Category: Editorial

Gypsy Joker Protest Run SA Anti-Association Laws

Gypsy Joker Protest Run SA Anti-Association Laws
By Roy Lister from Salisbury North, South Australia (Gypsy Joker Protest Run) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Just recently the government passed the The Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment Act 2013.  There are some misunderstandings relating to the scope of this Act, the primary one being the misperception that the Act targets bikies specifically.  There is a separate piece of legislation, the Criminal Law Amendment Act, that deals with proscribed clubs and the offences of members of proscribed clubs not being allowed to meet in groups larger than three.

(A list of proscribed clubs is available in Schedule 2 of the Criminal Law (Criminal Organisations Disruption) Amendment Act 2013)

You don’t have to be a member of a proscribed club to be prosecuted under the VLAD laws.

Here is a scary example: one of the declared offences is “receive tainted property”. Say you are the member of a camera club and you purchase a camera off another member that turns out to be stolen and the police charge you with receipt of stolen goods. Unless you can prove that it is not a standard practice of the club to deal in stolen property, you are a Vicious Lawless Associate. The burden of proof is on the accused. You are guilty until proven innocent. If you cannot prove the club does not have as one of it’s purposes the trade in stolen items, the magistrate will be required to sentence you to 15 years in jail (25 years if you hold an office bearing position in the club). The magistrate has no choice in this; the prescribed sentences are mandatory.

Your only real hope is that you can prove through a lack of history of offences involving the club that your claim that the club’s purpose does not involve trading stolen goods is accepted, but the potential for abuse of this by police intent on getting “results” is high. When the burden of proof is on the accused, you rely on the good will of the accuser, which is a dangerous thing in the hands of police. It minimises accountability.

Another example: Marijuana is considered a ‘Dangerous Drug’ under the Drugs Misuse Act 1986.  Under the VLAD Act, a Declared Offence includes Possession of a Dangerous Drug.  For the purposes of the VLAD Act, an Association is defined as a corporation, an incorporated association, a club or league, or “any other group of 3 or more persons by whatever name called, whether associated formally or informally and whether the group is legal or illegal.”

In other words, if three people or more are arrested by the police in the process of sharing a ‘joint’, and the police decide to call the group an association, the person in possession of the marijuana will have to prove to a court that possessing or dealing in marijuana was not an activity of the association.  It is clear that if three people were involved in a murder, that they were a Vicious Lawless Association and the maximum jail term of 15 years on top of whatever sentence they receive for the actual murder or attempted murder wouldn’t seem quite so unfair.  But under the VLAD Act there is no differentiation in sentencing.  Even if the normal sentence for possession of marijuana is a stiff fine, the court is required to sentence the possessor of the marijuana to 15 years, UNLESS they can prove the possession of the marijuana was not an intended activity of the ‘association’.

In cases such as “Dangerous Operation of a Motor Vehicle” (a declared offence) some people would be inclined to say “they deserve to go to jail”.  Some might even say that a young car club member at a Show n Shine doing a burnout (“Dangerous Operation of a Motor Vehicle”) deserves to go to jail for 15 years, though I suggest that most would see that as far too harsh.  Likewise, does someone really deserve to go to jail for smoking a joint with friends?

It may not often come to this, but past experience has shown that when police are given such overarching powers, they tend to use them.  Even a few such miscarriages of justice would be too many.

Even in a case where an actual bikie or criminal is being charged with a declared offence, do they really deserve to have 15-25 years tapped on top of the sentence they receive for the actual criminal act? Do we trust over-zealous police to recognise when a bikie has committed an act that is not part of his or her club’s purpose?  Is a bikie acting alone more culpable than any other criminal acting alone?  Or do people at large really believe that organised criminals or no longer entitled to the same due process that the rest of us are entitled to?  And do they sit in their ivory towers (sic) believing that because they don’t smoke dope, don’t do burn outs, are never likely to commit any of the offences on the declared offences list (and many are admittedly horrific offences that committers wouldn’t obtain much sympathy for) that they can sit back self-righteously and ignore the potential abuse of process that this legislation invites?

This kind of “it’s okay, because they are bad people” legislation is a slippery slope.  Once it’s okay to treat ‘associates’ more harshly than individuals, it takes very little for the government to expand the meaning of ‘association’ and ‘declared offences’. The police service will be aching at the bit to use these powers to rein in criminal activity that is not gang related (such as low level drug dealing).  The government will be eager to expand the list of declared offences to deal with activity they deem politically unsavoury.  How soon before protest groups are targeted, or unions?

The legislation is a minefield and is not targeted at bikies alone but any group that the government or police arbitrarily decide is a threat to law and order.

Read the Bill here: The Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment Act 2013

Guest Lawyers analysis: Are You A Vicious Lawless Associate?

