Jarrod Bleijie vows to tackle 'myths' of Qld's bikie laws
ATTORNEY General Jarrod Bleijie has switched into "myth buster" mode to answer misconceptions about his anti-crime laws.
The slate of new laws and amendments came into force late last year to counteract organised crime in Queensland.
However, the Government's campaign has been strongly criticised, particularly by Rebel bikies, who've compared Mr Bleijie and Premier Campbell Newman to Hitler, and warn the laws are compromising everyone's freedoms.
However, Mr Bleijie has now spoken out to assure Queenslanders that the intent of the laws is simple: to disrupt, destabilise and destroy criminal groups - from outlaw bikie gangs, through to mafia-style organisations, Asian crime groups and paedophile rings.
He said those not linked to criminal organisations had absolutely nothing to fear.
"These laws are never designed to go after innocent Queenslanders," Mr Bleijie said in an exclusive interview with APN.
"We've said all along, if you're not a participant in a criminal gang, you've got nothing to worry about.
"I am frustrated when I read reports that every community group is now caught under these laws; well, unless community groups are committing serious crimes ... and the purpose of that organisation is to commit these crimes - not knitting or artwork or quilts - then they're fine.
"If we have organisations in Queensland whose purpose is a criminal purpose, then they'll be captured."
Criticism of the Government's campaign has centred mainly on the Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment - or VLAD - Act, but the initiative actually involves three new laws and various amendments.
As part of the overall anti-crime initiatives, the new VLAD Act introduces additional jail time for criminal gang members who commit serious offences - 15 extra years for participants and a further 10 extra years if they're also an office bearer.
The sentences come into effect only if it is proved that the offender is a participant in a criminal organisation and the offence was committed in the course of his or her participation in that organisation.
"In other words, people who simply happen to know or be related to a gang member have nothing to worry about," Mr Bleijie said.
"It targets only people who participate in the gang."
"There's been a lot of fear mongering and misinformation out there from some quarters and I wanted to personally sit down and bust the myths that are out there, and set the record straight in terms of why we're doing what we're doing with criminal gangs," Mr Bleijie said.
"It's a fairly strong piece of legislation in sentencing, but the element of that - and that's why we've called it the disestablishment legislation - is to break these gangs up.
"It's about getting these gang members dobbing on each other, it's about getting these gang members not wanting to participate, and the carrot for getting them to do that is they won't suffer the consequences of potentially spending 25 years mandatory sentencing; if you cooperate with police and if you give information to police that leads to other convictions then you can have your sentence reduced.
"If it can be shown on the evidence that the organisation that you're involved in has not, as one of its purposes, criminal activity, then the judge can say the organisation is not a criminal organisation for the purpose of that activity, then they can't be charged under that particular legislation."
In company with the VLAD laws, the Government modified the Criminal Code Act to include a list of declared criminal organisations - currently only bikie clubs - as well as three new related offences - that of participants gathering in groups of three or more, participants visiting locations like clubhouses, and participants recruiting for their organisations.
However, other criminal organisations are also covered by the code.
"That's what we're trying to stop," Mr Bleijie said, "so the best thing we can do is not having these people publicly associating, not having these people in licensed premises, not having these people gathering, because the more in number, the greater the fear, and that's their whole plan, that is their purpose of intimidating the public and getting what they want."
The code had already defined "criminal organisation" to mean an organisation that has as its purpose to engage in criminal activity.
It also clarifies that a "participant" is anyone who professes in any way to be involved in a criminal organisation, or who seeks to be a member, or who has attended more than one gathering of the organisation.
The latest element of the LNP Government's crime fighting initiative is the introduction of the Tattoo Parlours Act, which creates a licensing regime for tattoo outlets and bans members of criminal organisations from owning tattoo parlours.
The laws come into effect in July.
The bans follow similar safeguards for other industries, including building, towing, pawnshops and second-hand dealerships, horse racing and electricians.
"No one wants locksmiths, working on their houses, that are criminal gang related, which is happening, no one wants security systems installed in their houses from criminal gang members.
"No one wants community groups to have fundraisers with security guards that have criminal gang links, no one want to go to a nightclub and have a good night out on the town and be questioned by a bouncer who's a criminal gang member."
Despite ongoing criticism, including a number of public protest rallies against the laws, Mr Bleijie and Premier Newman have maintained their resolve against organised crime in Queensland.
They say the results speak for themselves.
So far, the Government reports 565 criminal motorcycle gang participants and associates have been arrested on 1219 charges, including extortion, and drug and violence offences.
"If you look at these laws over the last four months, every clubhouse in Queensland now is not on Friday and Saturday nights, holding their functions, these members are not wearing their colours in public, they're not in the majority meeting in public places, if they are they're getting arrested, I think that's a good thing for the community because it's breaking that culture," Mr Bleijie said.
"Queenslanders own these cities and community members should be able to freely participate in our communities without that fear and intimidation; that's what these laws are designed to go after."
THE VLAD LAWS
Criminal Code Act
PARTICIPANT, in a criminal organisation, means-
(a) if the organisation is a body corporate-a director or officer of the body corporate; or
(b) a person who (whether by words or conduct, or in any other way) asserts, declares or advertises his or her membership of, or association with, the organisation; or
(c) a person who (whether by words or conduct, or in any other way) seeks to be a member of, or to be associated with, the organisation; or
(d) a person who attends more than 1 meeting or gathering of persons who participate in the affairs of the organisation in any way; or
(e) a person who takes part in the affairs of the organisation in any other way; but does not include a lawyer acting in a professional capacity.
Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment Act 2013
Aims: to severely punish criminal organisation members who commit serious offences; to encourage members to cooperate with law enforcement to avoid severe penalties; and break the morale of members.
The new punishment regime applies to a person who:
*participates in the affairs of a criminal association; and,
*commits a declared offence for the purpose of participation in the affairs of the association
Such an offender will be sentenced for the declared offence and will also receive a further 15 years imprisonment.
If the vicious lawless associate was, at the time of the offence, an office bearer, they will receive a further 10 years imprisonment.