EDITORIAL TUESDAY 24.03.09.
In the wake of the bikie brawl at Sydney Airport and the spate of shooting attacks in the past week, it would be entirely reasonable to ask if we are safe in our own streets anymore. It certainly appears that there has been an escalation of violence which has now gotten so far out of hand that it randomly and unpredictably threatens the safety of innocent bystanders. That being the case, it is equally understandable that the government’s first response is to dedicate more police officers to the task, and to follow up with new laws to confront the problem.
At the same time, those who call themselves outlaws now seem to be angered that the law is focusing its attention on them. People identifying themselves as either bikers or associated with bikers have called my program to complain that they are being unfairly targeted by the authorities because of an incident which was unplanned, and got out of hand. They have said it was a mistake. While it may have been a mistake, it is a mistake which cannot be undone.
While it would be unfair to describe all people who love bikes as thugs and criminals, it is clear that criminal activity is well entrenched inside the gangs calling themselves clubs. While they keep their activities within the confines of their own circle many people would be happy to leave them to their own devices. Traditionally, this is exactly the attitude that bikies have encouraged through a combination of fear and myth, which leads to a kind of “leave us alone and we’ll leave you alone” trade off. The problem is that such an attitude does nothing to change the fact that the drug dealing, the prostitution, the thuggery all remain illegal.
Having allowed matters to get so far out of hand that the public is now fearful for their safety, it should be no surprise to the bikies that the public is ready to strike back. To whinge about being unfairly targeted is to deny any responsibility or culpability for belonging to a world where being outside the law is seen as an honor, and breaking the law as a lifestyle choice. Well, it may be a choice, but it is a choice which carries consequences, and one of those consequences is that the community commands the right to curtail those activities.
While the move to outlaw gangs who already consider themselves to be beyond the law anyway may meet with criticism for undermining civil liberties, the Premier has announced that he is proceeding with introducing those laws as soon as possible. Along with the other controversial legislation currently before the parliament to extend covert search and surveillance powers to police, the Premier claims these laws will assist the police in putting a stop to bikie violence.
As I have said many times before, we need to be very careful about laws which increase police powers and undermine our rights to privacy and liberty. For that reason it is essential that appropriate checks and balances are imposed including judicial approval of warrants after presentation of evidence to indicate reasonable grounds for secret searches, and even then there are no guarantees that the privacy of innocent people will never be breached through error or abuse of power.
Nevertheless, it seems that the mood of the community is such that people are prepared to accept that risk if it means that random outbreaks of violence and drive-by shootings are stopped.