The Gold Coast’s $6b annual tourism industry and the coming Schoolies Week are in jeopardy from the Queensland Government’s anti-bikie laws. (IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO SIGN THE PETITION AGAINST THESE DISCRIMINATORY LAWS, CLICK HERE.)
A bipartisan Crime Summit on the Gold Coast today heard that the legislation, politicakl rhetoric and the mainstream media’s sensantionalist reporting of bikie gangs and crime are wreaking havoc on the State‘s tourism industry.
Coast tourism operator Bob Brett says the crime statistics do not reflect the level of political rhetoric and media attention.
“Unfortunately, reality and perception is the same thing as far as the tourist is concerned,” he says.
The Crime Summit was attended by 30% of the Opposition (deputy leader Tim Mulherin and shadow police minister Bill Byrne), 20% of the cross benches (United Australia Party’s Dr Alex Douglas), a former Gold Coast detective and representatives of the motorcycle community and tourism industry.
Apologies were accepted from government members and Police Commissioner Ian Stewart who said he was “busy”.
Bill says he knows of two families in his electorate who have canceled their Christmas holidays to the Gold Coast over fears about the crime rate.
Tim says he knows of parents who won’t be sending their children to Schoolies Week because of media coverage of crime.
“Visitors to Queensland would have thought we had descended into a lawless state,” Tim said.
Motorcycle Riders Association of Queensland boss Chris Mearns agreed, saying that three riders from interstate had cancelled trips to Queensland because of the trampling of civil rights under new State Government legislation.
What threatened at times to become a talk fest, ended with almost unanimous agreement that the government’s response to the crime situation on the Gold Coast and targeting of motorcycle clubs was heavy handed, discriminatory and trampled people’s basic civil liberties.
Most agreed that previous police powers and laws were ample ammunition to fight organised crime and that the tourism industry and law-abiding motorcycle riders were the collateral damage from the Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment Act and other Act amendments rushed through parliament last week.
Former Gold Coast detective and now Bond University criminologist Dr Terry Goldsworthy says the crime statistics do not reflect the level of hyperbole from the government and media.
While he confessed he didn’t have the very latest statistics because the government has refused to publish them, he produced Gold Coast crime statistics for the last financial year that show assault up 1.7%, homicide down 44%, robbery up 15%, unlawful entry down 5.9%, unlawful use of a motor vehicle up 8.3%, theft down 5.3%, drug offences up 3.9% and good order offences up 3.2%.
The Labor MPs said the government should release the latest crime statistics and encouraged the tourism industry to approach the government for the figures.
Alex also called for the figures to be published, saying the Gold Coast has less violent crime than Melbourne’s Docklands.
“We don’t have a massive crime problem. Why not publish the statistics?” he says.
Alex, who worked in the prison system for many years as a medical officer, says the new laws that target bikies are misdirected.
“The bikies were becoming more obvious and there are things that need to be done, but the idea that they are a terrible scourge is nonsense,” he told the summit.
“There is a disproportionate response (to bikie gangs) from the police, government and media.
“Bad legislation will have bad outcomes.”
Terry confirmed that motorcycle clubs are responsible for only 0.4% of total Gold Coast crime.
“I don’t agree with the (new) laws, necessarily,” he says, pointing out that all they did was introduce punitive measures and didn’t give police any more investigative powers or resources.
Jim Feehely, the lawyer who drafted our petition against draconian legislation that discriminates against motorcycle riders, drew strong support with his summation of the new legislation: “It makes it an offence to ‘be’ something instead of to ‘do’ something.”
His call for an end to the injustices of the legislation were supported by Paul Keyworth who is attempting to create the Motorcycle Australia Party, Travis Windsor who has established the Australian Motorcycle Business Chamber and Keith Littler of the Motoring Enthusiasts Party.
Sinners Motorcycle Club member Steve Clancy pointed out that all bikie arrests so far had been conducted using power that already existed.
Steve says his club has “not yet” been declared an outlaw gang.
Terry was asked if he could tell the summit the criteria for declaring a club an outlaw association.
He said he could not, nor could he explain how the 14 clubs declared to be outlaw gangs by the Queensland Police Service suddenly became 26 gangs under the VLAD Act.
“Who will be next after the bikies?” asked Chris who said current anti-bikie hysteria far exceeded the anti-terrorism rhetoric of 2001.
Tim and Bill promised to pass on the concerns expressed at the summit, presumably in Parliament next week.
While there was no final resolution from the summit, the general feeling was that the media should be fed correct information about the crime rate and bikie involvement, and that the tourism industry and law-abiding motorcycle riders were becoming collateral damage in the “crime war”.
Alex told the motorcycle community representatives present that they have the same political lobbying clout as the powerful trucking industry.
“You need to get together and remind the government how many registrations you have (about 190,000 and 500,000 licences),” he said.
“Don’t underestimate your power as a lobby group.”
A spokesman for the Opposition Leader’s office also promised that when our petition reaches 10,000 they are happy to table it in Parliament.
With signatures now topping 8000, the 10,000 target should be reached next week during Parliamentary sittings.
The plan is to ride into George St to hand over the signatures.
Stay tuned for details of the ride.