The Queensland Government has recently tabled its proposed amendments to the organised crime scheme set up by the previous Newman Government. The amendments, laid out in the Serious and Organised Crime Legislation Amendment Bill 2016, fundamentally re-shape the controversial 2013 laws, which were spearheaded by the much-criticised “VLAD Act” – the Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment Act 2013.
The Rule of Law Institute of Australia was a staunch opponent of much of the 2013 suite of laws. These laws, and in particular the VLAD Act, were “emotively charged”, “manifestly excessive” and “too broad”.
The Institute’s concerns about the laws were borne out by the findings of the Taskforce on Organised Crime Legislation, chaired by former Queensland Supreme Court Justice Alan Wilson, which issued its report on the legislation earlier this year. The Taskforce made a number of recommendations in line with the Institute’s concerns.
As a result of the Wilson Report, and the continuing criticism of the 2013 suite of laws by the Institute and other parties, the Queensland Government has proposed a series of sweeping amendments.
Included in these amendments are the complete repeal of the VLAD Act, important reforms to the Queensland bail scheme, the removal of mandatory sentences for failure to comply with Crime and Corruption Commission orders, and increased data gathering, reporting requirements, and oversight through the Public Interest Monitor.
The Institute commends these proposed amendments.
Nevertheless, the Bill raises other potential concerns. These include the system of Public Safety Orders, Restricted Premises Orders, and Fortification Removal Orders, all of which indicate a continued focus on pre-emptive policing, rather than court-sanctioned punishment following conviction of a particular criminal offence. The Institute acknowledges the legitimate interest and role of the government in protecting community safety, but also re-iterates the importance of individual liberties. The Institute will be following the debate about the proposed amendments closely, to ensure that the apparent nationwide trend towards pre-emptive restrictions on individual rights in the name of fighting crime does not swing too far in favour of law enforcement agencies.
The Institute also notes the proposed introduction of a consorting offence, based on the offence contained in current NSW legislation. Although the proposed Queensland offence adds further safeguards above and beyond those contained in NSW legislation, including intention requirements and a more appropriate understanding of Indigenous kinship ties, the Institute re-iterates its concerns about offences that interfere with common law rights and freedoms, like the freedom of association.
The Government’s Bill will now proceed to review by a parliamentary committee, which will inform the parliamentary debate to be had later this year. The Institute commends the Government for this consultative approach, which is in stark contrast to the approach taken by the Newman Government in its introduction of the 2013 laws. The Institute is hopeful that this approach will help iron out any incoherence in the proposed amendments, and avoid the difficulties and confusion that clouded the 2013 laws.
The Institute will continue to monitor the debate in Queensland, and advocate for strong anti-organised-crime legislation that gives law enforcement agencies the powers they need, helps to protect community safety and disrupt criminal networks, and remains consistent with the important principles that make up the rule of law.