OFF THE WIRE
BY: Mark Solomons
Laws preventing people associating with each other were the wrong way to target organised crime and the Government should be making criminals account for unexplained wealth instead, shadow attorney-general Jarrod Bleijie said.
Queensland's anti-gang law, the Criminal Organisation Act, enacted in 2009, represented "three years of wasted opportunity to go after major drug syndicates" in the state, he said.
The Courier-Mail revealed yesterday that police have drawn up an application to have a major outlaw bikie club declared a criminal organisation using laws similar to those overturned by the High Court in South Australia and NSW.
Lawyers and civil liberties advocates criticised the move, which they were surprised was going ahead given the failure of similar legislation in other states. They claimed it was politically motivated and threatened basic rights and freedoms.
Prominent criminal lawyer Bill Potts, who has represented several high-profile bikies, acknowledged there was "clearly an association between outlaw motorcycle clubs and crime" but the Queensland laws were "one step too far".
He said the decision was evidence of "an inevitable law and order auction" in the run-up to an election.
"The legislation ... is extraordinarily far-reaching," he said. "It does not only apply to motorcycle clubs, it has the capacity to proscribe all sorts of groups, essentially at the direction of the Government."
Mr Potts said that in theory, political parties could be proscribed in the same way as bikie clubs.
"The criminal law already has more than sufficient powers to prosecute crime," he said.
Michael Cope, president of the Queensland Council of Civil Liberties, said the UK House of Lords had severely criticised "control orders" introduced to fight terrorism and the Queensland legislation was equally unpalatable.
"People should ... not be subject of orders to prevent them doing things that they might do in the future," he said.
State Attorney-General Paul Lucas said the Government already had proceeds of crime legislation to target ill-gotten gains. The Government took great great care in drafting its laws "to ensure that they are, as far as possible, not subject to challenge in the High Court", he said.
"For example, our Dangerous Prisoners Sexual Offenders Act survived High Court challenge where as other states' legislation did not."
A spokesman for Mr Lucas said that the timing of the announcement about the anti-gang application was "an operational decision by the police".