Legal Aid QLD: Drug Offences

Supporting notes for the VLAD Bill


Much is said about Labor having lost power because of ongoing internal division. But while there is no doubt some truth to that, the underlying causes go much deeper. Party disunity is only a symptom of a deeper problem; the march of Labor to the right of the political spectrum. There has been no groundswell of support for Abbott, with only a 3.5 percent swing to Liberals. Labour has won around 47% of the vote, Liberals around 53% on two party preferred basis. The groundswell has been towards informal voting, a marked increase this election (from 5.5 in 2010 to 5.9 this election, with scrutineers in some electorates commenting that most of the informal ballots had not been marked in anyway indicating a clear statement of disaffection), and increasing numbers of people not voting and not enrolling to vote. Young people, without seeing any leadership on issues that concern them, aren’t bothering to enrol to vote, and in increasing numbers. Parties such as Palmer United are attracting some of those votes, with touchy feely policies that offer a hope of a better Australia, attracting some of the Labor faithful, without revealing exactly how they propose to go about fulfilling their policies. In reality these parties are more right wing than Liberal or Labor and will only offer harsher solutions than already on offer. But people need to feel hope, so they are turning to these fringe parties in larger numbers than ever.

When Rudd took over reigns of the leadership the second time, there was a rush of support for Labor. Under Gillard, Labor faithful had become disillusioned with the continual placating of right wing interests. With Rudd there was a sense that the Labor party would go back to it’s roots, that Rudd would come in fighting like he did against the Mining Industry prior to being sacked by his own party. Sacked because the right wing Murdoch media had created an atmosphere of public discontent that didn’t actually represent reality, but which the right wing element of the Labor party took advantage of to justify their actions.

And then Rudd released his PNG Solution. Any hope Labor faithful had then was dashed. Any chance that Labor may have picked up disaffected voters and socially progressive young first time voters dissolved. That one act confirmed once and for all that Labor was indeed, no different to the Liberals.

Obama, in a speech today amid a worsening situation in Syria, downplayed the possibility of US intervention without a UN mandate and the backing of a coalition:  “If the U.S. goes in and attacks another country without a U.N. mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it — do we have the coalition to make it work?”  On the surface, Obama’s speech appears to be advising caution on Syria, but similar language has been used prior to previous wars.  Is this speech a veiled call to former Iraq War coalition partners?

Rudd has called a halt to the election campaign today in order to seek a briefing about the situation in Syria.  And on September 1st, Australia will begin it’s one month tenure as President of the UN Security council.  Is the briefing Rudd is seeking really about the US wanting Australia to exert pressure on the Security Council in favour of intervention?

Time will tell.

There is a very good article on The Guardian at the moment that exposes more detail about NSA data collection (see here) but I would question some of the conclusions. The headline makes it seem like XKeyscore is collecting all internet activity on every user but this is not the case. The term used by the NSA material, “nearly everything a typical user does on the internet”, means that they collect nearly all the types of data an internet user generates: browsing history, email, chat, social media etc. Not that they collect all the information in those data classes for all users.

The XKeyscore database collects data from various sources including prism, ISP taps etc. It can hold the data usually for only 3 days or so before it has to be rolled off to make room for new data.

When Snowden says all he needs is an email and he can access all the data for any individual, he has to be exaggerating. For a start pop email accounts download mail from the server onto the end user’s computer which is protected behind a home or business hardware firewall – NSA will not be able to access this data just by “filling in an online form”. Also people with their own domains may or may not be hosted on ISP’s for which NSA have onsite ‘taps’. Users whose email address on social media is different to their personal email address will not be so easily connected – for example the address has no connection with the user’s facebook page.

What Snowden is talking about is the user whose online identity is connected through various cloud providers – for example one email address that forms the basis of their webmail (example gmail which includes email, browsing history etc), facebook, dropbox and so on. For those users, through Prism, an almost complete online history is recoverable. For other online users there will be varying levels of data able to be recovered.

XKeyscore seems to be a data collation program, bringing together data from various NSA sources, as opposed to an overarching data collection mechanism laid over the internet as Snowden and the Guardian article seem to be inferring.

Other than this exaggeration on the part of Snowden, and on the part of the Guardian in the way they have headlined the article, there is some high quality information and is well worth a read.

During Kevin Rudd’s ‘Victory Speech’ on Wednesday, one of the policy directions he alluded to was a move to channel funding from the mining industry to manufacturing:  “There’s a big future for manufacturing under this government”

Despite my misgivings about Rudd, this is something I wholeheartedly agree with. I am a bit over this attitude that Australian manufacturing is dead and that our only option for a strong economic future is to rely on mining. Mining does very little for the average Australian. It makes a very few people very rich.  Manufacturing on the other hand provides jobs, exports, reduced transport costs due to locally produced goods, has flow on benefits for small to medium Australian business and many other benefits to the community.