Up until very recently the presumption of innocence was an integral part of the justice system in New South Wales (NSW). This situation has changed with the introduction of the Criminal Organisations Control Bill, also known as the anti-bikie laws.
By Ger Hughes, Socialist Party Sydney
While no support should be given violent and anti-social behaviour like drug dealing and shootings, these laws should be of concern to all of those who want to protect civil liberties.
This legislation was proposed, drafted, passed in both houses of parliament and enacted within a matter of days. The laws were produced as a knee-jerk reaction to an incident that occurred at Sydney Airport where a number of men, identified by witnesses as ‘bikies’, were involved in a brawl which resulted in the death of one man and injuries to a number of others.
The speed at which these laws were enacted meant that there was no reflection on the necessity of the laws, no community consultation and no evaluation of similar laws in other jurisdictions. This was an inherently undemocratic process.
The NSW laws have been based on similar legislation in South Australia (SA). In SA the laws contain an exemption for political parties but this is not contained in the NSW laws. In effect these laws can be applied to any type of organisation. Other governments including Queensland now want to follow suit and it has been reported that a federal form of the legislation is also on the agenda.
The new laws allow police to apply to a Supreme Court judge to have an organisation prescribed. This means that association between members of that organisation becomes an offence. If the judge is satisfied that a significant number of the group’s associates plan to, or are engaged in serious criminal activity, that group can then become a ‘declared organisation’. Once this occurs, control orders can then be issued preventing contact between members by phone, email or in person.
Breaches of the orders can be punishable by imprisonment of up to two years and five years for a second offence. Individuals can also be prevented from working in particular industries. Control orders that are issued will have no time limit and will remain in force until revoked.
There have also been significant changes to the rules of evidence and procedure required to implement control orders. Also, evidence used in making an organisation a ‘declared organisation’ or issuing a control order may be protected and kept secret from those affected and the public.
These laws bear a striking resemblance to the anti-terrorism laws introduced in the wake of 9/11 and the Bali attacks, in that the burden of proof is transferred to the accused and secret evidence can be used at trial. The NSW Government is using the over exaggerated and perceived threat of bike violence as an excuse to wind back civil liberties.
At a time when the government is hugely unpopular because of its attempts to privatise the electricity and prison services, part of the aim of exaggerating bike violence is to divert attention away from the real issues at hand.
It is clear that there is already more than enough laws in place to deal with criminal behaviour. These laws while being aimed at bikies today will be used against others in years to come. Trade unions, political parties and other organisations that oppose the government’s policies will be the next ones targeted. We must not allow our civil liberties to be wound back any further and for that reason these laws must be opposed.