The push to ban 1% bikers hit a brick wall yesterday when the High Court of Australia ruled that laws aimed at preventing association between South Australian motorcycle club members offended the national constitution.
It wasn’t even close, the High Court beaks voted 6-1 and awarded costs against the SA Government. That’s got to sting.
Able legal minds predicted this from the beginning. A law that allowed a politician, in this case the SA Attorney General, to effectively declare an organisation as a criminal gang was always going to offend the principle of the seperation of powers under the constitution. Throw in the fact that the SA laws provided that the evidence used to ban the bikers would be secret and unchallengeable and this was always diabolically bad law.
Proposed anti-association laws in NSW, Queensland and Western Australia varied slightly in form and detail but will all be undermined by the High Court’s decision. The crux of the decision was that the Executive cannot usurp the Judiciary’s function in determining criminality. The Queensland bikers are next in the High Court and must be at short odds to win also.
As I understand it, lawyers from the SA A-G’s department told the government as far back as 2006 that they could not draft such laws without offending the constitution. The public servants were told just to get on with it.
So the estimated $10 million spent on these failed laws looks a monumental waste of money. However, the threat of banning has brought SA’s outlaw bikers together under the United Motorcycle Council banner. There’s been hardly a peep out of them since the UMC was formed, certainly no public violence or disorder.
As the UMC leaders said yesterday the SA government has “unified, politicised and legalised” the clubs. But it’s also led the bikers to re-assess their values and image at a club level. There’s no doubt that some clubs brought the heat down on themselves by failing to control the criminal elements in their ranks.
But having been through this experience, the bikers may look more closely at the real cost of protecting and defending criminals who are really only motivated by personal gain.
The verdict was a victory for the progressive thinkers in the clubs who realised that without some form of public engagement their way of life was doomed. Let’s hope next time governments think twice about catching bogeymen by removing civil liberties from the rest of us.
Of course, this is not over, the moral panic over bikers never really goes away. Just how the clubs evolve will be fascinating to watch. But one hopes the old feuds between clubs are over. It’s hard to hate someone you have stood shoulder to shoulder with, as the UMC delegates have.