Bikie laws: first a Bandido brawl, now Qld's premier is battling the judiciary
Social motorcycling clubs, lawyers, judges and libertarians are lining up to attack Campbell Newman's crackdown
A band belted out 60s music and by 8pm about 80 bikers and their friends were in the field in Logan, which was split into drinking, entertainment and eating areas.
Signs were placed outside the “bunker bash” which warned attendees not to wear anything linking them to a “criminal organisation” – an unsubtle code for the 26 bikie gangs the state’s government had declared criminal 10 days before.
VVVMC is exactly what its name suggests – a motorcycle club made up of veterans from the Vietnam war and any person who holds an active service medal.
The club is by definition recreational and was not listed by the government as a criminal organisation. Still, members were not surprised when an hour into their drinks there were suddenly 20 police in the room.
The clubhouse was raided by Taskforce Maxima, a police unit set up to investigate and prosecute bikies, and their colleagues from Road Policing Command.
Police told the club president, “Agro” – who would not give his full name – they were there to check that liquor licence requirements were being complied with, and to ensure that no patched members of criminal bikie gangs were being served alcohol.
“How would you feel having a drink and suddenly there are more than 20 cops in the room? I wasn’t happy but I wasn’t too worried," Agro says. "I’d been expecting it.”
He says the group is also bracing to be pulled over more frequently on rides as Queensland’s government cracks down on bikies with a raft of harsh laws. While he thinks the laws are fundamentally unfair he does not plan to change anything he is doing.
Agro is part of the group of civilians who have been repeatedly reassured by Queensland’s premier, Campbell Newman, and attorney general, Jarrod Bleijie, that the suite of new laws brought into Queensland targeting bikies in the past couple of weeks will have no affect them.
As well as 26 bikie groups being listed as criminal organisations with no right of appeal, bikies can face up to three years in jail for gathering in groups of more than three or being caught try to recruit.
Mandatory sentencing of 15 years has been introduced if bikies commit certain crimes, to be served on top of the usual penalty for that crime. If they are an office bearer in the club they get another 10-year mandatory sentence as well as the 15 years.
Bikies will also face jail terms if they refuse to answer questions from the Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) and upon being released they could be sent to jail two more times if they still refuse to co-operate, with each sentence longer than the last.
Bikies will serve their time in what the premier calls a “super jail” at Woodford correctional centre where they will be confined to their cells for up to 23 hours a day, with one hour of no-contact visits from family and friends granted to them each week.
They will have no television, no access to gyms and all their phone calls, except to their lawyers, will be monitored. Their mail will be opened, read and censored before it reaches them.
To complete the humiliation there are plans to dress bikies in pink once they are imprisoned.
Using their massive majority in Queensland’s parliament (the Liberal National party holds 74 seats while Labor holds seven; there is no upper house) the government bypassed the committee system which is supposed to review laws and rushed the laws through parliament within days of being drafted.
The legislation meant to target the “one per centers” has reverberated around the state, drawing criticism from the likes of Tony Fitzgerald, who headed up the corruption inquiry in Queensland in the 1980s which led to five ministers being jailed, to the international hacking collective Anonymous.
But it is the judiciary the state government is brawling with as they try to blur the line between the court system and parliament.
Newman has labelled the separation of the courts and government as “more an American thing” and said parliament was “supreme” because it was the manifestation of the will of the people.
“They [the legal fraternity] are living ... in an ivory tower,” Newman said on 4GB radio the week after the laws were introduced.
“They go home at night to their comfortable, well-appointed homes, they talk amongst themselves, they socialise together, they don’t understand what my team and I understand, and that is Queenslanders have had enough.”
Newman also criticised the granting of bail to an alleged bikie member James Campbell as the director of public prosecutions appealed the magistrate’s decision.
In an extraordinary move, the judge presiding over the appeal adjourned the hearing as he waited for Newman to retract his comments, warning that a decision of the court be be seen to be influenced by politicians.
The legal community have been looking on open mouthed as each day the standoff escalates. The latest challenge to their authority has taken the form of a directive from the state’s chief magistrate, effectively stripping magistrates of the right to decide the bail applications of alleged bikies.
The chief magistrate, Tim Carmody, has decreed he will hear all bail applications of alleged bikies.
One criminal lawyer, Bill Potts, who has numerous bikies listed as clients, likens the new laws to smashing a walnut with a sledgehammer.
“Things have gone mad in Queensland, it’s just incredible,” he said.
“The bikie laws are draconian. I don’t just mean a little bit harsh – they are effectively criminalising association.”
He said the state government had tried to shut down the debate by labelling critics apologists for paedophilia, since laws were widened to include the indefinite detention of sex offenders on the attorney general’s orders. Potts accuses the Courier-Mail newspaper of being a cheerleader for the legislation, citing its decision to put an opinion piece by the head of the CMC supporting the bikie crackdown on the front page as “incredible”.
“The premier starts calling people names and the paper basically joins in with its editorial line that lawyers, libertarians, judges, Fitzgerald, the president of the court of appeal, everyone should just butt out of the debate – which I find amazing for a paper that revels in the idea of freedom of speech,” he said.
