Queensland’s well-intentioned “anti-bikie” laws appear to have spectacularly backfired on their proponents.
Premier Newman was itching for a fight when he introduced the sudden-death measures that can see a citizen jailed for just walking down the street, depending only on who is accompanying him. In a serious miscalculation of the mood of the electorate, the ruling LNP party risks losing up to 30 seats as a result of the ham-fisted pitch for an over-the-top law & order agenda some higher-ups thought was a “no-brainer”.
“Opinion is now divided on whether the laws were needed in the first place, and the majority of Queenslanders are of the opinion that Mr Newman has done a poor job introducing the new laws,’’ according to Galaxy pollster David Briggs.
Among other things, it is now illegal for suspected criminal gang “participants” to associate with each other in groups of three or more. Courts must refuse bail – even for the mere “associating with one another” offence – unless it is convincingly persuaded otherwise.
The Yandina Five – three of whom are from the same family and who claim to have merely been enjoying a drink at the local pub – has become a cause célèbre and a major challenge for authorities seeking to win over the hearts and minds of voters.
Just when things appear to be settling down – after one batch of “offenders” is bailed and returned home to their wives and children pending trial – more arrests seemingly just as arbitrary as those before them, disturb the public mood.
Despite the “no bail” presumption, only a handful – those against whom the evidence of actual criminal activity is compelling or who refuse to renounce their club allegiances – have not been bailed. The arrest and jailing of a Brisbane City Council library assistant – the first woman charged under the laws – for wearing club colours into the Dayboro Hotel in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, has given a new dimension to the controversy and escalated public disquiet.
Few, however, dispute the premise that stand-over tactics, protection rackets, money laundering and meth dealing must be dealt a heavy blow. Few are enamoured with violent bikies. A pleasing feature of the Australian character is though, that we enjoy a finely honed sense of fairness and we can smell from a long way off, what is beyond the pale.
Just look at the population’s overwhelming disapproval of Schapelle Corby’s lengthy harsh imprisonment and the death row sentences for the Bali Nine. Draconian penalties may actually work, they may even eradicate drug use; but Australians are just not prepared to pay the social cost of that order of enforcement. Some measures, no matter how effective, are just unpalatable.
To prove the point, a Galaxy poll conducted by The Courier-Mail in February demonstrates that Premier Newman’s hostility even risks his own seat of Ashgrove and that his administration’s popularity slump is connected with uneasiness with his shoot-from-the-hip outbursts.
The recent landslide in the Redcliffe by-election to labour is proof of the mood of the electorate. The Premier’s solution is to hire PR consultants at a cost of $500,000 on top of the money already spent on advertising, to favourably spruik the measures. The trials of the “offenders” for merely associating with one another will begin soon. They face up to 12 months imprisonment in solitary if convicted for doing only that, walking down the street or drinking in a pub.
The Premier is either astonishingly brave or surprisingly foolish if he thinks the Queensland public will stomach family men and women being carted off to the cooler for drinking with a mate in their local.