Published on February 24th, 2015 | by Eva Cripps
THE BEAT GOES ON IN QUEENSLAND
Sometimes miracles really do happen. At least, if you call the result of a dedicated, sustained and consistent campaign a miracle. After less than three years in Government, and a tense two weeks after the closest of elections, the Queensland Liberal National Party has been unceremoniously ousted. Former Premier Campbell Newman, the man who led the LNP to such resounding success in the 2012 election, was dumped by his electorate in a move that can only be described as glorious.
Now the LNP returns to the shadows with a not-so-fresh leader. Newman is gone, as is former Police Minister Jack Dempsey, who has stopped making no apologies for supporting the destruction of basic human rights. And despite being re-elected, former Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie is so conspicuously absent, one might think he’s been hidden in a cupboard somewhere.
Now, with the new Labor Government Cabinet sworn in, it is time to refocus on the importance of the Rule of Law and remind the new Attorney-General just why so many people were offended by Bleijie, Dempsey and Newman’s attacks on civil liberties.
The Rule of Law, a mystery to so many not long ago, is characterised by a number of key principles:
- Equality before the law
- Presumption of innocence
- The right to a fair trial
- Independence of the judiciary from the government
- Open and transparent administration of the law
It is well established that the Government can override these fundamental principles with legislation. And so we saw the former Attorney-General do just that, with laws that not only violated the basics of Australia’s justice system but also internationally accepted human rights.
Bleijie’s laws did not punish people for crimes committed; his laws targeted people for who they were, based on an arbitrary declaration of the criminality of a whole list of one percent motorcycle clubs. Any person associated with the clubs could potentially fall foul of a number of draconian provisions, including being together in public in a group of three or more, attending declared addresses, having certain items in possession on licenced premises and extra prison time for offences, simply because of their association with a declared club.
Despite the High Court ruling that some of the laws were valid, this was not a comment on the fairness or appropriateness of the laws, but rather evidence of how little protection Australians have from fascist governments who do not care for equality, justice or fairness.
And now, with a new Attorney-General sworn in, there is hope for the return of the Rule of Law, hope for fairness and hope for basic civil liberties.
Much criticism has already been thrown at Labor, some because of its own suite of anti-association type laws enacted in 2009. However despite the repugnant nature of any anti-association laws, Labor’s version did at least require evidence of engagement in ‘organised crime’ and the declaration of a ‘criminal organisation’ to be made by the courts. This is a key difference between the Labor and LNP versions. Labor also initially supported the LNP’s laws after assurances from Bleijie that only actual criminals would be targeted. Trusting Bleijie was seriously questionable, but given his fierce opposition to Labor’s laws in 2009, it was hardly surprising he was taken at his word.
In a positive sign, during her first week as Attorney-General, Yvette D’Ath has promised a Royal Commission into organised crime in Queensland, which focusses specifically on organised crime, rather than bikies. D’Ath has gained small points of credibility by pointing out that evidence suggests organised crime is committed by a broad range of people. Given that bikies allegedly account for less than 1% of crime, and even the Australian Crime Commission has acknowledged that bikies are not major players in organised crime, this is a refreshing statement from the newly appointed Attorney-General.
In another refreshing move, D’Ath has stated on record that no convictions have resulted from Blieijie’s suite of draconian laws, despite them being enacted almost 18 months ago. For well over a year, Bleijie, Newman and Dempsey had continuously bleated that the laws were responsible for massive reductions in crime and that their war on bikies had been a resounding success.
D’Ath’s admission, within her first few days, is consistent with what every person other than the deluded LNP and their supporters have been saying for months. No one has been convicted under Bleijie’s new laws. The crime rate, manipulated, grossly exaggerated and with specific types of crime conveniently removed by Newman for a more favourable public perception, has been on a steady decline of approximately 2% per year for the past decade. Drugs are still readily and freely available in Queensland. The laws have had no discernible impact on ‘organised crime’.
D’Ath has also publicly acknowledged that innocent people have been caught up in the draconian laws and that its broad-reaching nature has caused problems for law-abiding people.
The admissions by the new Government are a good sign.
But words are meaningless without actions.
Fortunately, the Labor Government requires the support of Independent MP, Peter Wellington, to pass any legislation and he has been a vocal critic of the laws since the arrest of the Yandina 5. Like the Labor MP’s, Wellington initially took Bleijie at his word, but as soon as he realised the gross application and reality of the legislation, he has fought tirelessly to see them repealed.
The first step is for the Royal Commission and independent taskforce to be established to examine the true nature of organised crime and to fully review Bleijie’s terrible legislation.
But Queenslanders must call for more than this.
In the interests of fairness, accountability and good faith, a moratorium must be placed on the application of the laws until the conclusion of the review. And in light of the High Court judgment, where the most eminently qualified Justices ruled that the Crown must provide evidence that the declared clubs are in fact criminal organisations, the State must immediately disclose the evidence on which Bleijie relied to make his declarations.
And it would be unquestioningly fair for those so far charged under the anti-association provisions, the most offensive of Bleijie’s attacks on civil liberties, to have the charges dropped.
Those fighting against Bleije’s draconian laws have been accused of all manner of things, including being ‘criminal sympathisers’, not caring about the safety of women and children and supporting the nefarious activities of drug lords and violent criminals.
Those against the new laws have never opposed the fair, reasonable and ethical application of previously existing criminal laws to keep Queenslanders safe.
Opponents to Bleijie’s destruction of human rights have never argued against laws that applied equally to all people, with guilt or innocence determined by the courts and punishment proportionate to the crime.
All that is asked for now is that legislators adhere to the Rule of Law, that the Queensland Police Service applies the laws fairly and ethically, and that the judiciary be allowed its independence.
It is up to the new Government to rebuild the trust of Queenslanders. It must demonstrate its commitment to transparency, honesty and accountability.
These things should be simple in a democracy.
The fight will continue.