News & Current Affairs

By Satomi Hamon


Pushing back against anti-consorting laws

The ACT Government, lawyers and civil libertarians have pushed back against renewed calls from the opposition for anti-consorting laws in the ACT, following Canberra’s third bikie-related shooting in a fortnight.

The laws, which were previously proposed in the ACT, would make it an offence to associate with convicted criminals –  with no right to appeal the decision in an ACT court.

The ACT police minister, Mick Gentleman, has pushed back against the opposition’s renewed calls, the Canberra Times reports. Mr Gentleman says he was alarmed by the recent spate of bikie activity but was concerned about the human rights aspect of anti-consorting laws.

“I haven’t received any evidence to see that they would work in the ACT,” Mr Gentleman said.

“It’s the human rights of innocent Canberrans that could come into play, so that’s the concern that we have.”

Similar civil liberty-oriented opposition has come from law associations, unions and the human rights watchdog who have claimed the laws would impinge on Canberrans’ right to free association.

NSW introduced anti-consorting laws in April 2012, following a spate of gun violence involving bikies and organised crime groups. The laws carry a maximum three years imprisonment for people who continue to associate with convicted offenders after receiving an official warning from police.

A three-year review of the laws, conducted by the ombudsman’s office in 2016, found that the laws are being used by NSW police to tackle minor crimes and are hitting vulnerable groups including Aboriginal people, children and the homeless.

The first use of the laws in NSW, saw an intellectually disabled man jailed after meeting with his bikie friends in 2012.

He eventually had the conviction set aside.

“Offences that criminalise the act of associating with a particular class of individual should have no place in a modern democratic society,” ACT’s Human Rights Commissioner Dr Helen Watchirs has said.