Consorting laws: an attack on civil liberties

The NSW government has passed “consorting” laws as part of a suite of “anti-bikie” laws in the Crimes Amendment (Consorting and Organised Crime) Bill. These laws have such a wide scope that they can be used to criminalise anyone. The former offence of consorting in the Crimes Act was repealed and a new offence inserted.

The offence recalls similar 1920s laws Sydney directed against “razor gangs”. These laws created much fertile ground for police corruption because it was up to police to decide how the laws were used.

A person who has never committed an offence in their life can be officially warned for “consorting” with two other people who have been found guilty of an “indictable offence”, regardless of how long ago the offence occurred and regardless of whether the conviction was known. If a person contacts that convicted person again in any way, they can be charged and face a maximum sentence of 150 penalty units (a $16,500 fine) or three years in prison.

Indictable offences can range from very serious crimes such as murder to lesser offences such as stealing property worth over $5000. In NSW indictable offences are not restricted to serious offences that go before a judge and jury. Most are dealt with in magistrates courts, and many can be minor. For example, common assault, shoplifting and obstructing a police officer are indictable offences in NSW.

There are exceptions, such as close family members, employment and getting legal advice, but according to Greens MLC David Shoebridge, “This means anyone who has ever been convicted of an indictable offence can have the police monitor and control the people they meet for the rest of their life. This was a source of potential police corruption in past times.”

As well as losing your job, you can be warned twice and subsequently arrested for talking to two old friends who you may not know (and don’t need to know) have a conviction for an indictable offence when they were many years younger, or you or your friends may have been unjustly arrested and charged at a protest such as Occupy Sydney.

The new law has already been used to arrest a young man with a disability who was shopping with his friends in a rural town. Poorer working class people, Aboriginal people, the unemployed, homeless and vulnerable people just meeting their friends, even by accident, people attending community centres or shelters or public events, or just being in the street, at a protest or shopping can be targeted in another capitalist state “law and order” campaign.

Direct Action — August 30, 2012