Given recent events why not the Somalians?
Mark Le Grand, a former director of the official misconduct division of the Criminal Justice Commission also headed the investigation of organised crime for the National Crime Authority. He can hardly be considered a fan of bikers but created, in The Australian, earlier this year, a hypothetical scenario where Premier Nathan Rees fell foul of these provisions.
Le Grand, in this scenario, showed how these laws shredded the traditional laws of evidence and the presumption of innocence and because your may not be allowed to see the evidence against you, made appealing them almost impossible.
The fact that these laws target individuals and groups for what they might have done, rather than for what they have done, makes them unique. Technically they are laws of what is called attainder, introduced by English kings centuries ago as a convenient way to convict their subjects and rivals without a messy trial. It was what Churchill wanted to do to Hitler and his leadership if he ever captured them – summary execution without a trial.
Sensibly his Cabinet rejected Churchill’s plea as did the Founding Fathers of the American constitution when they forbade federal and state governments to enact bills of attainder. But just as we have eroded old principles such as the right to silence, freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention without trial in recent years, our politicians can’t resist the temptation to go even further with these damaging new laws forbidding people to talk to each other.
It’s not as though we are hamstrung in our fight against organised crime. Crime Commissions and specific legislation give enormous powers to compel witnesses to answer questions, electronic monitoring is now a major weapon in the fight against crime and, let’s face it, the police have huge resources that easily make them the biggest gang on the block.
Some have said that even the devil deserves a trial. Well if he does, and the Nazis were given one at Nuremberg then, the bikers, who are neither devils nor Nazis, surely deserve a trial as well. It was refreshing to see the National Press Club agreeing to allow both bikers and one non-biker to say so forcibly why they object to these repugnant laws.
- Paul Wilson Is Chair of Criminology and a forensic psychologist at Bond University
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