The togas take on the tattooed toe-rags
[Nota Bene. Toga (L): the dress of the Roman citizen]
Once again, and only in Queensland, can politics truly delight and entertain. To wit, a group of Neanderthal criminals and misfits from the seamier side of town are the handmaiden to one of the most interesting questions of jurisprudence in recent Australian history.
Much to the horror of the legal elites, the Parliament has recently exercised its authority to pass a suite of new anti-racketeering laws targeting the illegal activities of criminal gangs, including criminal bikie gangs, in Queensland. The Queensland Government has identified these as being a danger to public safety and has made a strong commitment to eradicate them.
In making this commitment the Government has employed the full force of the law. It has employed its enforcement arm, the police, to enforce existing laws; it has used the Parliament to introduce further laws to strengthen its hand and it has instructed the judiciary to fully exercise its powers in dealing with such groups and associated individuals brought before the courts.
Specifically, these new laws include the Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment Act 2013, the Tattoo Parlours Act 2013 and the Criminal Law (Criminal Organisations Disruption) Amendment Act 2013.
These reforms introduce new offences; increase penalties; enhance the powers of the Police and the Crime and Misconduct Commission and provide for stricter bail laws. They also provide for appropriate intelligence gathering powers for the CMC to investigate or hold hearings in response to an immediate threat to public safety.
Significantly, the Tattoo Parlours Act will ban members of criminal organisations and their associates from owning, operating or working in body art tattoo parlours. Moreover, the Act introduces a new occupational licensing and regulatory framework. Arguably a long-overdue measure.
Thus are Queenslanders witness to a battle royale between the forces of crime and the legions of order. Predictably the battle has been joined by those strident advocates of law and order of the ‘lock’em up and throw away the key’ variety; and the wailing willies emerging from the dishwater of the civil libertarian and legal industries who see these measures as Draconian and a severe danger to the democratic process. Thus an interesting jurisprudential conundrum.
Let us then look at the Order of Battle.
There is little doubt that the so-called ‘outlaw motor cycle gangs’ are a moral and criminal blight on our society. [A quick teasing question – if they are ‘outlaws’ why are they still at large?] Setting aside this chestnut, the gangs are accepted as being involved in a wide variety of crime ranging from drugs, extortion, sex, money laundering to name just a few. They wear their colours openly and are brazen in their affairs, operating under front businesses and taking effective control of ‘territory’ under the noses of the authorities. How this state of affairs came about in the first place and why the police and the judiciary sat back and did nothing remains a moot point.
Leading the legions of order is the Queensland Government led by Premier Campbell Newman and his politically muscular Attorney-General, Jarrod Bleijie. These two have raised the law and order stakes to a new constitutional level vowing not to back down.
Herein the question becomes interesting.
Queensland is the only state – as opposed to Australian territory – to operate under a unicameral system [single house parliament]. In 2012 Newman won a devastating, overwhelming and decisive victory over the previous government campaigning on a number of matters including inter alia law and order. Furthermore, the parliamentary reforms of the previous government have strengthened the position of Premier and Cabinet in the legislative process.
Thus, technically, is the government able to ramrod any legislation it so desires though parliament. That the bikies are being harassed and their so-called civil liberties abused by a government overwhelmingly popularly elected, and whose actions vis-a-vis the bikies has met with broad community approbation, is happy perchance.
This leads on to the question as to where law resides.
The Attorney General is the highest legal officer in the state. He has an obligation to protect the people and an equal obligation to ensure that the laws made by the people through Parliament are enacted with equity and efficaciously. Speaking directly for the people, through Parliament, Attorney General Bleijie has made it abundantly clear that criminal motor cycle gangs and their individual members will be persecuted and prosecuted until the gangs are smashed. He has assumed and enunciated a responsibility long neglected by previous holders of his office.
His commitment has however been met with outright dismay by the legal industry and civil libertarians who see the new acts of Parliament as an unwarranted and blatant political intrusion into their long held industrial monopoly. Critics have described these measures as Draconian and a severe danger to the democratic process offering various comment about civil liberties, human rights, the sanctity of the law, legal tradition, common law precedence and so forth to justify their arguments.
However, the point conveniently overlooked by these elites is simply this. The law is not the sole preserve of the legal industry. The law is made by the law makers – namely the people – through Parliament. The law does not reside in some abstract sense in the courtroom to be applied by those initiated in legal esotericism. It lies with the people. Even the Australian Constitution can be changed by the people should they so desire.
Putting it bluntly - the elites that constitute the legal industry do not own the law. Judges, lawyers, legal advocates and so forth are not accountable to the people. By contrast, parliamentarians being the law makers are directly accountable to their constituents – the people.
Parliament is the sovereign legislative authority in the constitution. Members of Parliament create written law referred to as legislation or statute law. Once these pass through Parliament they take the form of Acts of Parliament.
The people of Queensland, through their representatives in Parliament, are executing their right to rid their society of criminal gang activity. The Parliament is reclaiming its rightful authority from an unaccountable and unelected authority, namely the judiciary. The latter have only themselves to blame by failing the people in the application of the law.
Rarely is the public witness to such courageous legislative and ministerial action. The people ought to be justly proud of the way their Premier and Attorney General are staring down the legal industry. It is a timely reminder to the legal blowfish that Parliament is the supreme law making body and our representatives are our law makers.
All well and good. So far.
It is to be hoped however that tomorrow the government does not turn its inappropriate attention to, say, sinister spin bowlers. A Frenchman named de Tocqueville wrote presciently on the subject in the 1830s. The argument as to whether Queensland would be better served by having a bi-cameral [two house] legislative system is indeed a moot point. But it is a distinctly different point to the one under discussion.
Today, we the people have chosen to exercise our legal prerogative to exorcize a serious canker from the body politik. Amen to that. For now.