When Don Dunstan was its Premier in the 1970s, South Australia got a reputation for protecting the rights of individuals against the state in a way that won it plaudits around the nation. But those days are long gone. Today, South Australia is presided over by a couple of crazed law and order junkies, Premier Mike Rann and Attorney-General Michael Atkinson who are about to land South Australians with a law lifted straight from the statute books of any number of authoritarian regimes dotted around the globe.
In fact, the Serious and Organised Crime (Control) Bill, as it is known, is without peer in Australia in terms of the powers it gives to law enforcement agencies and government. Even the Howard/Rudd anti-terror laws contain the occasional check and balance on the executive government.
Rann and Atkinson are obsessed with bikie gangs in their State, even though the SA Police estimate there are only 250 members of such gangs roaming around South Australia. Rann calls them “terrorists”, and he and Atkinson have introduced the Serious and Organised Crime (Control) Bill – currently in the Legislative Council – to smash these gangs.
But the Bill doesn’t limit itself to bikie gangs. It could be used to harass any organisation and individual that the South Australian Police and the Attorney-General don’t like.
The Serious and Organised Crime (Control) Bill gives the Attorney-General the right to call an organisation, which by the way could be anything from an informal group of people who meet at the local pub for a weekly drink through to a football club or a business, a declared organisation. The A-G just has to be satisfied that he thinks that members of the organisation associate for the purpose of planning, organising, facilitating or engaging in serious criminal activity – which is basically anything except traffic offences – and that the organisation represents a risk to public safety and order. The A-G can act on secret and untested evidence in making that declaration, and his decision can’t be challenged in the courts!
The Commissioner of Police can ask a court to make a Control Order against a person if that person is a member of a declared organisation or regularly associates with members of the declared organisation. A Control Order may be issued by a court without giving any notice to the person affected and the Order can stop people from even speaking with members of a declared organisation or going anywhere near where members might happen to be. Once again, these Orders can be made on secret evidence that the person affected cannot see.
And by the way if a friend of yours is subject to a Control Order or is a member of a Declared Organisation and you meet with them six times or more in one year you can go to jail for up to five years.
And finally, the icing on the cake. Giving the SA Police the power to make a Public Safety Order if the Police are satisfied that a person or a group of people pose a serious risk to public safety or security. Even if a person or a group is gathered somewhere for a protest rally or a strike action, the Police can still make a Public Safety Order and have them removed from the area. These Orders can even be made on the spot, verbally, by the Police.
If this Bill becomes law South Australia will become Australia’s latest international human rights disgrace.