On 31 March, the Taskforce on Organised Crime Legislation handed its report to Attorney-General Yvette D’Aath. The Taskforce was entrusted to review a raft of legislation passed in 2013 by the former Newman Government, the most prominent of which was the Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment Act 2013 (Qld), better known as the ‘VLAD Act’.
The VLAD laws, aimed at combatting crime by bikie gangs, introduced many severe restrictions and penalties for members of declared organisations, including an additional 15 years over and above normal sentences for ‘declared offences’, which ranged from robbery, to drug offences, to sexual offences. If the accused was an ‘office bearer’ of a declared association, they could expect to receive a further 10 years on top of that (25 extra years in total). These punishments could only be mitigated by cooperation with the police.
Other restrictions introduced by the VLAD and other legislation included offences for gatherings of three or more members of declared organisations and the refusal of bail unless defendants could show detention was unjustified. The police were also given vastly increased search and investigation powers in relation to declared organisations and their members.
The Taskforce’s report is yet to be released in full to the public; however several recommendations have been revealed in a Government media release on 4 April. In particular, the Taskforce stated that the mandatory additional sentences of 15 and 25 years were “excessively harsh”, suggesting that these provisions should be replaced by an aggravated version of serious organised crime offences.
The anti-association measures have also been recommended for removal in favour of a ‘consorting’ offence, which requires the police to warn persons not to meet with others who have previous convictions and for that warning to be disobeyed before charges can be laid. Control orders similar to those used for terror suspects and sexual offenders have also been proposed. Lastly, the bail provisions requiring accused persons to show cause were recommended to be repealed.
The Queensland Government has accepted all of these recommendations, save for those as to bail, which it has not yet addressed. The Government has also stated it intends to maintain the closure of motorcycle clubhouses and banning of club colours in licensed venues, a prohibition which is to be extended to other public areas.
There is still limited detail as to the form the proposed changes will take, and there are far more recommendations, 60 in total, which have not yet been fully disclosed. Nonetheless, amending legislation has been planned to be introduced to Parliament in August 2016 and passed before the year is over.
The Government has stated that new laws are to serve the dual purpose of protecting Queenslanders from organised crime, and of being resistant to legal challenge, which was reported to be a vulnerability of the 2013 legislation. This objective may soon enough be put to the test, as motorcycle club representatives have already flagged a challenge to the High Court.