Civil Liberties

Rebel Without a Legislative Act



Think waiting in a long queue at the airport landing mat is the worst part of arrival? Try getting bludgeoned to death moments after exiting the plane.

Gang warfare erupted in Sydney Airport's domestic Qantas terminal yesterday when up to 15 bikies fatally bashed a rival in front of terrified passengers.

The 28-year-old man, believed to be a member of a bikie gang, was treated for severe head injuries at the airport but later died at the Prince of Wales Hospital.

Yeah, a "bikie gang" sounds more like a bunch of boys terrorizing across the playground on Fisher-Price trikes. But the incident has rekindled debate about how to control gang violence, and Australian officials are calling for national legislation that would make bikie gangs—and membership in them—illegal.

An "anti-bikie" law already exists in South Australia, and New South Wales is looking at similar legislation, which allows the attorney general to declare gangs and organizations illegal "without any challenge or appeal." Groups more dangerous than motorcycle gangs have also begun making a fuss about the proposed law in NSW, which could extend far beyond the asphalt:

Lawyers and human rights defenders representing six groups have written to the [NSW] Premier, Nathan Rees, demanding to know why they were not consulted on the plan to extend already "unnecessary" police powers.

The NSW Attorney-General introduced legislation to Parliament this month that would allow police to search the homes of people not suspected of any crime, but whose homes adjoined those of people who are. The laws build on state terrorism legislation in 2002.

Bikie gangs are preparing for a real fight by—yep—banding together. Objecting to their freedom of assembly rights (among others) being violated, motorcyclists have formed a political party, Free Australia, as well as organizing poker runs protesting legislation.

As today's op-ed in the Sydney Morning Herald shows, the debate hasn't divided the country between upright citizens and mangy motorcycle thugs. The SMH sums up the argument pretty well:

Immediately after Sunday's events, politicians vied with each other to look tough…

This State Government passes draconian laws too readily. NSW already has perhaps the harshest anti-terrorism laws in the country. The Government is seeking, unjustifiably in our view, to extend to other crimes than terrorism the right of police to search houses covertly. Introducing South Australian-style gang laws, which allow the Police Commissioner and the Attorney-General to proscribe organisations while keeping secret their reasons for doing so, is a dangerous overreaction - one which infringes on ordinary democratic rights while not addressing the problem.   

… The various outrages committed in Sydney's continuing gang war - assaults, drive-by shootings, murders - are already illegal. So, of course, are drug-dealing and gun-running….

Like anti-terrorism laws, this legislation blurs the lines between real threats and government nuisances. The distinction, though, should be clear. That is, until Hezbollah members jump on the back of Harleys and call themselves the Hell's Bowlers.

Reason has discussed Australia's disdain for gang fun before.