Australians are supposed to enjoy five fundamental freedoms: freedom of speech, assembly, religion, movement and association… Unless, of course, you live in Queensland. If you reside in the sunshine state and associate with a motorcyclist (or are one yourself), your freedom seems to take a running leap right out of the closest window.
Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment Act (VLAD). This is the ‘anti-bikie’ law that has generated a fair amount of media hype and attention. VLAD came into effect on 16 October 2013 and has been strongly criticised by judges, lawyers, amnesty groups, human rights groups and various organisations from around the world for the following reasons:
Under the VLAD Act it is now illegal for three or more members of outlaw motorcycle groups and their ‘known’ or ‘alleged’ associates to gather or to meet up with one another. Having a beer with a few mates, strolling down the street to get some ice-cream together or attending the funeral of a friend are now prohibited practices. Police officers maintain the authority to arrest anybody in breach of the VLAD Act.
The VLAD Act gives courts the power to cast harsher sentences on those known to have an association or link to a known motorcycle gang. The courts, under this law, can add fifteen years to an individual’s existing sentence should they have ties to a bikie gang. Individuals who have committed a crime can have their sentence extended by twenty five years if it’s proven that they hold a position of authority within a known bikie gang (such as president, sergeant-at-arms, enforcer, treasurer et cetera).
People who can be linked to known bikie gangs through familial connections, a friendly association, a former business association or a former member association can be denied employment. This aspect of the law has affected the lives of many generally law-abiding citizens – particularly tradesmen, tattooists and tow truck drivers. Many tradesmen have been denied electrical licenses because of former associations.
Peter Simpson, State Secretary of the Electrical Trades Union is backing the United Motorcycle Council’s High Court challenge of VLAD. He has stated that the government has gone too far and is imposing the right of union members and workers to earn an honest living. Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson seems to be in agreement with Simpson, saying that the VLAD laws ‘demonstrate the worst consequences of what happens when people are treated as groups under the law instead of as individuals’. Wilson has suggested that the Queensland government should be punishing people for criminal conduct as opposed to association.
During an Australian Lawyers Alliance conference in Queensland, Senior Barrister Stephen Keim said that VLAD laws, ‘may well impale the hopes and dreams of generally law-abiding families on a stake of injustice’. Keim highlighted how the laws prevent people from working and making an honest. He has suggested that instead of achieving the aim of decreasing crime, the law will in effect only increase crime because, ‘if people are prevented from earning a living, eventually they have to steal bread’.
While public opinion seems to be somewhat divided, the three aforementioned spokespersons put forward the real issues that people on either side of the fence need to address.
The criminals of the motorcycle world are simply driving their criminal endeavours further underground in an effort to avoid police detection or scrutiny. This law is simply breeding a smarter criminal.
There should never be a law that tells you who you can and cannot associate with; it reeks of prejudice and discrimination. We should all have the freedom to choose who we surround ourselves with. If the government one day decided to enact a law that would forbid me from associating with my own friends, I would be rightly pissed off and do everything and anything to get around that law. My friends are like an extension of my family and no one should have the right to keep me from seeing them.
As for the people who are being denied employment opportunities because of ties to motorcycle gangs, all I can say is that I hope that the High Court overturns VLAD. Denying people a right to earn an honest living and the means to provide for themselves and/or their families is unjust. After all, aren’t we the country that gives the poor bloke a fair go?
Written by Rhianna Caley
Illustration: Veronica Mellere