Potts’s largest concern is the vagueness of the new laws' wording. He said the definition of “association” in the legislation was “more than three people who joined together for one of the purposes of committing offences of some kind”.
Technically, said Potts, this could apply to more than three people who got together to smoke marijuana or beat someone up, leaving them vulnerable to the 15-year mandatory sentencing.
“It’s really dangerous not because of what they say they intend to with [the laws] but because they are extraordinarily broadly based,” he said.
“I’m not saying the crimes are wonderful but the penalties are so out of whack with the offence that it makes no sense.”
The genesis of the bikie laws that have led to the current wrangling between the government and the judiciary can be pinpointed to 27 September.
That Friday night a brawl involving Bandido bikies broke out in the bustling centre of Broadbeach as people dined in the tourist strip. Headlines screamed of an impending gang war on the Gold Coast.
Eighteen of the bikies were arrested and, in the hours afterwards, 50 Bandidos descended on the Southport police station in which they were held and tried to storm it.
As the tough new laws were announced, the Gold Coast Bulletin ran a front page photo of a bikie who had his face obscured with the headline “We run this town”.
An anonymous patched Bandidos member – one of the 26 gangs listed as a criminal organisation – told the newspaper “nothing will make us leave”. He boasted that if the police spent $20m on ridding the state of bikies, the gang would spent $100m.
"It's a crackup, not a crackdown," said the insider. "It's just crap – this happens every six months.
"If they say no patches or colours, we'll just wear black jumpers with a symbol on the back ... that way we'll know who we are but police won't.
"And we'll do a big recruiting drive. Everyone wants to be a Bandido."
A patched member of a rival bikie gang who did not want himself or his club identified spoke to Guardian Australia in the Brisbane CBD. Wearing a collared, long-sleeved shirt to hide his tattoo, he said many bikies were furious with the Bandidos and what he called a “stupid” interview with the newspaper.
“I don’t want to say the laws are working, because they aren’t,” he said. “At the worst they will push us underground, and I don’t even think that will be for ever, but they are really, really over the top.
“This is a time to keep your head down, and the Bandidos are the reason we are all in this mess. We are all criminals now because of them. You can’t tell me that’s fair. I’m not pretending we are all angels but not every bikie is a drug dealer.”
The bikie said a lot of members of rival gangs were left “completely fucking dumbfounded” when they read reports of Bandidos trying to storm the Southport police station and there was a growing animosity against the gang that started it all.
“If you are going to put on a fucking show in the middle of Broadbeach they you should wear the consequences but they had to push it,” he said.
When asked if there could be private retribution against the Bandidos by other groups he replied: “What? Right now? We don’t have rocks in our heads”.
The bikie said members had already started to feel out their legal options and were happy to see a case being mounted at the high court against the laws.
A senior lecturer in law at Queensland University of Technology, Mark Lauchs, said the new laws were unfair as bikie groups now listed as criminal organisations had no avenue to appeal.
He believed Newman was challenging the judiciary as a pre-emptive move in case the legislation was challenged in the high court.
“My personal suspicion is that this is part of a plan. He is building up a perception with the Queensland public that judges are irresponsible – they’re not elected and anything they say doesn’t represent the public interest.
"[The Queensland government] know that sometime in the next few months the high court is going to say the legislation doesn’t stand up and they’ve got a great response of, ‘It’s not our fault we made bad legislation, it’s once again an unelected judiciary telling you the people of Queensland you can’t be protected.’”
Newman rejected these assertions when they were put to him by Guardian Australia.
Though Lauchs believed the laws “will be knocked on the head”, he thinks Queensland will be rid of bikies in their current form within a year.
“We will be in a situation six to 12 months from now where we will have different legislation because it’s not going to be constitutionally valid and we will be in another stage of the debate.
"But by then the bikies will be well and truly smashed in Queensland, in their current form, absolutely,” he said.
“There’s no room for them to move and what’s going to happen around the country is the other states will now have a green light if not to match Queensland’s legislation, certainly to ramp up the severity of their own legislation on the basis that if they don’t do that, the bikies will come to their state.”
That the laws could be expunged from Queensland’s parliament within a year is cold comfort to people like Agro, who is facing a year of looking over his shoulder every time he goes for a ride or gathers with fellow veterans for Friday night drinks.
He says he will continue to go on rides with the club. They will continue their frequent meetings. They will continue to answer the questions of police when they are pulled over or the next time their club is raided. There is almost no doubt there will be a next time.
“I’m not going to let the law stop me and our club doing what we have done for 25 years. Of course we’re going to get on with our lives, I’m not going to sit down and let them win by doing nothing.
"I served my country for 20-odd years, I’ve been with the motorcycle club for 25 years, we are all ex-soldiers that have served our country. Why would we have to stop doing what we have done all our lives?
“It’s not hard to realise it is taking away the liberty to ride your motorbike down the street and have a good time.”
Newman is a Fucking fool and a dangerous one to boot