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Getting smart, not tough, on bikies

  • 07 May 2009

It's never a good idea to make law on the run.

Right after the murderous scrum at Sydney Airport that ended in a man's violent death the NSW Government rushed 'the toughest anti-bikie laws in the country' through Parliament.

These laws create new offences and give extraordinary powers to ban organisations and issue control orders against their members. It's an offence 'to associate' with other members on a police list of unknown size and origin. Based on the Commonwealth's anti-terrorism laws, they were introduced and passed in a single day without proper or adequate parliamentary debate.

On 30 April the NSW Parliament enacted even more draconian laws, prohibiting 'recruitment' to gangs, allegedly because bikie gangs were said to be targeting new members from 'street gangs'.

There has been a chorus of support from law enforcement officers in other states, and a chorus of objections from not only 'civil libertarians' (blackguarded as 'rights for crims' activists), but authoritative black-letter lawyers, including Nicholas Cowdery QC, NSW's Director of public Prosecutions.

The objections are both in principle — that the laws are an undue interference with ordinary civil rights — and pragmatic: that they will not deliver the desired result, because they are 'complex, expensive to apply, and not yielding the desired results'.

What are the desired results? Certainly more than shouting that beating a man to death in a public place is a crime, or that 'conspiring' to do it is unlawful. It already is.

The astonishing fact is that, despite airline staff warning Sydney Airport that there was likely to be trouble on landing, there was no adequate police intervention. You might think that Sydney airport, an obvious terrorist target, would have contingency plans for threatened violence, but it didn't. In the time it takes you to read this, a man was murdered in front of families and children while the poor saps in uniform waited for reinforcements.

The legislation outlaws particular criminal organisations, rather than minimising criminal activity. Yet the thing about criminal gangs is that their activities don't stop at state boundaries. So we need an effective national approach to interstate or even international organised crime activities.

This need for a national approach — re-voiced by South Australian premier Mike Rann, supported in principle by the federal Attorney General Robert McClelland last week — does not logically require the 'toughest' laws.

South Australia has its own organised crime legislation based roughly on the WA model enacted in 2003. Both